Thursday, May 7, 2015

#1 BATTLE OF BRITAIN vs. #15 ANGEL'S WING


VS.




FIRST QUARTER:  Acting

                The acting in “Battle of Britain” is a bit stiff.  It has an outstanding cast of British thespians, including Sir Lawrence Olivier, but no one stands out.  Susannah York provides some nice eye candy and actually does one of the better jobs.  “Don’t you yell at me, Mr. Worrick!” is her most memorable line.  Robert Shaw and Michael Caine get plum roles but there is not enough screen time to go around.  The German actors aren’t given much to do other than be overconfident.  The British leadership is stoical and the British pilots are appropriately patriotic.  The movie tries to recreate the vibe of “The Longest Day”, but unlike that star-studded epic, this cast does not bring its A-game.   C
               
                “Angel's Wing” (1993) is dominated by Lambert Wilson as the main character and Francois Cluzet as his frenemy.  Wilson grows on you and ends up giving a compelling performance.  His character arc is well done and you can empathize with him.  Cluzet is just as good.  His character is more ambiguous.   The rest of the cast is not memorable.  B

FIRST QUARTER SCORE:
Angels Wing                      8
Battle of Britain                7

SECOND QUARTER:  Pilot Behavior

                “Battle of Britain” does not spend a lot of time on the pilots.  The pilots mostly sit around and wait to scramble.  The Germans lounge around living large as they wait to destroy the pesky Brits.  The Germans are cocky and the Brits are stiff upper lipped, of course.  That is actually fairly realistic.  There is not nearly enough coverage of what the pilots of both sides went through on the ground.  There is no range of personalities among the pilots of either side.  D

                “Angel's Wing” spends a lot of time on the mental state of the French squadron.  The problem is that if it is an accurate depiction of a typical squadron’s dynamics, it paints a very unflattering picture of French fighter pilots in WWI.  The plot revolves around the squadron’s animosity towards Henri because they think he is too lucky!  He is soaking up all the luck, leaving none for them.  Even more bizarrely, the men resent having to compete with him in fighting the enemy!  For a French film, the movie sure contributes to the view that the French military is a bunch of pussies.  I find it hard to believe that this is a realistic portrayal of French pilots in WWI.  D

HALF TIME SCORE:
Angels Wing                      14
Battle of Britain                13

THIRD QUARTER:  Tactics

                There is little indication of wingmen in “Battle of Britain”.  This is typical of a dogfighting movie, but is disappointing for a movie of this caliber.  The movie makes a point of reenacting the disastrous Goring decision of tying the Me-109s to the Stukas and bombers.  There is lip service paid to the dispute between Mallory’s “Big Wing” theory and Park’s intercept immediately tactic.  The movie wimps out and does not take a stand.  C

                “Angel's Wing” is basically a lone wolf movie so there is no need to show wing men tactics.  In fact, no one in the unit wants to fly with Henri.  Cluzet teaches Henri about air warfare, but does not show him on screen.  His advice rings true:  start high until you spot the enemy, attack from his blind spot, get in close.  Henri certainly follows that last piece of advice!  C

THIRD QUARTER SCORE:

Angels Wing                      21
Battle of Britain                20

FOURTH QUARTER:  Entertainment

                “Battle of Britain” was meant to be the air combat equivalent of “The Longest Day”.  It covers both sides and uses subtitles for the Germans (which is a good thing!).  It tries to balance the command decisions with the fighter pilots carrying out the combat.  The character development is weak and the deaths of several main characters are realistically random, but emotionally unmoving.  There is a lame romantic subplot thrown in to draw the ladies in.  The redeeming strength of the film is the dogfighting (including one long sequence sans music) and its historical accuracy.  It should have been much more entertaining, but it is a commendable attempt to bring the battle to the public.  B

                “Angel's Wing” is a tough movie to form an opinion on.  The movie starts slow and has you wondering where it is going.  When Henri wheedles his way into the air corps, you assume it will become predictable.  However, it is actually hard to figure out what will happen next.  This is accomplished at the expense of plausibility.  I think most viewers (especially those who have to read the atrociously inaccurate subtitles) would find the movie to be a head-scratcher.  It does not have much dogfighting, but what it does have is intriguing.  Although the time frame is very unclear, it appears to do a good job depicting the early air war.  C

FINAL SCORE:

Battle of Britain                28
Angels Wing                      28

OVERTIME:

                Another tie in the semi-finals!  In this case, I am going to let the tie-breaker be the fact the “Battle of Britain” is a true story and “Angel's Wing” is fictional.  I also must add that BoB has substantially more and better dogfighting in it.  And that’s what the tournament is mainly about.  Nice run by the huge underdog.  I hope its performance in the tournament encourages more to watch it.

FINAL MATCHUP:

# 1 Battle of Britain vs. # 5 The Blue Max   

8 comments:

  1. I'm pretty sure the character's name is Mr. Warwick (e.g. Warwick Castle; the name is pronounced as your spelling would indicate).

    Your comment about wingmen in "Battle of Britain" may be related to the fact that RAF Fighter Command at that time exclusively employed the three aircraft "Vic" formation in which only the lead aircraft was to act offensively. The other two were expected to maintain close defensive formation to the rear and either side of the leader at all times unless ordered otherwise by the leader. The Vic was an artifact of the pre-radio (in fighter aircraft) era, and hence, there wasn't a great need for, or emphasis on radio communications between members of the same fighter element. Only in early 1942 was the much more effective and practical "Finger Four" formation (which the Germans had used for several years by that time--the British were loath to admit that a German/Axis system of organization was superior to theirs) fully adopted by the RAF and associated air forces.

