Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War by critic and sometime Slate contributor Mark Harris is one of the great works of film history of the decade. So it’s wonderful news that his book, which looks closely at the way World War II affected the lives and careers of John Ford, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler, and Frank Capra, has been made into a documentary series by Netflix.
The project has A-list bona fides—Steven Spielberg, Scott Rudin, and Barry Diller are executive-producing, Meryl Streep narrates, and Francis Ford Coppola, Guillermo Del Toro, Paul Greengrass, Lawrence Kasdan, and Spielberg serve as talking heads. The trailer is a little heavy on Hitler footage—for some reason, Netflix thinks films about clownish fascists will interest people at the moment—but one encouraging sign is that the stock footage, film clips, and newsreel excerpts all appear to be in their original aspect ratios. Another good sign: Netflix is making a variety of the films discussed in Harris’ book—and presumably the series—available to watch in their entirety. A documentary series that treats primary sources with respect? Yes, please.
Five Came Back comes out on March 31, leaving plenty of time to read the book and watch some of the films the series will discuss in advance. Looking for a good place to start? Here’s Let There Be Light, John Huston’s bizarre film about post-traumatic stress disorder, which doubles as one of the secret keys that unlocks Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master: