The Dam Busters Review

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by AVForums May 14, 2010 at 12:00 AM

    The Dam Busters Review

    'The Dam Busters' just has to be one of the all time classic war movies and it now swoops on to Region B locked Blu-ray in a Special Anniversary Edition version which pairs the film with a documentary featuring interviews with surviving crew members of the actual raid.

    In the 'not a lotta people know that' department, 'The Dam Busters' was used as inspiration for the final scenes of the attack on the Death Star in 'Star Wars' and George Lucas used it as a reference source to help him edit together the battle sequence. Take a look at how similar the sequences involving the briefing, the waiting and even some of the dialogue appear in both movies.
    They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and also that if you're going to steal, then steal from the best.

    This is one of those pictures that always seemed to be on TV at a Bank Holiday or Easter Monday - and whenever it played I found myself deciding to just watch a few minutes but then became hooked all the way through to the end credits. The TV screenings, from memory, tended to look grey and washed out, a bit fuzzy - like a black and white film from the fifties, in fact.
    I used to wish I could have a really good, sharp and contrasty print of this movie rather than the usual boiled up affair to which we've become accustomed on the goggle box.
    Now, thanks to the team at Optimum Releasing that's exactly what we get on Blu-ray.
    This is proper black and white, folks - and it just looks so good!
    True film collectors will be delighted by the fact that it opens with the British Board of Film Censors certificate from the period. It certainly gave my heart a lift and took me back to when I watched my movies with a 16mm projector clacking away behind me.
    Then we're into Eric Coates iconic 'Dambusters' theme that every schoolboy knows (or certainly should) before launching into the tale of great British ingenuity, determination and bravery that is as fascinating today as it was when first released in 1954.

    You want to know what it's about? Oh come on, you have got to be kidding!
    Well okay then, just for the kiddywinks.
    (Engage British Movietonenews type voice over with optical sound timbre.)
    British inventor, Barnes Wallis (played by Michael Redgrave) has been working on ways to shorten the Second World War but comes up with a plan involving the destruction of the dams of the Ruhr valley using a unique bouncing bomb that skips across the water before exploding against its target. He has to persuade his stiff upper lipped masters at the War Office that his 'hair brained scheme' will work before any attempt will be made to put his plan into action. Eventually he's given a green light and Wing Commander Guy Gibson (Richard Todd) is called upon to form a new squadron using top crew members recruited from other squadrons. The raid involves not only the new bomb technology but also low level flying at night in Lancaster bombers. Do they succeed? What do you mean, you don't know!

    The film remains true to the real life story, with perhaps a bit of filmatic licence being taken with the way that achieving a consistent bombing run height was conceived - according to the accompanying documentary '617 Squadron Remembers'.
    Some of the actual test footage of the bouncing bomb is used in the movie, but as it was still covered by the Official Secrets Act in 1954, the bomb had to have its shape changed by painting it frame by frame on the celluloid. Close ups of the bomb mounted in the aircraft on the ground depict is as a large wheel type creation when in reality it was a stubby cylinder.
    The name of Guy Gibson's dog (Nigger) caused a problem as it had to be changed and dubbed to Trigger for American audiences. This issue has raised its head again in our modern day PC world, with Peter Jackson planning a remake of the movie and scriptwriter Stephen Fry suggesting 'Nidge' as a possible solution. You'd really think that someone as brainy as Mr Fry could come up with something a bit better.
    Comprising a cast of well known names from the 50's and 60's, 'The Dambusters' is also the feature film debut of one Patrick MacGoohan (TV's 'Danger Man'). He gets only one line and it's with the dog.

    The special effects used in the movie may not be up to the same standard as today's CGI but they work acceptably in context - although there may be the odd whiff of Airfix glue in the wind. The columns of water caused as the bombs explode in the dams are revealed as 'matted' (where two pieces of film are sandwiched together in the optical printer) by the High Def format whereas they might previously not have been so obvious on other formats. However, they do look more impressive on a big screen than on a small TV.

    The acting is consistently good throughout, although the movie really belongs to Michael Redgrave and Richard Todd. Both give convincing performances with Redgrave as the totally obsessed inventor and Todd as the (doggedly) determined Squadron leader.
    The final shot where Todd says he has letters to write, before the camera follows him as he walks solemnly away is very moving - perhaps made more so as Todd was an officer himself during the war and had to carry out that same duty in real life.

    The tension in the operations room as Wallis waits while bomb after bomb fail to break the Moehne dam is played to perfection by Redgrave. There's a great understanding of the human condition shown in the characters involved in this sequence - and indeed throughout the whole movie.

    Directed by Michael Anderson, this is a very well made movie by a good storyteller - based on the book by Paul Brickhill and also on Guy Gibson's own account of the raid. Besides the fact that it's a true story, it's also a real 'Boy's Own' adventure tale that will enthral anyone who loves technology - and will cause others to hold their breath during the bombing runs. It's something to be proud of and a welcome addition to every serious film collector's collection.

    The Rundown

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