A Collection of Superior British WWII Films
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 03/02/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Went the Day Well? (1942) is probably the least known of the movies in this collection. It is one of the British war movies made during WWII that were meant to strengthen morale and inspire steadfastness.
The little English village of Bromley End welcomes a large number of Royal Engineers who are to work on a secret project. However, the Royal Engineers in reality are English-speaking German soldiers in British uniforms, parachuted into England to set up a counter radar apparatus which will disrupt England's radar network. Gradually the villagers begin to suspect things aren't right, and then realize what they're dealing with. The Germans cordon off the village, show their true colors and prepare to set up their equipment. The villagers need to break through the cordon to alert authorities and get help. They also decide they must take action themselves to stop the Germans. This is complicated because the village houses a traitor. The climax is the Battle of Bromley End, with British Home Guard troops arriving while the Germans, attacking the manor house where they must set up their stuff, are held off by the men and women of the village.
If you're fond of older British movies you'll recognize some fine actors: Leslie Banks, David Farrar, Thora Hird, Basil Sydney, Mervyn Johns. The film is a well-constructed piece of stirring, patriotic wartime propaganda. The DVD I've seen has a good transfer, especially considering the age of the film.
The Colditz Story (1955) was one of a number of movies the British made during the Fifties which relived the victories and bravery of their armed services during WWII. Often these movies starred John Mills. The Colditz Story is based on fact. Colditz Castle in Germany was used to imprison the most incorrigible prisoners-of-war, those who persistently made escape attempts. British, French, Polish and Dutch officers were sent there. Unfortunately for the Germans, they wound up trying to keep inside men dedicated to escaping, and who had skills they now could share. The result was that more prisoners of war escaped from Colditz than from any other prisoner of war camp in either the First or Second World Wars.
The movie is based on the memoirs of Pat Reid (John Mills), who served as an escape officer at Colditz and then was one of the first to break out and make it back to England. While the movie is a bit dated, it also is a dramatic and efficient telling of escape attempts, ruses played against the German captors and, of course, of the unfailing courage and good spirits of the British officers.
If you're fond of old British movies, you'll recognize, among others, Eric Portman, Lionel Jeffries, Bryan Forbes and Ian Carmichael. The DVD I saw has a picture and audio in very good shape considering the age of the movie.
The Cruel Sea (1953) is, in my view, one of the best movies yet made dealing with naval warfare in WWII. It's the story of the Compass Rose, newly commissioned in 1940 as a convoy escort, and the officers and men who served on her. Her captain (Jack Hawkins) was fresh from the merchant marine; her new officers had seen almost no sea duty. They learned on the job as they protected convoys in the North Atlantic and then in the run to the Mediterranean.
What makes this movie so good is its matter-of-factness. There are no heroics, just men learning their jobs, doing their duty, with some dieing and some surviving. The scene where Captain Ericson decides to use depth charges to destroy a suspected submarine hiding below a group of struggling survivors from a torpedoed freighter is harrowing. The DVD I saw has a good but by no means first-class image transfer."
Britain At War.
peterfromkanata | Kanata, Ontario Canada | 08/08/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As someone who was born in Britain and spent his childhood there in the fifties, I remember being taken by my parents to see several of these films when they were released, particularly "The Dam Busters" and "The Colditz Story". So I do appreciate this collection of British World War II films by Anchor Bay, and the memories that came flooding back.
All five films are a crisp black and white, full-screen, mono sound, but--apart from a nice booklet--the DVDs have no extras. As of this writing, Richard (now Lord)Attenborough, Sir Donald Sinden and Richard Todd are still "with us", so their comments would have been fascinating. Some extras--comments on these films and the British war film genre in general--would have been a "nice touch", to say the least.
"The Cruel Sea"--quite simply one of the finest and most realistic films about naval warfare ever made. As the captain of a corvette assigned to protect supply convoys from German U-boats, Jack Hawkins gives one of his best performances--you will not forget the scene where he must decide the fate of some stranded sailors--this is real war, where good people must make heart-breaking decisions. Mr. Hawkins receives fine support from Donald Sinden and Denholm Elliott. A real classic.
"The Dam Busters"--that superb actor, Michael Redgrave, stars as British scientist/engineer/inventor Barnes Wallis, who fought an uphill battle with the British military (and far too much "red tape")with his innovative plan to destroy dams in Germany's Ruhr Valley, and cripple Hitler's industry. After various setbacks, he proves that his "bouncing" bomb does indeed work. That's when Richard Todd as Wing Commander Guy Gibson and his squadron of Lancaster bombers become involved, with much intensive training, and ultimately one of the most dangerous missions of the war. "The Dam Busters" is another true classic--and a treat for aviation fans.
