Cast & Crew
Jason Robards Jr.
In 1943, the War Department of the United States government selected a number of American artists to create a record of World War II in all its phases. The program features seven of those veteran artists and the works they created.
They Drew Fire: Combat Artists of World War II
They Drew Fire: Combat Artists of World War II focuses on seven World War II artists - two from Yank Magazine (Robert Greenhalgh, Howard Brodie), two from the Army (Edward Reep, Manuel Bromberg), one from Abbott Laboratories (Franklin Boggs), one from the Navy (William Draper) and one from the Marines (Richard Gibney). All of them, despite their advanced age, make compelling interview subjects and the director, Brian Lanker (a Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist), cuts back and forth between current interviews with the survivors, newsreel footage and images of their younger selves in portraits and group photographs. Despite the unpretentious, low-key approach Lanker adopts for his subject matter, They Drew Fire: Combat Artists of World War II becomes an undeniably moving experience. The stories these men share along with samples of the art they created combine to create an emotionally dense tapestry. Edward Reep, for instance, recalls a night in his dugout writing a humorous letter to his mother which was suddenly interrupted. The bunker next to his - an underground theatre where movies were shown to the soldiers - was hit by a 155 millimeter shell, killing and wounding many of the men who had assembled to watch Bing Crosby in Going My Way (1944). Before Reep was able to leave his dugout and help the wounded, a second shell hit, killing everyone in the bunker. The horror of all this is rendered eloquently through Reep's drawings and his still painful memories of the experience.
Richard Gibney recalls turning down a card game to paint on the deck of a warship, a decision that saved his life. When the ship was suddenly hit by a shell, the front half of the vessel was destroyed, killing all the men playing cards at the ship's forward deck while Gibney was knocked senseless and deaf by the explosion. William Draper, the most atypical enlisted man in the bunch, demonstrates an unexpected flair for the piano and reveals the origin of one of his most memorable paintings; it was created in a blizzard and the wind introduced grit, sand and other natural materials into the canvas. The latter story is a perfect example of the challenges these men faced daily on the battlefield as artists - trying to capture the experience of war under the most adverse of circumstances. While They Drew Fire: Combat Artists of World War II displays many of the sketches, paintings and watercolors of the seven interviewees, it also includes other famous work from The U. S. Marine Corps Museum, The Navy Art Gallery, and The U.S. Army Center for Military History by such renown artists as Tom Lea, Joseph Hirsch, Thomas Hart Benton and Jacob Lawrence (his famous "Going Home" painting is in the Whitney).
The Home Vision Entertainment DVD release of They Drew Fire: Combat Artists of World War II is a no-frills affair that doesn't contain any extras other than some insightful linear notes from Col. H. Avery Chenoweth, author of Art of War. But the 57 minute documentary is such a rewarding viewing experience that anyone interested in the subject will be pleased to include this in their permanent DVD collection.
For more information about They Drew Fire, visit Home Vision Entertainment. To order They Drew Fire, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeff Stafford