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Eighty Days, The (1944)

Courtesy of Imperial War Museum

Main image of Eighty Days, The (1944)
35mm, 14 min, black & white
DirectorHumphrey Jennings
Production CompanyCrown Film Unit
SponsorMinistry of Information
ProducerHumphrey Jennings
PhotographyCyril Arapoff
 Teddy Catford

Commentator: Edward R. Murrow

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A brief survey of the V.1 bombardment of London and elsewhere during the summer of 1944, with a detailed sequence showing some of the defensive operations used during one such attack.

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In July 1944, the Home Front faced a terrifying new threat in the form of the Vergeltungswaffe, or 'weapon of reprisal', the name coined by German propaganda minister Goebbels for the V-1 flying bomb, the world's first guided missile used in war. These were launched on several targets in England, predominantly London, and their rumbling became, for a time, as familiar as the drone of Luftwaffe aircraft had been during the Blitz.

Humphrey Jennings took his film unit down to the south coast to chart the measures taken by the artillery in destroying these bombs. The resultant film has been dismissed by Jennings' biographer, Kevin Jackson, as a "straightforward piece of reportage", but in fact it demonstrates all the qualities which make his work so distinctive. In particular, there is the cross-cutting between the army's efforts and the everyday activities of normal people. Jennings has an unerring eye for detail, picking out the postman comforting his kitten, the farmers donning their hard hats, the pensioner clutching his pet rabbit as he escapes the rubble of his house. And he never settles for an idyllic, heroic portrait of the people, offering instead one that revels in their ordinariness - the boys sneaking a cigarette, the man on a bomb site hitching up his trousers. And throughout the V-1s' journey, he distils the soundtrack right down, so that apart from the noisy artillery barrage and a few shouted orders, there is only the drone of the doodlebug, underlining the sense of it as an 'intruder', an alien entity disturbing a peaceful land.

It's also Jennings' peculiar genius to make a propaganda film that is essentially a journal of failure - following the one bomb that got through. His storytelling and use of montage is so exact that the commentary that bookends the action, voiced by distinguished American broadcaster Ed Murrow, feels superfluous. This commentary was later replaced with one by Fletcher Markle when the film was shortened and re-edited for overseas use as V-1.

Michael Bartlett

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Video Clips
Complete film (12:56)
Jennings, Humphrey (1907-1950)
McAllister, Stewart (1914-1962)
Crown Film Unit