British History Challenge 48-51 | The Return of Britannia

We last left off in early 1942… The Battle of Britain was won but the war was far from over and the road to Germany would be a long one…

#48 The Dambusters

General Opinion: Average, really.

Review: The point of this film is the development of Barnes Wallace’s bouncing bomb, the formation of 617 squadron (later known as the Dambusters) and the subsequent raid using the bombs on the Ruhr damns. It does this. It sticks alarmingly close to the point and the facts, almost rigidly in some places. That’s not the problem I have. The problem with this is that the film is just far too long, by about twenty minutes to half and hour. They could do with cutting most of the beginning where Barnes Wallace is sitting in his living room for a bit talking about the bombs. As a result, the film drags in places and it becomes a bit of a bore. It was entertaining but it just felt slow. For instance, it takes an awful long time to get to the point of anything. The actual flying scenes don’t start until an hour in and even then they’re few and far between. Instead, although we’ve already seen most of the development of the bomb, we get more bomb development, which we don’t really need to see. There’s also a random scene where a farmer writes a letter to complain about low flying. It’s one of the few scenes that adds nothing to the film. Cutting that out, for a start, would make it less boring, as would cutting half of the ‘let’s watch them drop the bomb on the beach… Again’ scenes.

It wouldn’t be a bad film if these scenes were trimmed. They aren’t essential after all. As it stands though, this film is sort of all right. It’s watchable. Like I said, it does what it’s supposed to and for that i can’t fault it. The black and white tone of the film (which apparently was chosen so they could integrate the real test footage, which is a neat idea although you can clearly see the difference when you know) adds a sense of realism to the proceedings and I think, had it been done in colour, it would look really cheap and tacky, especially with some of the model scenes which already look a bit weak and dated

And that brings me onto one of the other problems, the film’s ‘special effects.’ Now they have the model planes being blown up so why not blow up a model of one of the dams? seems plausible, right? Well that’s not what they did. Instead they add this really tacky clearly fake explosion that would have probably still looked bad in the fifties. I bet it would have been even worse in colour. On top of that you have the gunfire, which is so bad that it makes the whole raid look like a Disney funded propaganda film. They literally glow as big as street lamps. By all means light up the guns… But the bullets? No. They wouldn’t look like that. They certainly wouldn’t glow and they wouldn’t be visible either. Look at other war films. Can you see the bullets, children? Can you fuck! And they’re animated as well, which makes them look like fireworks I’m afraid.

The characters, what few of them there are (mainly Barnes Wallace, Guy Gibson and his dog,) are all presented well and reasonably accurately so I can’t complain really, but they don’t really stand out. Neither does the script for that matter. Everything just comes out as being rather average, which I find to be something of a disappointment.

Rating: 6.5/10

#49: Age Of Heroes

General Opinion: Let down by poor direction and one of the world’s worst actors…

Review: Ooooh dear. When I first read about this film it was one i wanted to see. It looked positively freaking cool- An Alistair Maclean style war film (Think Where Eagles Dare, Guns of Navarone type) of the old fashioned Nazi butt kicking variety that you just don’t get anymore. And after seeing it iIcan honestly say I enjoyed it to some extent… It wasn’t as good as I was expecting but if certain… people… hadn’t let it down it would be an alright kind of film. It centres around the 30AU and the fictional (and a little bit ridiculous) Operation Grendel, a mission to capture intel on German radar stations in Norway. Although fairly low budget, it has a majesty and an epicness that is enhanced by the bleak, snow covered Norweigian wilderness that adds a haunting sense of isolation to it. At times it really does remind me of those war films of old. There’s one scene with a woman on skis and a little wooden hut that’s reminiscent of ‘The Heroes of Telemark,’ (which was also set in Norway.) There are also bits of other films in there which gives it a comforting, familiar kind of feel to it. They make the film watchable, bearable, even at times good. The script isn’t amazing, but it’ll do. And even though the main plot is completely off the wall it hardly detracts.

Hell… Even Sean Bean does some pretty fine acting here. He’s believable and courageous as the war battered commando leading his men bravely into the Nordic snows… You can believe he actually went to a public school (And this is SEAN BEAN we’re talking about!) James D’arcy makes for a pretty convincing Ian Fleming as well. The support cast too, although unknowns, do a reasonable job… Well… All except one… And unfortunately he isn’t that unknown.

