PAUSE IT: What do you see? A mass of faces, mostly women and children, looking out. Theirs are the expressions of the downtrodden and aggrieved. In Armored Attack! (A.K.A., The North Star, 1943), director Lewis Milestone positions his camera amid the throng, staging the action in deep space. Raising the camera to slightly above eye level and using a wide-angle lens we are able to see far into the distance. Photographed by the great James Wong Howe in his patented high contrast black and white style, the results speak for themselves. Note the harmony of the image. Because the figures are dressed similarly, staged before the camera in the same direction, and hold the same motionless stare, there is a perceived oneness among the crowd. The shot gives us the opportunity to discuss just how powerful (and when used correctly) an aptly-timed group shot can be. Impossible to focus in on any one person and their individual subjectivity, our tendency, then, is to read the shot in thematic terms. What does the group as a whole represent? First released under the title The North Star, and conceived as a WWII propaganda film, the film and this particular shot were crafted to engender empathy on behalf of the Soviet peoples in their fight against Germany. The film would later be released under a different title, Armored Attack! with its original sympathetic Soviet references excised and an overtly anti-Soviet propaganda narration track added. Luckily, both versions survived and have been preserved here for the historical record and your viewing pleasure.

Director: Lewis Milestone
Cast:  Anne Baxter, Dana Andrews, Walter Huston
Cinematography by: James Wong Howe
Available from Olive Films on DVD and Blu-ray:

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