“Anything you can do, I can do better.” Such is a famous line sung between by Ethel Merman and Ray Middleton in Irving Berlin’s famed Broadway musical, Annie Get Your Gun way back in 1946. While the number was in itself meant to be a playful, almost flirtatious moment between the duo, it is a line that has really garnered new meaning in the more than six decades that have passed since the musical’s debut. That is because over the decades, the gender gap around the world has become an increasingly present discussion topic. Just as increasingly noteable is that women’s roles in the world’s major events are coming to light and becoming increasingly respected as the world changes. Thanks to changes in attitudes towards women and their accomplishments, we now know about the role of three women in NASA’s early days. We also know that if not for Elizabeth Magie, we would not have the board game Monopoly. Rosalind Franklin’s work in DNA imaging was stolen, too. If not for her work, much of medical and genetic science might not be what it is today. These noted women are just some of those whose works were taken without receiving their proper credit. Thanks to PBS and its home entertainment arm, PBS Distribution, yet another woman — Elizabeth Smith Friendman — and her achievements are finally receiving credit in a new episode of American Experience, titled The Codebreaker. Released on DVD March 16, the hour-long presentation will appeal not only to women, but to history and especially military and crime history buffs. That is due in large part to the program’s main feature, which will be discussed shortly. The program’s editing adds its own share of engagement and entertainment to its whole. It will be discussed a little later. The program’s pricing rounds out the most important of its elements and will also be discussed later. Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the presentation. All things considered, they make American Experience: The Codebreaker another enjoyable addition to PBS’ long-running biography-history series. It is additionally, a positive starting point for any discussion on Friedman’s accomplishments.
PBS and PBS Distribution’s profile of Elizabeth Smith Friedman is a fitting tribute for the famed cryptologist. That is due in large part to the story featured in this episode of American Experience’s main feature. The story in question is actually a two-part presentation. On one hand, it is a love story, telling about her marriage to her wholly supporting husband William. On the other, it is a presentation of another so-called hidden figure from the 20th century. Audiences learn through this story that it was thanks in large part to Elizabeth that the illegal booze business that rose from prohibition was stopped. As a matter of fact, the story even points out directly that Friedman’s own testimony at the trial of Al Capone – more classroom session than just testimony – that he was eventually convicted. This is something that is not shown in Paramount Pictures’ 1987 movie The Untouchables. Go figure. This is just part of what makes the story so intriguing. Friedman’s emotional strength and determination as her husband fell into deep depression even as she worked to decipher ciphers used by German forces during World War II presents her as quite the strong woman; a true to life role model for so many women. She is even credited with having created America’s first code/cipher organization during World War I, yet was not allowed to serve with that group on the front lines. That was because of gender roles established during those times. That in itself is a powerful statement that is still so relevant even today. The whole thing ends in the revelation that Friedman never got the credit that she deserved, going so far as to allege that much of her work was stolen by a certain high-ranking male government official for his own fame. His identity will be left for audiences to discover for themselves. The revelation is certain to shock may viewers. Additionally, it is yet more proof that in fact women really can do anything men can do, and in fact sometimes better. This overall story is in itself reason enough for audiences to watch this episode of American Experience. It is just one part of what makes the episode worth watching. The editing that went into the program’s presentation adds its own appeal to the presentation.
The editing that is featured in American Experience: The Codebreaker is worth examining because it works with the story itself to keep the story moving fluidly from start to end. Whether it be the incorporation of the interviews with various academics and others, or the use of the photos and footage, each element herein is expertly woven into the whole. The precise timing of each item’s placement within the story does well to help enhance the viewing experience even more. That is because it all helps give visualization to everything revealed through the story. The result of the editing is that viewers’ engagement and entertainment is even more ensured, along with that guaranteed through the program’s main feature. Taking all of that into consideration, the whole makes the program that much more enjoyable. It all makes the DVD’s pricing appealing in its own right.
The average price point for American Experience: The Codebreaker is $19.09, just below the $20 mark. That price was reached by averaging prices listed at Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, and PBS. It was not listed through Books-A-Million and Target at the time of this review’s posting. For the most part, the listings are well below that average, too. Amazon, Walmart, and Barnes & Noble Booksellers all list the DVD at $17.49. Best Buy’s listing of $17.99 is a little higher, but still well below the noted average price point, making it just as affordable as the other noted listings. PBS once again lists its product at the most expensive price, $24.99 this time. So overall, audiences can get this DVD at a relatively affordable price from most major retailers without worrying about breaking their budgets. Adding to the appeal is, again, the otherwise untold story of another woman who played a key part in America’s history. That and the editing make the pricing that much more appealing. Putting the final period on it all is that regardless of which of the major retailers choose, a portion of sales of the DVD will still benefit PBS, allowing the network to further provide so much quality programming. All things considered, the DVD proves to be another of this year’s top new documentaries.
American Experience: The Codebreaker is more proof that women can and often do, do things just as well as men if not better. It is a presentation that will appeal to the feminist crowd as well as so many history fans. That is thanks in large part to the program’s main feature, which outlines Friedman’s otherwise untold story. It reveals her as yet another of likely so many so-called hidden figures. The editing that went into the story ensures viewers’ maintained engagement and entertainment just as much as the main story. Considering all of this, the DVD’s average price point and separate listings, which mostly are less than $20, makes for its own appeal. Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of this DVD’s presentation. All things considered, they make the whole one of those rare presentations from PBS that rivals any overly embellished bio-flick that Hollywood’s “Big Six” could ever hope to churn out. It is available now.
More information on this and other episodes of American Experience is available online now at:
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