by Steve Lancaster 1/5/14
This is not so much a movie review as a series review. This is a black and white documentary of the importance of naval power and how the United States Navy defeated Japan in the Pacific. There are episodes devoted to the war in the Atlantic, but for the most part it’s a tribute to the men and women who with limited resources won the war in the Pacific. Produced less than eight years after the end of the war, the series is remarkably free of the jingoism of a wartime nation. Much of the combat footage is vintage, taken by war reporters and combat photographers on the scene.
The theme is the importance of sea power and, as an underlying subject, a response to the USSR…after all 1953 is at the beginning of the Cold War. The need for the US is to defend the seas from authoritarian regimes. In that respect, it is a homage to Alfred Thayer Mahan who, along with Emory Upton, rewrote the book on naval and land power and combat.
It is amazing that NBC – who many of us today regard as the mouthpiece of liberal, progressive, social Democrats – would produce such a quality work and with their own symphony orchestra. Sixty years later we owe a debt of gratitude to David Sarnoff who ran NBC. It was his genius that put the series on the air, where in various incarnations it has been since. Lastly but certainly not least is the music by Richard Rodgers and Robert Russell Bennett.
Rogers and Bennett wrote an original score for the series with some borrowing of themes from classical composers, most notably Anton Dvorak. The themes from his New World Symphony are worked into the Overlord and D-day section. Beneath the Southern Cross was given lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein, but in my opinion the main theme, Song of the High Seas and Guadalcanal March are the highlights of the soundtracks. For a Navy man, and Marines have strong affinity with the Navy, nothing captures the haunting beauty and danger of the Pacific as “Song of the High Seas”; as for “Guadalcanal March,” only John Phillip Sousa could equally capture a military march so well.
It is possible to purchase the entire series for about $5, or you can watch it on YouTube. Amazon Prime and Netflix also have it available for subscribers. If you have never watched the series you are in for a treat and if it is an old favorite, dust it off and enjoy.