HBO has revealed the official trailer for The Cold Blue, which debuts on Thursday, June 6, the 75th anniversary of D-Day. A meditation on youth, war, trauma and bravery, the documentary will also be available on HBO NOW, HBO GO, HBO On Demand and partners’ streaming platforms.
In 1943, during the Second World War, top Hollywood director William Wyler went to Europe to document the air war in progress. Wyler and his crew flew actual combat missions on B-17s in extremely dangerous conditions. Incredibly, the entirety of the raw color footage Wyler and his team shot for the documentary The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress was recently discovered in the vaults of the National Archives. After a meticulous frame-by-frame restoration, director Erik Nelson (Dreams with Sharp Teeth, A Gray State) has constructed a compelling new documentary out of the material.
Intimate and poignant, The Cold Blue allows viewers to experience the daily lives of the heroic young men of the Eighth Air Force, who flew mission after deadly mission over Germany in World War II. The film features interviews with nine surviving members of the Eighth, as well as newly-restored 4K footage and outtakes from the 1944 documentary The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress, directed by William Wyler (Oscar winner for The Best Years of Our Lives, Ben-Hur and Mrs. Miniver).
In 1943, the original footage of The Memphis Belle was accidentally scratched in a processing laboratory and that imperfection could not be repaired until now. With updated technology, the filmmakers laboriously went frame-by-frame and digitally painted out the scratches in an around-the-clock process that lasted three months.
“What Erik has done is restore the power to ‘The Memphis Belle,’ perhaps more so than ever,” says William Wyler’s daughter, Catherine Wyler, who is an executive producer of the documentary.
The Cold Blue is a tribute not only to one of the world’s great filmmakers and his crew, one of whom died while filming The Memphis Belle, but also to the men of the Eighth Air Force. “All too often, history has been reduced to cliché, or black-and-white images that immediately distance us from the past,” says director Erik Nelson. “When I learned about the existence of 15 hours of radiant raw color footage that captured, home movie-style, the insanely risky missions flown by the Eighth Air Force over Europe, I knew there was a story that demanded to be told.”
The new film brings to life the treacherous missions, intense weather conditions and deadly attacks endured by young American airmen more than seven decades ago. It also chronicles the ups and down of daily life, as the men coped with their fears and hardships through humor and camaraderie. In recent interviews, nine of the few surviving Eighth Air Force veterans – Dr. V.G. “Gayle” Alexander, John Doyle, Paul “Bud” Haedike, Glenn Harrison, John Ketzner, Morton Kimmel, Robert Rowland, William “Bill” Toombs and Al Villagran – recall the harrowing experiences that Wyler and his cameramen captured in the summer of 1943.
Most airmen ranged in age from 18 to their early 20s, with the oldest likely in their mid-20s. While they initially felt invincible, the number of missions they were expected to complete before returning home continued to rise, and they had some of the highest death tolls in all of WWII combat. As B-17s were neither pressurized nor heated, crews endured perilous conditions equivalent to standing at the summit of Mt. Everest, and frostbite could occur within ten minutes. With all nine veteran interviewees over the age of 90, these first-hand accounts are a priceless addition to Wyler’s restored footage.
Although these veterans are considered heroes, V.G. Alexander is quick to point out, “I was a pilot. The real heroes are buried in England, Germany and France.” Sharing their stories is their way to educate later generations about what they had to endure and ensure that history does not repeat itself.
The Cold Blue is a production of Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Productions and Creative Differences; produced by Peter Hankoff; executive produced by Paul G. Allen, Carole Tomko, Rocky Collins, Catherine Wyler, Clark Bunting and Dave Harding; and directed and produced by Erik Nelson.