    The "Big Wing" vs. 'intercept with what you have locally' controversy was dealt with adequately and the lack of resolution of the question as to which was the better is not particularly important in my estimation. Indeed the best approach is the one which fits the circumstances best. In some cases that involved both systems. One notable defense of the "Big Wing" is the fact that the Germans themselves later adopted it for use against daylight (American) heavy bomber raids.

    I would also say "Battle of Britain" deals commendably with the little-known issue of "Airmen's burn" as there are two characters which are shown as victims of this fate (i.e. Squadron Leaders Evans and Harvey), one of the actors (W.G. Foxley who played Evans) being a real-life member of "McIndoe's Army".

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    1. Good stuff as usual. Thanks. I did not notice any form of wingman (Vic or otherwise in the film). "Piece of Cake' does a really good job on this issue. I feel the movie assumed the audience already knew the basics about the battle. Thus the brief allusion to the "Big Wing" controversy was supposed to elicit knowing nods. I feel delving into the controversy would have been an interesting subplot similar to the way "The Longest Day" handled the German controversy over where the landing would occur. As far as "Airmen's burn", it is another example of the movie assuming the audience is aware of something which I can assure you American audiences were clueless about. The Evans character was more mysterious than representative.

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  2. The Battle of Britain was certainly not a minor or obscure battle of WW2 and, being as it was (along with the Battle of the Atlantic) the "main event" at that time in the war, it received an enormous amount of press and radio coverage worldwide, including in the United States thanks to people like Edward R. Murrow. So, for the generations of people who were old enough to remember it (and still alive in 1969), many of the basic facts of the Battle of Britain would be generally known. That said, the movie does take some pains to go over the various details of the battle (e.g. the prelude of the Battle of France, the British use of radar and observers and the advantages conveyed by radar--e.g. no need for standing air patrols, comparison of the numerical strength of the British and German air forces, the geographic disposition and roles of the various Fighter Command Groups, the identification of other nationalities which were fighting within or alongside the RAF, the reason why the Germans switched from bombing aerodromes to bombing London and the consequences of that decision, the imminent threat of German seaborne invasion etc.). Generally, I would say the movie is a good 'primer' on the subject, which would provide interested parties with a foundation on which to build their knowledge of that particular period of history.

    As to Americans being completely ignorant about "Airmen's burn", I think that is an inaccurate assumption. Indeed, American airmen in WW2 were not immune to this injury and some were members of the East Grinstead "Guinea Pig Club" while another one that I know of (Charles Woods) was a prominent post-war businessman and aspiring politician who sought the Democratic nomination for President in 1992 (watch this: www.youtube.com/watch?v=wK9H93L4Yxo).

    Airmen's burn is probably better known (but only slightly) in the British and Commonwealth countries today because most of the "Guinea Pigs" came from those countries and the pioneering techniques of facial reconstruction were developed at Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, Sussex, England by plastic surgeons such as Archibald McIndoe (New Zealander) and Ross Tilley (Canadian).

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    1. Thanks. When I referred to Americans being ignorant of "airmen's burn" I was referring to today's audience.

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  3. If you want to stereotype, since the historical knowledge possessed by the average American today is nothing to brag about (being highly euphemistic here), that would probably also apply with regard to the subject matter of many, if not the vast majority, of the movies that you review. Why you suggest airmen's burn should not be in the movie just because Americans don't know about it today is beyond me. Am I to assume then that most Americans today believe that WW2 aircraft didn't burn when they were shot up or crashed or that their pilots/aircrew were impervious to burns from aircraft fires (or all such burns were fatal)? Unless that is the case there is nothing very difficult (for Americans or member of any other nationality) to understand in this regard within the context of the film.
    Also, the movie wasn't made for "today's audience".

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    1. Wow, chill out. I did not mean to suggest that airmen's burn should not be in the movie! My point was that the movie assumes the audience comes to the movie with a working knowledge of the Battle of Britain. That assumption is a good one for a British audience, but I feel it leaves an American audience missing some of the nuances. You see the Evans character and nod knowingly, Americans would just wonder what is his story. An analogy would be a British audience watching John Wayne's "The Alamo" and not knowing much about Davy Crockett.

      My reviews are aimed at "today's audience".

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  4. I would like to know where you got the idea that the producers of any movie assume their audience has fore-knowledge of the details of its subject matter (i.e. in this case why would they be expected to know about the Battle of Britain in more than broad-brush terms?), and why that knowledge should be necessarily segregated along national lines. To employ your examples, I'm sure there are many Americans who know much more about the Battle of Britain that the average Britisher (yes Piers Morgan, that is a real word) and as least a few Britishers who are similarly better informed about the Alamo than the average American. But is that really important? Aren't movies of this type intended to fulfill an educational role for the viewing public (or at least act as an entrée to education) in addition to being entertaining? Further, isn't it the role of people such as yourself to attempt to clear up the nuances and fill people in on some of the lesser-known historical details of such films?

    It is fine that your reviews are written with "today's audience" in mind but to criticize older films for not catering to the demands and knowledge of modern viewers seems to be a significant logical flaw in your approach.

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    1. I've reached my limit with your insulting attitude. I have obviously touched a very sensitive topic for you and it has damaged our relationship. I have tried to politely explain that you are reading into the review and comments what you want to read. I could do that again but what would be the point? You insist on taking umbrage where none exists. Pity, I thought we were comrades. Discussion over. I will delete any future comments.

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Please fell free to comment. I would love to hear what you think and will respond.