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I had a chance to catch this well-known film for the first time on the "Action" cable channel and was very impressed all around - script, acting, direction, authenticity, pacing, the whole nine yards. This is a really engrossing story rooted in history with bold characters and lots of naval action; just a rip-snorting good adventure story of a very high calabre. The scenes of 180th century naval action are some of the most impressive I have seen (a letterbox release would be of great benefit in this regard). Guinness is up to his usual high standard, abetted by fine work from Bogarde and Quayle. The tension of the dramatic line never lets up until the heroic conclusion. The movie inspired to do some reading into the story of the Spithead Mutiny, on which the movie is based. Highly recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Damn the Defiant is built around a true incident, the "Spithead Mutiny" of the British Channel Fleet during the war with France in 1797. British sailors rose up in a mostly peaceful rebellion against the abominable conditions in which they were forced to serve. The movie, based on the novel "Mutiny" by Frank Tilsley, tells the story of the frigate Defiant, on a solitary mission deep into the French held Mediterrean Sea. The crew, already involved in the planning for the fleet-wide mutiny, suffer under the lash of the ship's sadistic First Lieutenant (Dirk Bogarde), while the Captain (Alec Guinness) is incapacitated, first by the torture of his son and then by the loss of his arm in a battle with a French frigate. But the good triumph in the end, as is right. It is a surprisingly complex story with well developed characters, but it delivers plenty of action as well. The battle scenes are well done, though the final action with a fire ship is too clearly model work. The DVD provides a fine viewing experience. The video is generally very good. The picture is soft occasionally and the rich colors become over-saturated in a few brief instances, but I did not find any of these flaws too distracting, and it is far better than my old VHS recording. The sound is very full and the dialogue was always clear and never overwhelmed. Obviously, a movie this old is not going to provide the same kind of audio as a contemporary film, but I found no serious fault with it. I highly recommend Damn the Defiant to any fan of naval adventure in the age of sail, as typified by Horatio Hornblower.
In April 1789 Captain William Bligh was set adrift off the Friendly
Islands by Fletcher Christian and the crew of H.M.S. Bounty, tired of
Bligh's bad temper and harsh tongue. Bligh and the loyal crew members
(except two killed by cannibals on one island they stopped at) managed
to sail the open boat 2,100 miles despite lack of supplies and
dangerous seas and weather to safety. Bligh returned to England, and
eventually made a second trip to Tahiti to complete his original
mission. Christian and most of the Bounty mutineers fled on the Bounty
and reached Pitcairn Island, where their descendants live to this day.
The mutiny on the Bounty is the one that most people think of whenever they hear the word "mutiny". Otherwise they think of THE CAINE MUTINY. Actually there have been many mutinies. In 1905 a mutiny on the Russian battleship Potemkin occurred at Odessa on the Black Sea. It was immortalized by Serge Eisenstein in his film of the name POTEMKIN.
It surprises many people outside of England that the Bounty was peanuts compared to the Great Mutiny of 1797 at the Nore and Spithead of the entire British fleet (also the 1931 Invergordon Mutiny of the British fleet during the depression, which was a total surprise). The Great Mutiny is supreme because it occurred just when England was facing revolutionary France in the French Revolutionary Wars. A force being planned by Wolfe Tone and the French General Lazare Hoche was to invade Ireland. By sheer chance the French were unable to take advantage of the moment of England's peril to invade.
The 1797 Mutiny at Spithead was actually successful - various gains in pay and food were made by the sailors. Then came the Nore Mutiny, which was led by a seaman of some leadership qualities named Richard Parker. Parker's demands were impossible, and he apparently toyed with leading the fleet to France. Instead the British Admiralty got tough, and crushed the mutiny. Ironically one of the last ships to give up was H.M.S. Director, which was commanded by William Bligh. It was the second mutiny (of three!) that Bligh would face in his career. Parker was tried for mutiny and executed, as were dozens of other sailors.