I am referring here to the inclusion of Danny Dyer, a man who has to be one of the world’s all time worst actors. (What… Worse than Hayden Cristianssen? Surely not!) Seriously… He’s worse than Hayden Christianssen (oh.) At least with Christianssen you can at least tell he’s trying to make some sort of a stodgy effort, even though he’s practically a tree (and just to point out he ISN’T in this film.) Honestly, Dyer should be renamed as Dire for his shit acting ability. I’ve never seen any other Danny Dire film and nor do I want to after this. They’re all shit of the same type… Drug bender films mostly- IE nothing like this. I bet he’s only in it because he ran up to the director shouting something like ‘I wanna be in your film… Let me in your film…’ He’s just out of place and he ruins everything by his presence. He looks like a monkey in a soldiers outfit and nothing like a WW2 commando or even a WW2 anything. And that’s before we even get to his ‘acting.’ It’s diabolical. I don’t think you can rightly call it acting… It’s more like making monkey noises whilst everyone else does their best to compensate. The more the film goes on the more I reckon he really did go and cry in the directors office and demand to be let in. It’s inconceivable as to why anyone would actually think this trained chimp would add anything. He completely ruins the film just by being there and that’s not good as he fucks up the very first scene. And after that I did think that I wasn’t going to like it but once it moved on from Dire I started to realise it was ok and I kind of started liking it… Until he came back. Thankfully he’s sidelined and kept in the background for much of the Norway scenes, which was something of a relief, although there is one point after the parachute drop where he has an annoying ‘look at me aren’t I good’ gaze over his shoulder at one of his co-stars… Which is so painfully noticeable it made me sick.  I’m no great actor but I can safely say that I am ten times better than Dire. I’m sure there are plenty of better actors out there who would have killed for this part… Was Ray Winstone busy or something?

But then again, the direction doesn’t seem that competent either. There are a few jarring shots in places that aren’t edited very well and then there is the stupid wobbling camera. Not all the way through but at certain moments, and its completely needless and detracts from the film.

Finally you have the ending. Instead of spending an extra five minutes or wrapping things up properly, they just don’t. There are things left dangling. At one point Sean Bean and his Scottish seargent are climbing up a hill, fighting Nazis and then they realise they’re running out of ammo… And then that’s just left and we cut to Dire running away like a pussy. And Sean Bean is never seen or heard from again… Knowing it’s Sean Bean we can safely say he dies… But why not show it? After all, this film is quite brutal and bloody in places. It’s not like a kids film. And there’s a bit involving the commandos wills just before the Norway raid… Why don’t we see them? It’s like they just got bored and said ‘yeah ok, we can’t be bothered giving it a proper ending…’ And then, unfortunately, Dire survives. Shame!

Rating: 6/10- Could have been good…

#50: The Longest Day

General Opinion: A Pro-American disgrace…

Review: Coming in at a whopping 2 hours and 40 minutes, this is one of the longest and most boring films of the challenge… There have been boring films before, but never on this scale. This takes boredom to entirely new levels. At least the other boring films had the audacity to  end at the two hour mark. This just goes on and on and on and it doesn’t help itself  by plot or character either… Or even pacing. It’s so damn slow…

To begin with, however, I’d like to comment on the fact that this film apparently has ‘forty two international stars‘ in it. Really?  Sean Connery (on screen for one scene) Richard Burton (about two short scenes) The chap who played Guy Gibson in Dambusters (On screen for a short amount of time…) Goldfinger (even less time than the other three) and John Wayne (who still doesn’t get much screen time.) And the rest of them? Looking at the credits I recognised a couple of names but I wouldn’t be able to tell you where they appeared in the film or who their characters were… And that’s one of the issues I have with this film. The screen is clogged up with people you’ve never heard of for varying periods of short length in scenes that are very dull and where not much happens. For the first hour nothing happens. Absolutely nothing but people talking in offices and the Germans strutting around wondering when the invasion will come. And the script just makes it worse… It’s like somebody copied out a bad history textbook and turned it into a screenplay. It’s dire and it doesn’t make for a good film. At one point one person reads out a list of statistics for the landings, just like in a textbook. For all the good the script does they might as well have just made a documentary.

Although once the invasion begins it gets a little more exciting, the film is so general and all encompassing that it makes very little sense and it just appears to be one set of events after the other. There’s no structure, nothing to keep interest… And because its in Black and White it’s like watching a series of very bad news reels. There are a few nice shots of troops running up beaches but that’s it… Yes there is action, but it is very weakly performed action. Even by 1960’s standards it’s dull. Look at Dambusters… That was positively thrilling compared to this. At least in this one the bullets aren’t glowing headlamps.

