World War 2

Law & Order: P.O.W. Unit

Friday A/V Club: Ways of making you talk

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Resisting Enemy Interrogation was nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar, though it's not a documentary as the term is usually used today. It's a World War II–era military training film that tells a scripted story, dramatizing the ways that Germans might try to extract information from their prisoners. Carefully, methodically, the captors trick their captives into revealing important intelligence.

Here's what's weird about it: The story delves so deeply into the nitty-gritty of the interrogators' methods, observing as they piece together their puzzle, that the bulk of it is basically a police procedural shot from the Nazi point of view. If there's a Law & Order in the Man in the High Castle universe, it probably looks a lot like this:

In 1951 the film was remade as a regular theatrical war movie, called Target Unknown. I don't think that happened with any of those training films about venereal disease, but you never know.

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)

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  1. Man, Thomas Lennon has been in the biz forever.

  2. When I was in the Army, circa 1968, penicillin and other wonder drugs had pretty much conquered VD. What the Army worried about then was tooth decay! There’s nothing like technicolor closeups of diseased mouths to take a soldier off his chow. Also, once an incredibly stupid Methodist chaplain showed us a “don’t have sex” film intended for teen-age girls going off to college. He also said our casualties in Vietnam were God’s way of punishing us for, I guess, rock n’ roll and, probably, integration. The good old days!

  3. I actually watched that whole thing. I thought it was amazingly sophisticated and well done for 1944. I thought it was a pretty interesting piece of drama.

    I was in the Air Force, and we had a tiny bit of training about this topic and other things in the late 80s. The training videos were stilted and corny.

  4. I suspect this type of cat-and-mouse, dedicated interrogation would have been pretty rare. The Germans were processing a heck of a lot of POWs during the war. I imagine they would have had to suspect that the airmen they’d captured were key personnel with a uniquely higher level operational knowledge. If I recall, they asked most of the airmen a fairly straight forward set of questions from the template which, the answers to which were probably analyzed briefly by groups of intelligence officers that had stacks of forms in their inbox.

  5. “It would do us no harm to unpack our English, Captain.”

    Just like a Kraut. Too cheap to invest in subtitles.

  6. I know nuhing! Nuzing!

    1. Hmm, well what about this Nuzing do you know?

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