Sunday, November 21, 2010

CRACKER? "The Dam Busters"

      Does the film "The Dam Busters" belong in the Top 100?  It is the true story of Operation Chastise - the attempted breaching of three Ruhr Valley dams during World War II.  The Royal Air Force cooperated with the film, including providing Lancaster bombers.  The movie is basically two parts: the development of the bombs by Barnes Wallis (Michael Redgrave) and the training for and carrying out of the mission led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson (Richard Todd).
Redgrave as Barnes Wallis
     The first half is your typical "brilliant scientist bucks the bureaucracy" cliche.  By the way, the screenwriters exaggerate the road blocks placed in his way and piles the credit on Wallis' back when in reality he did not do it alone.  The development of the bomb with its trial and error aspects is interesting and Redgrave is good as the obsessive, eccentric inventor.  He eventually convinces "Bomber" Harris to green-light the project with the enthusiastic support of Churchill.
Todd as Guy Gibson
     The second half covers the selection, training, and execution of the mission.  Todd plays Gibson, who had flown 173 combat missions.  He is your typical British officer as seen in countless movies.  Upper class, stoical, stiff upper lip, etc.  Gibson has a black dog with the cringe-inducing (but accurate) name of "Nigger". (He gets to ride in the front of the car because this is England.)  At the crew briefing they are told the mission will shorten the war, was top secret, and would be dangerous (flown at extremely low level).  Every air mission movie has to have the briefing where those three points are made. We get montages of low level flying and killing time.
a Lancaster as a Dam Buster
     The mission begins at the 1:26 minute mark.  There is realistically little dialogue.  The flight cinematography is good, including shots through the front of the bombers.  The flak is decidedly fake, however.  When they reach the dams, we see each of the bombers go in one at a time.  The tension builds as the first four fail until the fifth creates the breach that floods the valley.  The second dam is similar.  The effects are pretty good for 1955.  One more montage of the survivors (8 bombers did not make it back) returning.  Wallis and Gibson have the obligatory "they knew it was risky" conversation and then Gibson walks into the sunset as patriotic music swells.
     The movie had a great influence on the attack on the Death Star scene in the first Star Wars movie (episode IV).  Even some of the dialogue was used.  Speaking of which, Peter Jackson is apparently planning a remake.  Why? Wasn't "King Kong" enough of a lesson in redundancy?
     Does it crack the Top 100?  I doubt it.  It is historically accurate in the main points.  It is pretty realistic for its time.  It was a huge hit in England, helped by the thrilling opening theme.  It glamorizes the RAF like "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" recruited for the U.S. Air Force.  The two parts are both interesting and the raid itself is thrilling.  However, it is definitely old school in its quaintness and Peter Jackson's version should be much better, although unnecessary.



  1. How can you be so harsh? I think this is a far above the average, accurate and really gripping movie. It didn't make my Top 20, but certainly my Top 50.

  2. I really do not get the love for this movie. The British are apparently required to love it, but other nationalties? My review was positive overall, I just do not see it in the top 100 as of now. However, I am sure there will be plenty of head-scratchers in the Military History magazine Greatest 100 and maybe there will be so many that TDB might sneak in. Of the movies I have reviewed so far, it is better than The Thin Red Line, Northwest Passage, Colonel Blimp, Foreign Corrrespondent, and Ben Hur. However, I can think of at least ten movies immediately that are better than it and are not in the 100 Greatest, for example Enemy at the Gates and A Midnight Clear. While Military History tended to worship old war movies, I am less enamored with them. No one can seriously argue that TDB is better than the two movies I just mentioned.

  3. I am going to see the restoration version in theaters tonight.

  4. You know, I am not really bothered about the dog's name. I understand that many films from the past are filled with all kinds of “isms” as viewed through our modern lens. But to remove scenes that could be offensive to some, or to lock away certain films for the same reason is censorship. Racism was, and continues to be very much an ugly part of history. To try and erase it does a disservice to all Americans because to sweep it under the rug and pretend it was never integral to our national identity will never allow that scar to heal properly.

    For me, as a free thinking adult (or at least I’m under the illusion that I am. I have no choice ;) I would like to be able to choose what to watch, view, read or listen to, even if some of it might be ugly or offensive. It’s difficult to be enlightened if the truth is buried or censored. Am I right?

    So yes, put a disclaimer on it as being a product of it’s time, let people know they might find it offensive, and then put it out there as it. People can then choose whether or not to watch it.

    I don't really like political correctness; it’s a slippery slope when films, art, books, music and other forms of art or expression are altered to appease the zeitgeist of a particular moment in history.

    1. I understand where you are coming from and technically you are right, but there is no doubt calling the dog by its real name would cause controversy that would hurt the movie's potential. I'd rather have the movie with a small bit of censorship than no movie at all.


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