"The Colditz Story"--John Mills, Eric Portman, Bryan Forbes and a number of other fine British actors portray prisoners in Germany's infamous Colditz Castle. Their captors tell them that escape is impossible ! Oh really ? John Mills and his compatriots beg to differ ! This film isn't quite a classic, but the performances and situations will still demand your attention--and, again, the film is based a real events.
"The Ship That Died of Shame"--the titular vessel is a small, well-armed speed boat that served with distinction during the war. It is "saved" from mothballs after the war by its old crew, played by Richard Attenborough, George Baker and Bill Owen. However, Mr. Attenborough's intentions for the boat are totally dishonourable--he sees big money in smuggling, and drags his old mates (Messrs. Baker and Owen)into this lucrative, but high-risk business. As time goes by, the "business" becomes even nastier, with the main characters turning on one another and bringing "shame" to their once-proud ship. The film is a fascinating exercise in the study of human greed and immorality.
"Went the Day Well"--here is the "sleeper" in this collection. I had never seen this one--what a movie ! This film has consistent suspense, worthy of Alfred Hitchcock ! It was released in 1943, when the war with Germany was still raging, and there are various scenes and situations which I suppose can be considered propaganda--an attempt to boost the spirits of the British public and remind them how evil the Nazis were (as if this was necessary after the Blitz !). A small English village is visited by British troops on "manouvers"--except they aren't British at all ! They are Nazis who have sneaked into Britain to establish a "beach-head" for a large-scale German invasion. They threaten the villagers with death, and are only too pleased to demonstrate that they mean business ! Even children are threatened (of course, after the war, with the discovery of the concentration camps, nothing in this film can be considered an "exaggeration" ). Leslie Banks stars, with a very nice turn by David Farrar as a particularly reprehensible Nazi. "Went the Day Well" is not the most famous title in this collection--but it just might be the most unforgettable !
Britain produced a lot of World War II films in the fifties. Many of them had a very authentic look and feel about them. This was likely because many of the people involved had experienced "the real thing", with memories and details still fresh in their minds.
I would certainly welcome another collection--"Above Us the Waves"--"The Sea Shall Not Have Them"--"Cockleshell Heroes"--"The Wooden Horse"--"The One That Got Away"--"Reach for the Sky"--"Carve Her Name With Pride"--"The Battle of the River Plate"--"Yangtze Incident"--"Ill Met by Moonlight"--there are many titles that come to mind.
Bottom line--this is a fine collection of movies that show, from a number of viewpoints, how bravely and competently British people coped with the war, and an evil enemy. Rule Britannia indeed !
A very sad footnote, dated 4 December 2009--Mr. Richard Todd has passed away at the grand age of 90. Mr. Todd was one of Britain's most talented and likeable film actors in the post-war years."
The Brits made the best war films!!
Samuel B. King | Concord, NH | 03/28/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It is wonderful to finally see these films released in the USA. Two years ago, I purchased the British release on Amazon.UK. That set included the Colditz Story, Dam Busters, Cruel Sea and Ice Cold in Alex. That last film is a fantastic story starring stalwarts John Mills and Anthony Quale (as a Nazi). Too bad its not included in this set. The Dam Busters, Colditz Story and Cruel Sea are three of the best war films ever made, hands down. The British style of reduced action in favor of increased drama make the atmospherics really shine. "Went the day well" was a wonderful surprise. I suspect that someone involved in the '70s film "The Eagle has landed" must have seen "Went the day well". "The ship that died in shame" added a film noirish change of pace to the set, with Richard Attenbourgh (Herr Bartlett in The great Escape) as the heavy. These are "must have" DVDs. All five films remind us in this politically correct era that World War 2 truly was a struggle of good vrs evil. YES, BOMBER COMMAND WERE THE GOOD GUYS!! There is something about these black and white works (Ealing studios films in particular), that evoke a near documentary sense of realism. And...the acting is first rate. If only they would release other vintage Brit films over here, such as "Reach for the sky", "Hunt for the Graf Spee", "Beneath the Waves" and "Scott of the Antarctic". Any fan of war films must purchase the British War Collection" as a foundation set within his/her collection!!"
A sterling collection of several excellent British WW II fil
Robert Moore | Chicago, IL USA | 10/17/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Over the years I have with effort to see a large number of British films and had seen four of the five films in this collection. In all four cases, however, the print I saw was vastly inferior to the superb prints contained in this fascinating set of films. So far I've seen three sets of DVDs from Ealing: one featuring the films of Alec Guinness, another containing several non-Guinness comedies, and this collection of war films. I hope that they don't stop with these. Although the sets are remarkable for the utter and complete absence of extras (and by none I truly do mean none), the prints themselves have in ever instance been impeccable. A bit about each film.
