A 26-episode World War II documentary from the American perspective, Victory at Sea
is one of the most important series in the history of television. Made in 1952, the show was a huge success, winning many major awards and even spawning albums featuring the orchestral score by Richard--South Pacific
--Rodgers. Produced with the full cooperation of the US Navy, each 26-minute programme consists of black and white wartime film edited to a narration by Leonard Graves. The two years leading up to America's entry into the war are dismissed in episode one, while the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour gets a show of its own, the raid depicted in a brilliantly edited montage which almost certainly contains "docu-drama" footage. Each episode contains at least one powerful stand-alone sequence in the tradition of Serge--Battleship Potemkin
--Eisenstein, these action-suspense set-pieces giving the programmes an urgent, surprisingly modern feel. Indeed, the emphasis is at least as much on entertainment as information, the factual content delivered in poetic narration, the score transforming the war into a more than usually serious Hollywood adventure. The documentaries are nothing if not wide-ranging, covering parts of the land war despite the title, and including everything from the Atlantic convoys and U-boat "Wolfpacks", to war in Alaska, the South Atlantic, the Far East, the Pacific War and the Fall of Japan. There is an attempt to include other nations--certainly the D-Day episode acknowledges the British far more than Saving Private Ryan
--but inevitably the focus is on America's war.
The very dated narration gives a fascinating insight into how America saw WWII in the early 1950s, while the dynamic cutting and often genuinely remarkable wartime footage make Victory at Sea still gripping today. 20 years later, Granada's The World at War would become the definitive television WWII history but this release offers a unique opportunity to see a series of great importance from the very early days of television.
On the DVD: The 26 episodes total approximately 11 and-a-half hours on six DVDs. The 4:3 picture varies depending on the different archive footage used but the image is always perfectly watchable and sometimes surprisingly good. The sound is mono and the music is sometimes distorted. Extras consist of reprinting the credits, an incredibly basic filmography and a gallery of 25 stills, presented without any supporting information and marred by a large Victory at Sea logo. These are the same on all six DVDs. Each disc also includes a few pages of disc-specific history, adding further detail to the events in each episode. --Gary S Dalkin