It would be nice if some enterprising producer would make an accurate film of the 1797 Mutiny - but until that day comes we are left with two films that roughly approximate the story. There is Peter Ustinov's BILLY BUDD, which is set in the period of the Great Mutiny, and this one. BILLY BUDD has much going for it regarding it's source material (Herman Melville's brilliant study of good and evil, and how they are impossible to separate). Then there is DAMN THE DEFIANT / H.M.S. DEFIANT, which tells the story from the point of view of a single vessel and the evils that permeated all the crew from the Captain to the tars.
Alec Guinness is a well meaning but weak leader who is the Captain of Defiant, and has been stuck with Dirk Bogarde as his new second in command, a socially well-connected sadist. Bogarde is determined to be the real commander of the ship, and is willing to do what is needed to bring Guinness and everyone in sight under heal. Guinness's son is a midshipman on the DEFIANT, and Bogarde keeps finding ways of punishing the young man that Guinness (because of fears of favoritism) will not interfere with. On top of this, during one battle, Guinness loses an arm (a salute to Lord Nelson who was similarly was crippled).
However, the men led by Anthony Quayle, decide to join the mutiny. And then it is Bogarde's turn to sweat.
What were the gripes of the mutineers? Low pay (the government spent money on bribes for votes, but not decent pay). Nothing like pensions for the men - frequently kidnapped by press gangs in the major cities - and left cripples after serving in the naval battles. Food was crap - the quartermasters and the people who sold supplies were in cahoots and sold rotten food to the ships. It was a "lovely life". The wonder is that there weren't more bloodbath mutinies. One (in 1798) on board H.M.S. Hermoine led to the murder of a dozen officers, including the Captain (one Hugh Pigott). Reading of it makes one realize how lucky Bligh and the Admirals were that they did not face the real wrath that was just under the surface.
This movie is an excellent exploration of the effect that a divided command
structure has on the workings of a ship. The characters are well cast and
fully developed. We are taken into the workings of the ship and see more
idyllic view of life in the wooden world that we saw in the Gregory Peck,
The plot line is good and for people like me who love wooden ships, the scenes of the ships and the naval battles are supurb. If one likes Hornblower or Maturin this is a movie you need to own. The transfer to DVD came out well (I also owned this one on a beta tape) and it is one of those core movies for the history buff.
I remember seeing H.M.S. Defiant in the theater when it came out back
in 1962. It's too bad my VHS copy is formatted. One really needs the
wide screen to appreciate the vast sweep of this wonderful sea
The Defiant sets sail from the naval harbor at Spithead just before the ships of the Channel Fleet are ready to start an organized mutiny. So with no contact between them and the ships at Spithead or in the Mediterranean, the men of the Defiant have to work out their own course of action. That action is the basis for what happens.
They've got an unwitting ally in the ship's executive officer, Scott- Padget played by Dirk Bogarde. A future Drake or Hawkins with influence and a taste for sadism. He looks to usurp the authority of Captain Crawford who is played by Alec Guinness. The conflict between them plays into the hands of the mutineers.
In that other famous story of the sea, Mutiny on the Bounty, Fletcher Christian points out to Captain Bligh that the men drafted into the Royal Navy from the press gangs aren't king and country volunteers. Neither are these people in the foc'sle of the Defiant.
Bogarde plays against type and does it well. He's usually not a villain in film although he had essayed villainous roles before in his career. But Guinness is a wonder. His Captain Crawford, calm, detached, and inspiring in his own way in his patriotism was a role Alec Guinness could be proud of. Totally different than the characters he played in those Ealing studio comedies. This falls more in line with Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai or Colonel Sinclair in Tunes of Glory without the bad character features the other two had.
Great Britain eventually stopped using press gangs, but at the time it was the way the Royal Navy got a crew together. In fact later on during the Napoleonic Wars, the British took to stopping American ships and impressing members of those crews in the Royal Navy. It was one of the causes of the War of 1812.
Two other performances in H.M.S. Defiant are worthy of note. Anthony Quayle as the mutiny leader on the Defiant and Tom Bell one of the mutineers whose rashness nearly blows it all for the seamen and their cause.
Hovering over all of this is the French and to me the highlight of the film is Alec Guinness reminding the men of their duty to prevent a French invasion of their island home. It's a superb piece of drama.
