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Film / The Battle of Russia

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The Battle of Russia is a 1943 documentary feature directed by Frank Capra and Anatole Litvak.

It was the fifth film in Capra's seven-film Why We Fight series, examining the causes and history of World War II. This film, the longest in the series at 76 minutes (the others were an hour or less) recounts the entire Russo-German war as it had happened to that point. A thumbnail sketch of Russian history notes Russia's success in beating back European invaders, like the Swedes, Napoleon and the French, and, on several occasions dating back to the 13th century, the Germans.

The film goes on to sketch out a portrait of Russia as a nation, with its vast land area, its abundant natural resources, its coal and forests and fertile soil. Then it moves on to the German attack on Russia, the smashing German victories of the first six months of the war, and the Russian "defense in depth" that preserved the Soviet armies. The film ends with Soviet victory at the Battle of Stalingrad.

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Tropes:

  • Artistic License – History: All the details that might make Russia seem like a less sympathetic ally, like the Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact, were simply left out, but other details are factually incorrect.
    • Hitler did not tell Mussolini to invade Greece. Mussolini surprised Hitler with the invasion and Hitler wasn't happy about it.
    • The stuff about a Soviet "defense in depth" that preserved the Russian armies and allowed them to withdraw is nonsense. Stalin actually did precisely the opposite, namely, put all his armies on the frontiers. This led to them getting annihilated in the opening weeks of the war. It was the Russian ability to form new armies even as the old armies were getting wiped out in the west that eventually stopped the Germans.
  • Blade-of-Grass Cut: Closeups of stuff like sunflowers and stalks of wheat in the field as the film talks about Russian farming.
  • Call-Back: The opening sequence that discusses the invasion of the Teutonic Knights in the 13th century includes a quote attributed to Alexander Nevsky, saying "He who comes at us with the sword shall perish with the sword." Part II opens with a shot of a propaganda poster showing a medieval knight, and the quote is shown onscreen again. The film then goes into the Soviet counterattack of December 1941.
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  • Empathy Doll Shot: A broken doll is shown on a windowsill. Followed up by an actual dead child.
  • Enemy Mine: The United States and the USSR in real life, of course, but especially noticeable in The Battle of Russia, where the USSR's struggle against Germany is glowingly endorsed.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: A couple of shots of weeping teenaged girls, whom the narrator describes as "young girls...young no longer", is how the film gets across to viewers that the German soldiers were raping young Russian girls as they invaded in 1941.
  • Hammer and Sickle Removed for Your Protection: The Battle of Russia shows the determination and strength of the Soviet Union, America's loyal ally. Not at all indicative of the coming Cold War, the C-word isn't dropped once.
  • The Ken Burns Effect: Used only briefly, in a zoom-out from a photo of Napoleon as the film talks about the Russian scorched-earth defense of 1812.
  • Narrator: Not Walter Huston who narrated most of the series, but a fellow named Anthony Veiller, who delivers a very sunny portrait of Stalin's Russia.
  • Sarcasm Mode: While describing the bombing of Leningrad, the narrator says "...there were ruined homes, churches, and other important military objectives, like...the Leningrad Zoo."
  • Spinning Paper: The Allied landings in Africa are announced by a newspaper that spins onscreen with a headline that says "YANKS LAND IN AFRICA."
  • Spreading Disaster Map Graphic: Used several times, first to show Germany's pre-war conquests (Austria, Czechoslovakia), then the defeat of Poland, then France, and then the advance into Russia. Then inverted when the graphic shows the Germans pushed back from Moscow by the 1941-42 counteroffensive, and inverted again to show the gains made by the Allies against Germany in the Soviet Union and in North Africa 1942-43.
  • Stock Footage: The entire film, consisting of Soviet combat footage, captured German combat footage, clips from films like Alexander Nevsky, and news footage of moments like League of Nations sessions.
  • Storybook Opening: A book called "History of Russia" is shown opening. The first page has dates of German Teutonic invasions from the Middle Ages. As the pages flip the next scenes talk about Napoleon's invasion and World War I and the like.
  • That Russian Squat Dance: Ukrainian peasants are seen performing the dance as the intro to the section where the film talks about all the minority peoples of the Soviet Union.
  • Warrior Prince: Starts out by listing off historic instances of Russia fighting off foreign invaders. This list starts with Alexander Nevsky defeating The Teutonic Knights at The Battle on the Ice.

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