About the Production
Author John Katzenbach wrote the novel Hart 's War based partly on the experiences of his father, Nicholas
Katzenbach, a prisoner-of-war during World War II at Stalag Luft III. After surviving his imprisonment, Katzenbach later served as attorney general of the United States under President Lyndon Johnson.
"As my father grew older, I realized we had never really spoken about his POW ordeal," John Katzenbach says. "So I began asking questions about that period in his life. As a writer and storyteller, I started to see that some of the things he told me could be developed into an interesting and thrilling suspense story, a mystery. It wasn't long before I sat down and wrote the opening lines of Hart 's War."
Katzenbach viewed the POW camp as not only a strong setting for a thriller, but saw the story as a testament to the difficulties his father endured. "An accessory to the truth" he calls it. By writing Hart 's War, Katzenbach was able to both dramatize the courage and heroism displayed by American prisoners-of-war and to honor his father, who has been an inspiration to him throughout his life.
Incidentally, several members of the production also had familial ties to the war. Costume designer Elisabetta Beraldo's grandfather was an Italian POW. The father of executive producer Wolfgang Glattes was the first German U-boat commander taken prisoner by the Allies, and MGM studio chief Chris McGurk's father was also a POW. One of the film's technical advisors, Colonel Hal Cook, was imprisoned in the same camp as Nicholas
A film version of Hart 's War began to take shape when producers David Ladd and David Foster were separately sent early chapters of Katzenbach's novel. Each, unbeknownst to the other, immediately spoke to different people at MGM about the exciting project. They agreed to join forces, and MGM Pictures President Michael Nathanson bought the project for the studio. Development was immediately underway.
"The challenge in development was blending all the book's marvelous issues and suspense into one cohesive piece," says Ladd. "We needed to condense a large, detailed, and rich narrative into a two-hour movie while preserving the novel's spirit and integrity."
After positive drafts of the script were written by Jeb Stuart and Terry George, writer Billy Ray was brought in to write the final draft that led to production.
"This project was an opportunity to write an open love letter to the men who served and
suffered during World War IL, a cinematic tip of the hat," says Billy Ray, an avid student of military history. Ray exhaustively researched the day-to-day lives of soldiers and the hardships of men in captivity, citing such references as The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw, Goodbye, Darkness by W. Manchester, and
Stalag Luft III: The Secret Story by Arthur Durand.
"I belong to the first generation of American men who were never called to serve," Ray continues, "and have always felt grateful, yet guilt-ridden about it. The awe I feel for these veterans grows as I get older and their achievements become crystallized in history."
Producer David Foster is a Korean War veteran, and agrees the script honors some of our country's greatest heroes. "When I was in the Army," he says, "I was a speechwriter for Mike Daniels, Commanding General of the U.S. Army of the Pacific
(USARPAC), who would regale us with horrible, funny and scary stories about the fighting in Europe. One story was about American soldiers liberating a POW camp and how emotional it was for both the POWs and the guys who were liberating them, all these strong military men crying and hugging. That story has stuck with me ever since, and when I read this book, it's the first thing I thought about. We should all be very proud of their sacrific
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