A little Mutiny on the Bounty, a little Horatio Hornblower go into the plot of H.M.S. Defiant. It's a good mix with a superb group of players serving it up for the audience.
Despite the fact that this film is not as known as some other sea sagas, it
has some spectacular battle scenes, which are quite impressive even today.
The movie does contain some historical speculations ( like the prevention of
France's invasion of England in 1797 ), but overall it is one of the most
detailed and authentic depictions of what seamen's life looked like in the
18th century. It is highly recommended to anyone interested in the military
history of the period.
The primary reason I wanted to see that movie was the fact that Alec
Guinness was in it. Needless to say, his portrayal of Defiant's captain is
as strong and convincing as ever. Good captain vs. bad second-in-command (
Bogarte )opposition might not seem very original to a modern viewer, but
again, excellent performances by both Guinness and Bogarte and many
unpredictable plot turns make us forget about this semi-cliche.
Few films have tried to capture the era of Horatio Hornblower, and even
fewer do it as well as this one. It's an extremely well-made movie,
though a bit difficult to classify. Traditionally, in a sea adventure,
the dashing, sexy leader is the hero; in this case, he's the villain
(brilliantly played by Dirk Bogarde, who normally plays more sensitive
chaps). The good guy turns out to be a very UNdashing and flawed, but
I think Alec Guinness is the only actor who can portray a character who is colorless yet also make him sympathetic. Perhaps the World War II era (with its emphasis on teamwork, its glorification of the average G.I., and its near-worship of able, but dull, leaders like Omar Bradley) may have influenced it, because the movie strongly emphasizes the worth of the common man, especially as personified by Anthony Quayle's character.
It's an offbeat movie: part sea adventure, part character drama, part historical epic. Critics might say it's not satisfactory in any of these areas, but those of us who love it recognize how special and even unique it is. Now that Columbia has finally released on DVD a letter-boxed version one can fully appreciate its worth, not only for the sea battle scenes, but also the many two-shots of Guinness and Bogarde interacting (or, more often, snarling) at each other.
I am quite surprised that this film only has a rather ordinary score of
7.1 at this time, as it's one of the best naval films I have seen--and
perhaps the best one about this period in history. Exceptionally good
acting and writing make this a definite must-see.
The story itself is based very, very loosely upon various mutinies and strikes that occurred in 1797 aboard British war ships. In the film, crew members were pushed to do this desperate act due to their sadistic treatment at the hands of some of the officers (in particular, Dirk Bogarde's character). However, in reality, the strikes and mutinies occurred for far less noble reasons--such as for higher pay or to spread the spirit of the French Revolution to the British navy. Still, despite this discrepancy, the film is top entertainment.
The film begins with the Captain (Alec Guinness) preparing to return to sea with his very young son on board his first assignment. While Guinness seems like a decent sort of man, you immediately are taken aback by the violent press gangs that secure replacement crew members by kidnapping hapless Brits. In addition, once the cruise begins, you can't help but hate Bogarde as the second in command. While he is competent, he's also a sadist and power-hungry. Again and again, he ignores the Captain's orders and abuses the crew--pushing the men to the breaking point. While the Captain is no wimp, Bogarde finds ways to assert himself without doing enough to merit his arrest--at least until late in the film.
The acting by Guinness and Bogarde is awfully good and makes the film. Bogarde does a great job of playing an evil bully, though the most kudos should go to Guinness, as his character has a lot of depth--making this one of his better film roles. However, this is no surprise as he was a wonderful actor and had an astounding skill at immersing himself into a very wide range of characters--and doing it in a very believable and understated way. Interestingly enough, this film was very quickly made (so that Guinness could get back to filming LAWRENCE OF ARABIA) but you sure can't tell that from his performance. In addition, the supporting actors really did an excellent job and I have no real complaints about anything in the film--a rarity for a picky guy like me.
Exceptional throughout and quite gripping--this film is tough not to like and will keep you on the edge of your seats.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I see that mine is the fourth review within a month of this 1962 movie
it's as if the film were just released!
This is absolutely first rate gripping drama - wonderfully acted by three of England's best, with beautiful production values and a fascinating and varied tale.
