It's no secret that for many years -- oh let's just come out and say it: decades -- the UK film industry was far behind Hollywood's both technically and creatively. So Conquest of the Air -- originally released in 1936 but re-released in an expanded version four years later to cover the war with Germany -- doesn't differ much from something you'd have slept through in history class. Flat black & white cinematography, crude historical recreations, monotonous narration and hollow audio dubbed-in after the fact take up much of its 70-minute running time. (That some scenes are slightly better than others testifies to five directors being involved.)
|Oh yeah, that'll work.|
One odd directorial choice is keeping the face of the actor playing Leonardo DaVinci away from the camera at all times. Was the budget too low to afford a phony beard?
|"Get-a your tootsi-frutsi ice cream!"|
|"We should begin our descent|
in approximately 144 hours."
The footage of the Hindenburg explosion nicely illustrates, I'd say, the pros and cons of using hydrogen for fuel. (Although I think it was a conspiracy involving the Illuminati, the World Bank and the Fox Movietone Newsreel wanting an awesome exclusive.) British war planes are shown getting ready for battle while the narrator sadly reminds us that peaceful usage for flying will be on the shelf for the duration. Winston Churchill reminds his fellow Brits that their war with Germany was going to be won by air power.
As with Conquest of the Air, Victory Through Air Power opens with a history of Man's attempt to fly. Unfortunately, its silly animation appears to be aimed at your average mentally-challenged two year-old chihuahua. Stung by the failure of Fantasia three years earlier, Disney was now moving into the middle-of-the-road crap that had already neutered the once-anarchic Mickey Mouse.
So what follows couldn't be more of a contrast -- a live-action lecture by DeSeversky interspersed with chilling animation that brings to life the perils of underestimating the Axis' strength. As with Billy Mitchell, DeSeversky seemed to have been in possession of a crystal ball few took seriously. Among the very first words he speaks:
As soon as the airplanes that are already on the
drafting boards of all the warring nations take to the air, there will not
be a single space on the face of the earth immune to attack. [...]
The distinctions between soldiers and civilians will be erased. And I believe
that it is only a matter of time before we here in America will suffer
our share of civilian casualties.
|Major Alexander DeSeversky|
explains it all to you -- with a really big globe.
Give that guy a Purple Heart for Prognostication. 9/11, drones, Syria, Chechnya -- it's all there in Technicolor. As obvious as it seems now, this was heady stuff in 1943. It makes you wonder who the Pentagon is ignoring today.
DeSeversky was blessed with the gift of taking rather complex military theories and presenting them in such a way that the average idiot (e.g., me) could understand. His soft Russian accent has just enough of a lulling effect to draw you into what he's saying without putting you to sleep -- except to audiences in 1943, but more on that later.
DeSeversky explains clearly how our goals will be reached with current warfare techniques vs new thinking. The war
|I prefer my Japanese octopus|
on sticky rice.
|Disney explains what an airplane is|
to Major DeSeversky.
Typical for World War II animation, the bad guys are thoroughly raked over the coals in a way that would make today's p.c. crowd weep. There's something refreshing, even liberating, to see evil portrayed as evil. Now if someone would only do the same thing with Jeff Zucker, we'd be making progress.
Disney thought he was doing his patriotic bit by producing Victory Through Air Power. At the same time, he was first and foremost a businessman, which explains why he was hedging his bets when it came to promoting it. Posters, like the one a few paragraphs up, played up the war angle (albeit with the slogan, "There's a Thrill in The Air!", which would fit quite well with a Nelson Eddy-Jeanette MacDonald operetta). Others, like the one to the left, made it seem like just another Disney cartoon -- different, as one of the captions reads, but nothing that Donald Duck couldn't handle.
|If Louella says it's so, it's so.|
|While DeSeversky beams with pride at the Oscar,|
Disney wonders how much he can hock it for.
The current Disney regime has certainly learned, though. Upcoming releases include Jungle Cruise (based on the Disneyland ride), Monsters University (a prequel to Monsters, Inc.) and National Treasure 3 (no explanation needed). Unseen and forgotten since its original 1943 release, Victory Through Air Power made its DVD debut in 2004 in a limited edition of 250,000 copies. Nine years later, unopened copies can still be found on Amazon. We're not going to be seeing Victory Through Air Power: The Drone Years any time soon.