Many of the biggest directors of the era spent World War II making documentaries and propaganda films to support the war effort. John Ford directed The Battle Of Midway; Frank Capra helmed numerous movies in the Why We Fight series, including the Oscar-winning Prelude To War. Even the Walt Disney Studio was converted to making war films like Victory Through Air Power. (And, yes, it is animated.)
For his part, Alfred Hitchcock infused many of his WWII-era thrillers with war-related themes (Saboteur, Lifeboat), and he made several short propaganda films for the British Ministry Of Information. As revealed in a new article in The Independent, he also quietly directed a documentary on the liberation of a German concentration camp, but the movie was never released and quickly lost. Most of the footage was rediscovered in the 1980s, but now the full film, retroactively titled Memory Of The Camps, is being restored, and will screen in its intended version for the first time.
According to The Independent’s Geoffrey Macnab, Hitchcock, the much-vaunted “Master Of Suspense” and innovator of the slasher genre with his movie Psycho, was “so traumatized” by the footage the British Army Film Unit brought back from the Bergen-Belsen camp “that he stayed away from Pinewood Studios for a week.” His documentary remained unreleased for different reasons, however: The movie was completed in 1945, by which point it was decided by the Allies that movies like Hitchcock’s, which presented the gruesome realities of German war atrocities in unflinching detail, would do more harm than good to the fragile mental state of post-war Europe.
As a result, most of the finished film (five of the six reels) was stored in a museum and forgotten. It’s only now getting its full première, restored to its original length with a newly recorded narration. This Memory Of The Camps will air on British television in 2015 as part of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. While so many great directors’ WWII films have been lost or forgotten, it’s great to see at least one of them coming back into public view.