Chronicles the breakout of the Bismarck during the early days of World War Two. Seen both from the point of view of the many naval vessels on both sides and from the central headquarters of the British where the search for the super battleship was controlled. Written by
John Vogel <email@example.com>
Esmond Knight, who plays the captain of the HMS Prince of Wales, actually served as an officer on board her and was injured during the battle. See more »
Swordfish torpedo bombers are shown taking off with slung torpedoes, and the torpedo propellers are spinning in the wind, obviously fake. See more »
Captain Jonathan Shepard:
[walking into broad daylight]
Great heavens! It's nine o'clock in the morning! And I asked you out to dinner.
We could always make it breakfast, couldn't we?
Captain Jonathan Shepard:
[exeunt, passing two ratings]
You know, Harvey, these boys worry me. Four stripes on 'is arm, and he don't know what time of the day it is.
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The German battleship Bismark was one of the finest warships ever built. She carried 8 15-inch guns and a powerful secondary battery and could make 30 knots. It wasn't one of the biggest or most powerful battleships ever built. The Japanese had the Yamato and Mushashi towards the end of the war, juggernauts with 18-inch cannons. There's a limit to gigantism of course, and in the case of battleships it had to do with whether they could fit physically through the Panama Canal, a concern the Japanese had long put behind them. So the Bismark wasn't the sort of sacred monster that sheer size would make her. But she LOOKED absolutely great. Sleek, well balanced, with her superstructure done the way an architect might have done it, not an engineer. She looked built for speed, and endurance too. For an example of the opposite trend, take a look at Rodney or Nelson. More powerfully armed, with 9 16-inch guns carried in three turrets, all set forward of the superstructure. Man, that is one ugly design. And, more than that, Bismarck's crew were highly trained and she was equipped with one of the world's best optical fire-control systems. It wasn't just luck that sank the Hood and damaged any smaller ships that go too close; it was good shooting. (Her shooting didn't fall off until that final bombardment.) Winston Churchill called her "a masterpiece of naval construction," although not in this movie. She kept large elements of the fleet pinned down at home simply by sitting in her protected port and being available.
I must have seen this movie a dozen times and each time I begin by wondering if I'll be able to sit through it again. (I've got some of the exchanges memorized.) I generally make it, though. It's too good in its own dated way to pass up.
The model work is not bad at all for its time. The reviewer who said this film called for black and white was correct. It looks cold and frightening on the North Atlantic. Almost everything would have been, or at least seemed, gray even if it had been shot in color. The peformances are up to professional standards. More is a different character here from his usual jocular one -- frosty, demanding, and no nonsense. Until finally, overcome with emotion, he breaks down in an understated scene. Dana Wynter, his assistant, spots him and discreetly leaves him alone. She's too beautiful to criticize as an actress. She radiates purity and anima and gently draws More out of his shell. Naismith is a familiar face, as are many of the others. And there is a running gag in this underground bunker where More is plotting the Bismarck's demise. Nobody knows what time it is or, if they know it's 9 o'clock, they don't know if its morning or evening. Even the Germans aboard the Bismarck are lent some humanity by the script writers. The cadets look like earnest fresh-faced kids. The Captain is a practical man, worried about his ship and his crew. Only Karel Stepanek, as Lutjens, belongs in another, much earlier movie, say one made in 1943. He is well out of the frame established in the rest of the film. Stricken with awe when he gets a birthday greeting from You-Know-Who. Some of the dialogue is made up, out of necessity. Who knows what went on on the Bismarck's bridge, especially during that last catastrophic shelling? Back in the bunker, Dana Wynter looks down at the wooden models on her chart where a dozen British warships surround the single Bismarck and pound her to pieces. "I don't feel like cheering," she says. Well, "War is all hell." Maybe that's why human beings seem to need another one every twenty years or so, to remind ourselves.
What a waste of great ships, and of good men, on both sides. And an argument could even be made that Bismarck's sister ship, the Tirpitz, played an even more important part in the war simply by staying put and tying down so many British ships that were needed elsewhere. Our side "wins," of course. Our side almost always wins when we're the side that's funding the movie. A lot of viewers will expectably feel relief when the threat represented by Bismarck is over, but they probably won't feel much like cheering.
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