It is really three tales in one: of naval warfare during the Napoleonic Wars (three wonderfully created battles), of mutiny, and of the conflict between a captain and his first lieutenant. The folding of these three stories is really superbly done -
and the characterization is superb - we feel very strongly that we know these very interesting people - and the acting by the three stars: Alec Guinness, Dirk Bogarde and Anthony Quayle is excellent.
I take issue with one comment by a poster who wrote that Guinnesss plays a weak character - I don't agree though we are shown the strategic and tactical genius of his first lieutenant with whom he is in conflict.
This is British film-making at its best. At least as fine as Master and Commander. I can't imagine anyone who would dislike it - anyone.
This sea saga is set during the Napoleonic Wars , Captain Crawford
(Alec Guinness) takes command of the HMS Defiant and is ordered to
rendezvous with the British fleet in island of Corsica . With his son
aboard as a new midshipman , Captain Crawford takes an even friendship
with his crew . Defiant's crew is part of a fleet-wide movement to
present a petition of grievances to the Admiralty . The continual
sadism of Defiant's first officer pits a battle of wits against the
captain in this stalwart story set in Napoleonic period . As it pits
the first commanding and a hated second-in-command officer and when the
captain is wounded , the chance for violence enhances . Scott-Paget
(Dick Bogarde) uses Crawford's son (David Robinson as Midshipman
Harvey) in an attempt to get the Captain to lash out against him .
Meanwhile, some of the crew (Tom Bell) , led by seaman Vizard (Anthony
Quayle), are organising to strike for better conditions , in
conjunction with similar efforts throughout the British fleet . The men
on the verge of mutiny and tension increases when they must also take
on the French ships . They eventually pledge virtually the entire crew
, then there ensues the mutiny .
Dramatic film with impressive battle of wills between humane Captain Crawford in command of the warship HMS Defiant perfectly performed by Alec Guinness against his first officer, the sadistic and supercilious first lieutenant , splendidly interpreted by Dick Bogarde . Authenticity is the hallmark of this breathtaking adventure along with awesome acting , spectacular warships and overwhelming sea battles . Production design , gowns and ambient show great attention to period detail . The support cast performances by all concerned are superb as Maurice Denham as Mr. Goss , Nigel Stock as Senior Midshipman Kilpatrick , Richard Carpenter as Lieutenant Ponsonby ,Peter Gill as Lieutenant D'Arblay ,David Robinson as Midshipman Harvey Crawford , Robin Stewart as Midshipman Pardoe , Ray Brooks as Hayes , and specially Anthony Quayle as Vizard . Very good cinematography in Cinemascope by Christopher Challis and evocative score by Clifton Parker . The motion picture was well directed by Lewis Gilbert .
The flick was inspired on actual events as ¨The mutiny at Spithead¨ in 1797. Sailors on 16 ships in the Channel Fleet, commanded by Admiral Lord Bridport, protested against the living conditions aboard Royal Navy vessels and demanded a pay raise. Seamen's pay rates had been established in 1658, and because of the stability of wages and prices, they were still reasonable as recently as the 17561763 Seven Years' War . The Royal Navy had not made adjustments for any of these changes, and was slow to understand their effects on its crews. Finally, the new wartime quota system meant that crews had many landsmen from inshore, who did not mix well with the career seamen , leading to discontented ships' companies. The mutineers were led by elected delegates and tried to negotiate with the Admiralty for two weeks, focusing their demands on better pay , and the removal of a handful of unpopular officers; neither flogging nor impressment was mentioned in the mutineers' demands. The mutineers maintained regular naval routine and discipline aboard their ships , allowed some ships to leave for convoy escort duty or patrols, and promised to suspend the mutiny and go to sea immediately if French ships were spotted heading for English shores.Because of mistrust, especially over pardons for the mutineers, the negotiations broke down, and minor incidents broke out, with several unpopular officers sent to shore and others treated with signs of deliberate disrespect. When the situation calmed, Admiral Lord Howe intervened to negotiate an agreement that saw a Royal pardon for all crews, reassignment of some of the unpopular officers and a pay raise . Afterward, the mutiny was to become nicknamed "breeze at Spithead".
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