Dear Babe: Ehrlich’s Personal Docu of Letters Sent from Her Father in WWII

A tribute to her father’s combat days in WWII, Rosanne Ehrlich’s “Dear Babe” is a personal documentary that consists of letters written by him to his wife from 1943 to 1945.

Compelling and moving in moments, but basically unexciting, docu has slight commercial prospects; trimming of 20 minutes or so should facilitate showing on PBS and other venues.

In December 1943, Ehrlich’s father joined the War effort, leaving behind a pregnant wife and a young daughter. For two years, he wrote to his wife Hazel on a daily basis, conveying his love for her, though never repeating the same expression.

The letters, which are chronologically narrated, provide an interesting testimony of his basic training and combat in Europe, culminating in the liberation of the Ohrdruf concentration camp. As is often the case with such docus, the letters vary greatly in emotional intensity and interest, both personal and political.

The revelatory ones do offer a fascinating chronicle of the gradual, if inevitable transformation of an idealistic Jewish-American soldier, who joined the army to fight fascism, to a cynical, disillusioned man, who had witnessed the horror and insanity of war through the Holocaust.

While these ordinary communications serve as the story’s spine, also interspersed in the narrative are interviews with Babe herself, now an octogenarian who’s still elegant and lucid. Ehrlich’s brother Paul is briefly on-camera too, though neither he nor Hazel provide recollections that go much beyond the contents of the letters themselves.

Chief problems are docu’s repetitive structure and the uninspiring readings of letters, which always began with “Dear Babe.” Authentic footage from WWII provides much-needed visual corollary to texts that are often routine.

The film also suffers from an excessive running time: Subtle trimming, focusing on the more illuminating letters, could profitable reduce the running time to a more desirable 60 instead of the current 82 minutes.