Now I’ve already mentioned that the fillm is all encompassing, it tries and deals with the entire Normandy landings… Well it wants you to think that but on closer inspection its painfully screwed towards the Americans, like they were the only people that mattered. Ok… There are the British and the French in the film as well, and we see the German perspective… But it’s mainly Americans. The British are either depicted as bumbling idiots who don’t seem to have a clue as to what is going on or posh. There’s one scene where paratroopers land at a farm and almost every one of them lands in a stupid position, like down a well or on top of a roof or in a hen house. British Paratroopers were highly trained. I hardly think it likely that any of them would have landed down a well. It’s as if the writer said ‘Oh they’re British… All British are bumbling idiots.’ I’ll tell you now this is wrong… And it’s a disgrace that they’re treated in this way. The French aren’t stereotyped… The Germans are treated with respect… So why aren’t the British? It’s disgraceful.

But then you have the biggest offence of all. The Canadians. Fourteen thousand Canadians stormed Juno Beach on the 6th of June… guess how many of them are even mentioned? None. That’s right… None! They’re just forgotten about, as are the Belgians, the Poles, the Norwegians, the Australians, the New Zealanders and the Dutch. All of them get not one mention. Not a single man, as if they weren’t even there. And the British and French  are mostly sidelined in favour of the Americans, you don’t see much of their assault. Nope. Just pushed aside like trash.

This doesn’t surprise me really as the film, rather than being a collaboration (which it should have been) was made entirely by Americans with an agenda for bigging up their own actions and flipping the bird to everyone else, like they didn’t matter and they didn’t do anything useful all day. I’d say not true and that this film is, overall, a disgrace to those that actually fought and died on those beaches. It might be factually accurate but when you’re skewing an important event like this towards one group of participants it doesn’t matter.

Rating: 0/10- Boring,  Badly made disgrace. All the exciting bits are in the trailer.

#51: A Bridge Too Far

General Opinion: Who thought of Gene Hackman as a Pole?

Review: This film has pretty much the same idea as The Longest Day only with ‘Operation Market Garden,’ an ambitious plan by General Montgommery to take the bridges over the Rhine and end the war by Christmas 1944. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, things went disastrously wrong. (See Sidenote Below.) Unlike The Longest Day however, this one actually pulls it off. It doesn’t shirk and it definitely doesn’t skew towards any particular side, even the Germans get a fair piece… And the Dutch Resistance… And even the Poles. And although it has a large cast (Including… wait for it… Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Robert Redford, Dirk Bogarde, Edward Fox, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier and Gene Hackman) You know what all of them are doing and who they are. They all get ample screen time. Nobody gets left behind as this is a film made with style, class and substance.

Theres no denying it’s epic… It’s close to three hours long but the time just seems to fly by. There is enough excitement and enough action to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the whole film. Right from the opening monologue at the beginning you know you’re in for something special:

It sets up for the three hour epic that follows… It’s not a film about victory or triumph. Nobody comes out on top, not the Germans, or the Americans or the British or the Dutch. This is a film about failure and the men who held their nerve against an increasingly desperate situation. It doesn’t let up in the tension all the way through, even though you know how its going to end… There is still plenty of suspense and the hope that somehow it’ll all turn around just at the last minute, even though you know that it won’t. It’s almost heartbreaking.

And the casting and characterization is done well too. Normally, such a large cast would be a detriment to a film such as this but here, as iIsaid earlier you know who they are and what they are supposed to be doing. Its a good, solid, well known cast (see above.) The only problem is Gene Hackman who is supposedly playing a Pole… He doesn’t sound Polish at all. It just sounds weird. It doesn’t detract much though and I guess we should just add it to the ‘list of roles in which Gene Hackman was miscast’ alongside Lex Luthor. Besides this, they’ve done such a good job of casting that the film actually works.

Rating: 8/10

Sidenote: Since the making of this film information has been released by MI5 regarding a member of the Dutch resistance called Christiaan Lindemans and his activities as a Nazi collaborator. Since first seeing this film I’ve always had my suspicions that somebody ratted to  the Germans about Market Garden… Supposedly he’s the one who did it. Here is his Wikipedia page:


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