THE DAM BUSTERS--Of all the films in the set, this is the one that is most widely available. I first saw this as a small kid when in my most passionate warmonger phase. It is based on an actual bombing raid in WW II where a technique for attacking dams was developed by a British scientist. By dropping bombs so that they would skip across water like stones across the surface of a pond, they were able to attack targets surrounded by water that were normally protected by torpedo nets. Michael Redgrave anchors an excellent cast of performers who will largely be unknown to American audiences, though Basil Sydney appears in both this film and in WENT THE DAY WELL?, while a very young Robert Shaw can be seen in several scenes. If one is very attentive one will spot a very young Patrick McGoohan in a small role as a guard.
THE CRUEL SEA--Far and away the best film of the bunch, and one of the very best films about the Battle of the North Atlantic, this brings home the story of escort work against the German U-Boats better than any other film. The movie tells the story of the Compass Rose, a destroyer employed in protecting cargo ships during the early part of WW II. The cast is outstanding, anchored by a powerful performance by Jack Hawkins, a superb actor not as well known in the US as he deserves to be, though his role in THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI guarantees that he will not ever be forgotten (he is the only one of the major stars who ends the film alive) and also by his memorable role as an alcoholic missionary in ZULU. Speaking of ZULU, the star of that film, Stanley Baker, has a memorable supporting role here as the overly intense first officer in the first third of the film. Many of the other performers will be more familiar by face than by name, the best known by far being a very young and startling handsome Denholm Elliott. The film has many marvelous moments as well as two haunting scenes: the first where Hawkins has to attack a German U-Boat that is submerged below a group of British sailors in the water awaiting rescue, but instead find the destroyer dropping depth charges directly below them, guaranteeing their deaths. Equally disturbing is the sound of the men over the communication tubes after the Compass Rose has been struck by a torpedo. One could add the ensuing scene as well, the British sailors who crowd onto the two rafts following the sinking of the ship, only a few managing to survive the night. All in all, this is a powerful, disturbing film driven by a string of strong performances.
THE COLDITZ STORY--John Mills stars in this excellent film about prisoners of war intent on escaping from an interment camp in Colditz Castle. Directed by Guy Hamilton, of James Bond fame, the film tells the story of British, Polish, and French soldiers who gradually learn to coordinate their efforts in escaping from the camp. There are a score of fine performances in this one, led by Mills and Eric Portman as leaders of the British officers, and backed by memorable performances by the likes of Ian Carmichael, Lionel Jeffries, and Bryan Forbes. Film and folk music fans will also recognize Theodore Bikel as one of the Polish officers.
THE SHIP THAT DIED OF SHAME--I saw this one many years ago in an inferior print. It is an unusual film, almost a gothic ghost story. It stars George Baker and Richard Attenborough as two former officers of a WW II wooden patrol boat. I'm not certain what they were called in Britain, but in the US they were called PT boats, though unlike the famous PT-109 this ship is fitted with deck guns instead of torpedo tubes. The ship distinguishes itself in wartime, but after the war is put into mothballs until after the war, when the two officers buy it to use it for smuggling. With the help of the boat's former coxswain, they engage in petty smuggling for a long while, but eventually get involved in more serious crime. At this point the boat starts mysteriously breaking down or steering hard when doing something deeply wrong. In the end, the boat seemingly commits suicide rather than continue being used in criminal activities. This is certainly not a great film, but it does manage to be a very interesting one.
WENT THE DAY WELL?--This was the one film I had not seen before and it is the only one actually made during WW II. It was definitely made as a morale booster and tells the fictional story of a German invasion by a company of English-speaking troops of a small English village as a prelude to an invasion of Britain by German forces at large. It is a fairly improbable film, in that even if Hitler had been able to assemble that many soldiers who could pass for English, it would be highly unlikely that they would have been squandered so readily. Nonetheless, the film is entertaining and avoids most of the sentimentality and hollow patriotism one might expect in such an effort. The cast is strong, with the normally heroic Leslie Banks playing a German plant in the village. If it isn't in the end especially convincing, it nonetheless features a likable ensemble cast.
One thing all of these films have in common, and something typical of most of the Ealing Studios films, is marvelous scores. Many of Britain's finest orchestral composers wrote for the cinema and scores and the playing are almost always incomparable.
These films may not have the macho heroism associated with American films, but I find these much more focused on the actual human experience. They truly are must-see films both for fans of British cinema and for any WW II buffs."