Strange Victory is part documentary, part drama which concentrates of the plight of minority groups, specifically black people and Jews, in post-war America. Leo Hurwitz wrote and partly narrated the film, which has been given a re-release 70 years on from its original showing.
The Strange Victory in question is the victory over the Nazi’s in the Second World War. As the supposedly free world celebrated, life started to trickle back to something like normality. Unfortunately for the persecuted minorities, their intimidation and oppression were immediately apparent, the harsh teachings of Nazi tyranny seemingly instantly forgotten. The Ku-Klux-Klan, the Thomas Rankin Committee, Gerald K Smith, Holocaust denier Merwin Hart, pro-fascist Laurence Dennis all managed to gain huge popularity during the time. As Hurwitz put it; ‘Like baseball, the national pastime of race hatred was back.’
After the war, black people were expected to retreat into their place. Employment statistics give a miserable peek into the abyss; 0% of black people worked as doctors and in airlines, 0.01% on the train network, 0% in national orchestras, yet made up 35% of hard labour jobs. Jews fared only slightly better. The fight against the Nazis for freedom only leading back to the unbalanced status quo of the pre-war landscape.
One particularly scene is a narrative monologue aimed towards the black babies in a maternity ward. ‘You will know your place, as a janitor or porter you will use the freight entrance, you will have different entrances to the cinemas, to the church and use different toilets’. The power of this speech when focused towards new-borns is both powerful and insufferably saddening. Hurwitz’s dialogue is almost non-stop for the 71-minute running time, yet it never tires nor bores. Instead it drills into the psyche as part essay, part verse overlapping beautifully edited scenes which never hold back from depicting the horrors being acted out.
The worrying conclusion to Strange Victory is that discrimination seems timeless. Poverty always fuels hatred and looks for an easy target, a bogie man is easier to create than to face the complexity and unwanted realisation of reality. Hurwitz points out that ‘it’s easy to use a modern medium; no-one talks back to a nationwide hook-up’ over 50 years prior to the onset of the internet.
It is sad that we do not seemed to have learnt much in the 70 years since Strange Victory’s release, and it stands now as important and relevant as it did in the years following World War 2. A sobering documentary which should be a staple for the modern era, and many eras to come.
Dir: Leo Hurwitz
Scr: Leo Hurwitz
Cast: Leo Hurwitz, Alfred Drake, Gary Merrill, Muriel Smith, Saul Levitt
Prd: Barney Rosset
DOP: Peter Glushanok, George Jacobson
Music: David Diamond
Run Time: 71 minutes
Strange Victory is available on Blu-Ray and DVD on 14th Aug