Color Footage of the Liberation of Paris, Shot by Hollywood Director George Stevens (1944)

The above footage of Paris’ lib­er­a­tion in August 1944 looks and feels not dis­sim­i­lar to a Hol­ly­wood movie. Part of its pow­er owes to its being in col­or, a van­ish­ing­ly rare qual­i­ty in real film of World War II. But we must also cred­it its hav­ing been shot by a gen­uine Hol­ly­wood film­mak­er, George Stevens. Hav­ing got his start in pic­tures as a teenag­er in the ear­ly nine­teen-twen­ties (not long before mak­ing the cin­e­mat­ic-his­tor­i­cal accom­plish­ment of fig­ur­ing out how to get Stan Lau­rel’s light-col­ored eyes to show up on film), Stevens became a respect­ed direc­tor in the fol­low­ing decade. Swing Time, Gun­ga Din, The More the Mer­ri­er: with hits like that, he would seem to have had it made.

But it was just then, as F. X. Feeney tells it in the DGA Quar­ter­ly, that the war became unig­nor­able. “The dan­ger­ous artistry of Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 valen­tine to Adolf Hitler, Tri­umph of the Will, moved Stevens to vol­un­teer for front­line ser­vice in World War II despite his being old enough to dodge a uni­form and sit things out.”

In vivid col­or, Stevens and his U.S. Army Sig­nal Corps crew shot “the D‑Day land­ings, where he was one of the first ashore; the lib­er­a­tion of Paris; the snowy ruins of bombed-out vil­lages en route to the Bat­tle of the Bulge; and, most unfor­get­tably, the lib­er­a­tion of the death camp at Dachau.” (Even the cel­e­bra­to­ry events in Paris had their har­row­ing moments, such as the sniper attack cap­tured at 11:54.)

Stevens went to war a film­mak­er and came home a film­mak­er. The long post­war act of his career opened with no less acclaimed a pic­ture than I Remem­ber Mama, and went on to include the likes of A Place in the Sun, Shane, and The Diary of Anne Frank, whose mate­r­i­al no doubt res­onat­ed even more with Stevens giv­en what he’d seen in Europe. Not all of it, of course, was the after­math of death and destruc­tion. These Paris lib­er­a­tion clips alone offer glimpses of such admirable fig­ures as resis­tance fight­er Simone Segouin, Gen­er­als de Gaulle and Leclerc, and even Lieu­tenant Colonel Stevens him­self. He appears pre­sid­ing over the shoot just as he must once have done back in Cal­i­for­nia — and, with the war’s end in sight, as he must have known he would do again.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Albert Camus, Edi­tor of the French Resis­tance News­pa­per Com­bat, Writes Mov­ing­ly About Life, Pol­i­tics & War (1944–47)

How France Hid the Mona Lisa & Oth­er Lou­vre Mas­ter­pieces Dur­ing World War II

See Berlin Before and After World War II in Star­tling Col­or Video

Time Trav­el Back to Tokyo After World War II, and See the City in Remark­ably High-Qual­i­ty 1940s Video

31 Rolls of Film Tak­en by a World War II Sol­dier Get Dis­cov­ered & Devel­oped Before Your Eyes

The Gestapo Points to Guer­ni­ca and Asks Picas­so, “Did You Do This?;” Picas­so Replies “No, You Did!”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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