The Battle of San Pietro

The Battle of San Pietro

We knew it, and the enemy knew it. We had to take it.

I can’t count the number of John Huston films on the List. Well, yes I can, thanks to the Director’s Index in the back; there are apparently nine. Still, I was curious as to what possessed the editors to add The Battle of San Pietro, an otherwise conventional war doc at first glance. This isn’t a feature, or even a fiction film; it’s a short documentary, just over a half hour long, that details… well, the Battle of San Pietro, a major struggle fought in the eponymous Italian town, and a large stepping stone toward the Allies’ attempt to take back the city of Rome. Like I said, it seemed unassuming at first, but by the time that short half hour was finished, I was surprised how much I had gotten out of it.

What makes this especially notable was how it was shot. This isn’t a re-enactment or Hollywoodized production of the battle; Huston and his crew were really at the battle itself, filming their footage right alongside the soldiers as they fought (and for some, died) the intense week-long skirmish. What this gives us is some rather harrowing footage of wartime as it is happening, not seen in hindsight like almost every other war documentary out there. Even though this isn’t a fiction film, Huston still decides to tell a story, with narrative and flow, as well as style and panache in the delivery. The jingoistic narration, done by Huston himself, is admittedly very propagandized, but the narration is largely the reason the film is so focused, and comes off so easily accessible; quite the opposite of In the Year of the Pig.

I was surprised at how much I liked this. It’s concise, at a mere half hour; it’s accessible and easily watchable, unlike most documentaries that come my way; and while I wouldn’t call it entertaining, it was fascinating in a highly historical relevance. I don’t think everyone will get as much out of it as I did, but I really feel I’d be doing a disservice if I were to give this any lower of a rating. It’d be dishonest to myself, which is something I try my hardest never to do. To that end, I’ll only say; while your experience with this film may (and likely will) vary from mine, that doesn’t mean it is any less deserving of your attention. I don’t know too many war documentaries, and have seen even less, so I can’t attest to this one making the list above potential others, but I wasn’t too disappointed with the excursion, so that’s a win in my book.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

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