Pearl Harbor documentaries -- Three commemorative releases that show an insight of the tragic event

FDR’s ”date that will live in infamy” lives on in three commemorative releases that offer insight, if not definitive answers, about the still-controversial events that brought the U.S. into World War II 50 years ago. The most intriguing of these tapes is December 7th, a wartime feature produced by a Hollywood-based Naval reserve unit. Codirected by John Ford (then a Navy lieutenant commander) and Citizen Kane cinematographer Gregg Toland (a lieutenant), the film is framed by a mawkish dialogue between Uncle Sam (Walter Huston) and his conscience, ”Mr. C.” (Harry Davenport). U.S. Navy officials thought December 7th unfairly criticized them for pre-Pearl Harbor negligence and approved only a 34-minute version for its 1943 release. All 82 minutes are seen here for the first time.

Taking a straightforward documentary approach, the 70-minute Target offers a quick background on U.S.-Japanese relations and recounts the two-hour assault in detail, interviewing survivors and surveying the damage. The film traces the attack route and revisits the scene as it is today. It is documentary filmmaking at its crisp, enlightening best.

By contrast, Remember is a tired grab bag of government-issue news footage and propaganda films, little of it about Pearl Harbor and most of it of minimal curiosity value (an exception: William ”Fred Mertz” Frawley singing an outrageously xenophobic buy-bonds promo). December 7th: B Target: A Remember: D