Four Hours from Sicily to Dachau

For those looking to get a little war movie fix over the coming holidays, I suggest you check out The Liberator on Netflix. Based on Alex Kershaw’s excellent 2012 book of the same name, it covers the real-life “500-Day Odyssey from the Beaches of Sicily to the Gates of Dachau” traveled by (later Brig Gen.) Felix L. Sparks.

Sparks, who enlisted during the Depression to make sure he was fed, was first a company and later a battalion commander in the 45th (Thunderbird) Infantry Division’s 157th Infantry Regiment— drawn literally from “Cowboys and Indians.”

“Troops of the 45th Division march thru Caltanissetta, Sicily. 157th Infantry, Company L. [old] Signal Corps Photo # MM-LCE-7-18-43-P2-11-6.” 7/18/1943. Photographer: Klein. Via NARA 111-SC-176493

Notably, the unit saw the elephant– and by all accounts was trampled flat by it– at Anzio, then went on to duke it out against crack SS mountain troops (the dreaded Black Edelweiss of 6. SS-Gebirgs-Division “Nord”) in the frozen hell of Reipertswiller, before playing a key part in the taking of Aschaffenburg in the face of downright wasteful and fanatical resistance in the last days of the war. Famously, the unit was also involved in the controversial death of unarmed SS troops at Dachau during its liberation.

The four-part series is filmed in a new CGI hybrid Trisoscope technique which looks vaguely similar to what A Scanner Darkly was produced in a few years back and an upgrade to the woefully underappreciated Heavy Metal and circa 1978 version of Lord of the Rings.

Now don’t write off The Liberator as a “cartoon,” as the technique is on point and allows for an easy and more accurate (ironically) portrayal of period places and equipment– especially tanks, and aircraft– that is just not possible in live-action films (admit it, you cringe a little bit every time you see the Russian T-34/85s mocked up like Tiger Is in Kelly’s Heroes).

How about that mortar data plate?

While not Band of Brothers, and Sparks is not Dick Winters, The Liberator is a good retelling of a story that is oft forgotten. There are way worse ways to waste four hours.

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