These movies have a lot of similarities. They both are British and deal with special missions that will “hasten the end of the war” and are suicidal. TDM deals with a bombing raid on some German dams to flood the Ruhr Valley and 633 deals with an attack on a German rocket fuel factory in Norway. Both cover the training for the mission and end with a very suspenseful attack. TDM is about an actual historical event whereas 633 is loosely based on the exploits of Mosquito squadrons (there was no 633 Squadron or raid on a rocket fuel plant). Both open with iconic theme music. ( I prefer 633 on this ).
TDM spends more time on the scientific development of the special bombs to be skipped into the dam faces. A main character is the scientist in charge of the project. It intersperses training scenes with scientific experiments. 633 includes the obligatory training sequences, but throws in a romance between the squadron commander Grant (Cliff Robertson) and a resistance leader’s sister. It also ramps up the action by adding scenes involving the Norwegian resistance.
The bombing scenes are well handled in both movies. Similarly, both squadrons must run a gauntlet of German anti-aircraft fire through a narrow valley. Interestingly, apparently George Lucas was influenced by both movies for his attack on the Death Star in "Star Wars".
Although it was made 9 years later and had access (you would assume) to better movie technology, 633 looks more fake than TDB. 633 had authentic Misquitoes available and used them, but the attack scene is obviously models. 633 also revs up the melodrama, but not to good effect. The whole subplot with the resistance hero Erik Bergman (a miscast George Chakaris – chosen for his appeal to teenage girls, apparently) is ridiculous. The raid to kill him in Gestapo headquarters before he can talk is just an excuse for some more aerial action. 633 also ups the suicide quotient to top TDB. Of course, since it’s not based on an actual raid, they can kill anyone they please. They can also throw every obstacle to success you can think of. For example, Bergman gets captured. Another example, the Resistance is not able to take out the defenses.
633 has more female appeal. Not just because Chakaris was so dreamy. You have several female characters and some romance, albeit schmaltzy. There is even a female Gestapo agent and Rosie the barmaid (hey, teenage boys need someone to watch ,too). TDB is more of a “just the facts, maam” movie.
It will come as no surprise that in both films success comes down to the last bombers. Both end with a requiem for the fallen. Question: was it worth it? Answer: TDM – they knew what they were risking. 633 – you can’t kill a squadron.
Winner: “The Dam Busters” is much superior to “633 Squadron”.