The Battle of San Pietro: The John Huston Wartime Classic:

The Battle of San Pietro Infine was fought from December 8 to December 17, 1943 as part of the Allied plan to breach the Bernhardt/Reinhard in Italy. The battle was captured on film by John Huston, a Hollywood writer and director known for the 1941 movie the Maltese Falcon. Huston and his camera crew were sent to the 143rd Infantry Regiment of the 36th Infantry Division to document the action for the Army.

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Although Huston claimed the movie was filmed during the actual battle of San Pietro, by the time his crew reached the area, the fighting was almost over and many of the combat scenes had to be staged. However, more than the violence of combat, Huston wanted to show the cost of war and the human suffering it brought. In the town of San Pietro, Huston filmed the war torn landscape, the plight of the refugees and the bodies of the dead. He filmed the cemetery where American soldiers were buried, and filmed their surviving comrades, reminding us that many of them would be killed in future battles.



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Medics of the 36th Infantry Division during The Battle of San Pietro

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Insignia of the 36th Infantry Division

When the documentary was finished, the Army fought to censor it for the film’s graphic images of dead and mutilated soldiers. Huston clashed with the Military, who saw his message as damaging to morale and anti-war. To this charge, Huston responded that he should be shot if he ever made a movie that was pro-war. The Army delayed releasing the film to the public but it was shown to soldiers on the approval of General George Marshall who felt that GI’s who saw dead Americans would pay more attention in training. The Battle of San Pietro was finally released to the public in May of 1945.

Besides showing the destruction and despair of war, Huston also shows children playing and townspeople working to rebuild their lives, letting us know that beyond the fighting, death and destruction of battle, life will return and find a way to go on.



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