Scen.: Edwin Gilbert, Lester Koenig. F.: William C. Clothier, William Skall, Harold Tannenbaum. M.: Lynn Harrison. Mus.: Gail Kubik. Int.: John Beal, Eugene Kern (commento). Prod.: U.S. 8th Air Force Photographic Section. DCP 4K. D.: 45’. Col.
75 years ago, my father completed a film that Steven Spielberg recently referred to as “one of the greatest things I have ever seen”. It told the story of the first B-17 bomber to complete 25 missions in the air war over Germany. In order to create his masterpiece, my father risked his life and flew 5 combat missions to gather the footage he needed to tell that story. One of his cameramen, Harold Tannenbaum, was shot down and killed during the filming.
Upon its release in 1944, The Memphis Belle immediately redefined the war film and is justly heralded as one of the greatest documentaries ever made. But there has been one huge problem, a problem that has been greatly compounded over the past 75 years. Every single available print has deteriorated into something close to oblivion, and scratches inflicted on the negative in 1943 have remained, greatly diminishing the film’s narrative power and impact.
No longer. In 2017, documentarian Erik Nelson discovered the 15 hours of all of the original raw footage that had been shot for the film stored deep within the US National Archives. After a year of negotiation, they allowed him to transfer this master footage to 4K. Then, Nelson was able to completely re-edit the film, replacing every single shot over the existing soundtrack, not just restoring the film to its original quality, but, as he was able to use state-of-the-art digital technology, he removed all of the defects embedded in the original footage. This represents an unprecedented restoration, as to our knowledge, no classic film has ever been recut from the original raw footage. For this reason, The Memphis Belle now looks better than it ever has, even on its day of release 75 years ago. Mastered to 4K, the film looks incredible on the big screen, which is where my father always intended it to be shown. Speaking for the Wyler family, we are beyond thrilled that this film that our father risked his life to make has been catapulted into a new era, just in time for the 75th anniversary of its original release and the 75th anniversary of D-Day.