In the Mediterranean in 1941 the Italians start using underwater chariots to mine the undersides of allied ships. Explosives expert Lionel Crabbe arrives in Gibraltar to organise defenses, ... See full summary »
In 1942 Britain was clinging to the island of Malta since it was critical to keeping Allied supply lines open. The Axis also wanted it for their own supply lines. Plenty of realistic reenactments and archival combat footage as the British are beseiged and try to fight off the Luftwaffe. Against this background, a RAF reconnaissance photographer's romance with a local girl is endangered as he tries to plot enemy movements. Written by
Derek Picken <email@example.com>
Late in the film there is a shot of a merchant ship with a huge hole in her bow. This is actual footage of the Brisbane Star, part of the Pedestal convoy, which remarkably completed the trip under her own power. See more »
The Spitfires that arrive on Malta in the early part of the film are low back models with teardrop canopies, which were not in wide spread service in 1942, when the film is set. See more »
Having never had a chance to visit this island, nor been made aware of its importance to the allied forces during WW II, I appreciated the snatch of history of Malta and its inhabitants and of the incredibly impressive air shots of the RAF at work. Other commentators say much of this footage is archival; if so, then the editing is commendable, as is the transitional camera work, which is virtually seamless. In this day and age when so many battles and flight scenes are achieved by graphic simulation, I feel there is a sense of integrity in this film that cannot be easily duplicated today, regardless of all of the technology at our disposal. This is perhaps the quality of Ealing studios at work.
The black and white graininess of the film also gives it a documentary feel -- the strong light and shadow of the landscape shots of air, water and rocks that give us the vivid sense of place -- remind me also of Italian verismo cinema and reinforce that impression.
As for the acting, I did not feel it in the least "wooden." Actors who emote all over the place are not necessarily conveying true emotion: they are "acting." As with certain aspects of Italian cinema, more is conveyed in what is left out and held back than what is overtly revealed. I felt all of the performances, and especially Guinness's, and including his leading lady, were true to their character. The intelligence in his eyes and the slight, fleeting change of expression in his face, as he reacts, for example, to Hawkins' approval of his reconnaissance flights, is an example of the subtlety that would characterize all of Guinness's performances. Viewers who expect too much overt emotion are possibly allowing the actors on screen to experience it for them, rather than being drawn into the emotion and circumstance of the onscreen drama unfolding. Calling it a "stiff upper lip" may be one easy way to describe it, but one does have a sense in this film of people with some depth and substance, depicted with a visual honesty, who are caught in a life and death situation.
Of four stars, at least three *** without reservation.
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