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COLLECTION Identifier: hfa00005

Fort Devens Film Collection

Overview

American soldiers were among the best informed in the world on developments in war material and in the problems and progress of their comrades on various world fronts. Motion pictures played a major part in disseminating this information by providing not only entertainment, but also keeping troops up to date on current events, advances in war technology, teaching the history of the armed forces, and training soldiers on getting along in foreign cultures. The 16mm film in the Fort Devens Film Collection represent the types of motion pictures soldiers viewed both overseas and back home during and following World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam.

Dates

  • 1936-1984

Language of Materials

Material is in English.

Access Restrictions

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material. Collection is open for research. Materials may be requested for use in the Houghton Library reading room. Retrieval requires advance notice. Readers should check with Houghton Public Services staff to determine what material is offsite and retrieval policies and times.
Film prints are made accessible by appointment only and in close consultation with HFA staff. Although films do not circulate for individual use, students, filmmakers, artists, and researchers are encouraged to use the collections on-site. If their condition allows, prints from the HFA collection may be viewed on a flatbed viewer at the HFA’s Conservation Center.

Use Restrictions

Reproduction and/or publication of materials subject to copyright requires written permission from a) the copyright owner, his/her heirs or assigns and from b) the Fine Arts Library, owner of the original material.

Extent

1 collection (91 16mm film prints)
The Fort Devens Collection came to the HFA from the Fort Devens Historical Museum in Groton, MA, located on the site of the former U.S. Army base. Originally called Camp Stevens, the base was built in 1917 for the demands of World War I and named for General Charles L. Devens (Harvard Law 1840). It was designated at the onset of World War II as a reception center and training camp for all men drafted in New England who would serve in the U.S. Army. The nearly seven square mile camp comprised more than 1200 wooden buildings and an airfield, and was home to the 1st, the 45th, and the 32nd divisions during World War II and the 7th Infantry during the Vietnam conflict. It also housed a prisoner of war camp for German and Italian prisoners from 1944 to 1946. After WWII, Harvard had so many veterans attending Harvard under the G.I. bill that barracks at Fort Devens were used as temporary housing for Harvard students in the years immediately following the war.

Fort Devens was the last American home many soldiers saw before they were shipped to Europe or the Pacific during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. After Fort Devens U.S. Army camp was officially closed down in 1996 after 79 years of service, the films stored there spent several years in the basement of Richard Sherry, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who rescued the 91 films when they were discarded during the dismantling of Fort Devens. The film in this collection represents the types of motion pictures soldiers viewed both overseas and back home during and following World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam.

The following categories describe the types of films found in the Fort Devens Collection:
  1. Propaganda, “the methodical propagation of a particular doctrine,” was an essential tool in America’s arsenal during the cold war (1946-1991), a period of history bracketed by two watershed events, the end of World War II and the destruction of the Berlin Wall. During these four decades propaganda played as much of a role in the United States’ struggle with the Soviet Union as did the billions of dollars spent on weaponry. A number of the films in this collection fall into the category of anti-communist propaganda.
  2. Combat Bulletins were inaugurated by the Army in 1944. They were intended for general showing by all troops, both at home and abroad. Special editions were made for distribution to general hospitals in order to keep combat casualties informed of the progress of their former units. These films were widely exhibited. Overseas the Combat Bulletins were shown as part of the evening entertainment program. They constituted the army newsreel of the war. At home they were widely shown in training camps and other Army installations not only to troops but to civilian employees of these installations. They were reported as effective both in educating fresh troops to conditions of combat, and in sustaining morale among civilian workers by demonstrating the end-product of their efforts in the actual prosecution of the war.
  3. The Big Picture was the Army's ground-breaking television series. The half-hour weekly program featured famous or before-they-were-famous actors and actresses in top quality productions, filmed on the Astoria stages. In the 1950s the series was shot on 35mm black-and-white negative, but by the end of the 1960s, it was using 16mm color negative. The series covered a wide range of subjects, telling the Army's story in history and in current events.
  4. Army-Navy Screen Magazine was a series of informational films produced entirely for troop screenings. In the official language of the War Department the Army-Navy Screen Magazine was “A twenty minute flexible newsreel-type series of films produced fortnightly and designed to meet specific morale needs. This series is broad in scope for the purpose of enlarging the soldiers’ perspective on war on all fronts; promote and maintain better relations with our allies; report on the home front; aid training by presenting specific lessons through the use of animated cartoons; present a thorough understanding of the character of our enemy, their equipment, etc.”
  5. The GI Movie Weekly was a semi-educational recreational combination of theatrical short subjects and other films available for free distribution to troops, produced by the Army Pictorial Service with 20th Century/Movietone News.
  6. Training films were the focus of the majority of Army films. The range of subjects covered in instructional films produced by the Army, the Air Forces, the Navy, and the U.S. Office of Education is staggering. Armed Forces Information Films fall under this category, emphasizing topics for the information and orientation of all personnel of the Armed Forces, including Reserves and ROTC.
Descriptions adapted from Hoban, Charles Francis. Movies That Teach. New York: The Dryden Press, 1946.

Arrangement

Films are listed alphabetically by title. Filmographic information, including year, director, and description, are included when available.

Acquisition Information

This collection was donated to the Harvard Film Archive in memory of Richard Sherry.

Fort Devens was the last American home many soldiers saw before they were shipped to Europe or the Pacific during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. After Fort Devens U.S. Army camp was officially closed down in 1996 after 79 years of service, the films stored there spent several years in the basement of Richard Sherry, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who rescued the 91 films when they were discarded during the dismantling of Fort Devens.

Processing Information

Encoded by: Amy Sloper, April 2010
Link to catalog
Title
Fort Devens Film Collection, ca. 1940-1971 : Guide
Author
Harvard Film Archive, Fine Arts Library, Harvard College Library
EAD ID
hfa00005

Repository Details

Part of the Harvard Film Archive, Harvard Library, Harvard University Repository

Contact:
24 Quincy Street
Harvard University
Cambridge MA 02138 USA
(617) 496-6750