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Above Us The Waves [DVD]
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Set during the Second World War, Above Us The Waves  tells the dramatic tale of British attempts to sink a German warship, the "Tirpitz", using midget submarines. This 1950s film stars John Mills, John Gregson and Donald Sinden.
Directed by Ralph Thomas, Above Us the Waves (1955) tells of a Royal Navy mission to sink the "invincible" German battleship Tirpitz, off the Norwegian coast. John Mills is calm and confident as the mission commander, with strong support from John Gregson and Donald Sinden--all treated by the German personnel as fellow gentlemen when captured. Despite stirring music from Arthur Benjamin, the action sequences are visually no more than adequate, and the film is only a partial success.--Richard Whitehouse
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This film begins after the archi-famous operations "Rheinubung" (May 1941) in which "Bismarck" was lost and "Cerberus" (Channel Dash) in February 1942, which ended with "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau" being both mined and damaged. Therefore, for the greatest part of 1942 and 1943 Hitler's Kriegsmarine was left with only one capital ship - the "Tirpitz". Nevertheless, supported by four heavy cruisers ("Lutzow", "Admiral Scheer", "Admiral Hipper" and "Prinz Eugen"), three light cruisers ("Leipzig", "Nurnberg" and "Köln") and a screen of as much as twelve modern, powerful destroyers, with many U-Boats, "Condor" bombers and seaplanes acting as scouts, this enormous battleship was the main element of a potentially extremely lethal naval squadron (even if ultimately Kriegsmarine never managed to gather all those ships for one operation). In summer 1943 German squadron got even stronger, once battle cruiser "Scharnhorst" was repaired and returned to duty...
In order to ensure safety of allied convoys in Northern Atlantic and especially in Arctic waters, Royal Navy had to keep available in this area a considerable number of naval and air assets - and even US Navy had to chip in for a time. Or, in those decisive years of World War II (1942-43), all those ships, planes and men were badly needed elsewhere, from Central and Southern Atlantic to Mediterranean and Indian Ocean - and American heavy cruisers USS "Wichita" and USS "Tuscaloosa" and their screen were greatly missed by Nimitz in Pacific... If you are interested in knowing more about this pickle in which allies found themselves because of "Tirpitz" existence, there is a really good, comprehensive book on this topic "Target Tirpitz: X-Crafts, Agents and Dambusters - The Epic Quest to Destroy Hitler's Mightiest Warship" by Patrick Bishop (see my review of this book).
Pressed relentlessly by Churchill, both Royal Navy and RAF tried to find a solution to this "Tirpitz" problem. Amongst the most promissing ideas was the use of naval special forces, operating unusual weapons. In the film we are told that Royal Navy high command was initially reluctant to consider that such operations could succeed - but that is definitely not true. The potentially deadly efficiency of unconventional naval attacks was greatly demonstrated by Italians already in First World War, on 1 November 1918, when Italian frogmen riding a manned torpedo sank the powerful, modern Austro-Hungarian dreadnought "Viribus Unitis". Later, already during World War II, Royal Navy itself was greatly hurt by such special attacks, when Italian explosive motorboats crippled heavy cruiser HMS "York" at Crete in March 1941, when Italian frogmen badly damaged battleships HMS "Queen Elizabeth" and HMS "Valiant" in Alexandria in December 1941 and finally when a Japanese midget submarine grievously injured battleship HMS "Ramillies" at Madagascar in May 1942. Therefore the value of naval special attack methods was in summer 1942 generally recognised...
This film tells the story of two attempts made against "Tirpitz": operation "Title" in October 1942, with frogmen using Chariot manned torpedoes and operation "Source" in September 1943, with the use of more performant midget submarines (X-Crafts). It covers the selection of volunteers, the training, the first attack, the escape of frogmen by land to Sweden, the training for the use of X-Crafts and finally the second, extremely dramatic attack.
Made in 1955, this is an old film, in black and white, without virtually any special effects and sticking to the reality and therefore operating mostly on a matter of fact, low-drama level - but all of this doesn't hurt this movie at all, to the contrary! Most of actors who play in "Above us the waves" are fogotten today, but in 1955 those men were considered as a rather ensemble cast, with John Mills, John Gregson, Donald Sinden, Michael Medwin and James Robertson Justice being the most known.
The last 20 minutes of this film count certainly amongst the most dramatic, nail-biting moments of war movie tension I ever saw - and I saw A LOT of war films!
The one thing which can be problematic for those who (like me) are not native English speakers is the absence of subtitles. With the sound being of rather average quality, nonobstant my fluency in English I had some problems to follow the dialogs... But this is a minor point.
Another minor points are some little details, like the presence of clearly POST World War II frigates in some scenes in British base and the massif use of Lanchester sub-machine guns by German sailors. On this latter point, OK, granted, with some effort they can pass for German MP-28s (of which they were copies), but honestly, couldn't the Royal Navy, which generously assisted in the making of this film, find a couple of MP-40s somewhere? Finally, let's just stress, that any Kriegsmarine officer who would dare fly even of the most modest patrol ship the flag we see in this film (the official III Reich national flag - which was VERY different from naval flag!) would find himself in a penal squadron on the Ostfront, clearing mines somewhere near Leningrad - PRONTO! Honestly, considering that there is only one scene in which a Kriegsmarine flag was necessary, was it so difficult to actually find one?
Bottom line (sorry I couldn't resist...), this is an excellent movie, aged but still valiant, to see absolutely if you are into war films. Cut through the steel nets, avoid patroling destroyers, dive under "Tirpitz", arm the charges and try to make good your escape - and if you can't, well, count the minutes... Enjoy!
The training looks scary enough. And then a daring unauthorised home waters trial wins the plan the go ahead. The first attempt is made, with two-man teams riding 'chariots', manned torpedoes. The trip itself, in a Norwegian fishing boat, is eventful, but the chariots are lost, meaning the mission must be aborted.
The second attempt sees the team graduating to three X-Class midget-subs. The claustrophobia of conditions aboard these tiny four-man vessels is conveyed superbly, with understatement the key to the potency of the atmosphere.
The drama is powerful, and to the filmmakers' credit, they keep the dramatic music to a minimum, and play it straight and simple. I really love this film. It's simple but very effective. The inherent drama is allowed to speak for itself.
Directed by Ralph Thomas
Another great film from the British Invasion from VCI. This film is a low key film with subdued performances. War isn't depicted as a heroic game, as these men face deadly danger and fully aware of it. Do your job and carry on quietly - now that's bloody real courage for you.
German stereotypes on the Tirpitz, yet their Captain salutes the "brave men" who have arrived to attack his boat.
Great acting, powerful direction and real emotion, with an excellent British cast the way they used to make them.
John Mills and John Gregson are the background of training and the eventual attack is very absorbing, filmed in beautiful stark black and white.
Watch for a young Anthony Newley in the Midget X class submarine sequences.
Special footnote: -- In the film, the name of the vessel that carried the manned human torpedo chariots was called "Ingebord" but in the real-life it was really named "Arthur". The code-name of the real life World War II mission that this film was based on was Operation Source. This operation utilized the Royal Navy's midget X class submarines.
1. Ralph Thomas (Director)
Date of Birth: 10 August 1915 - Hull, Yorkshire, England, UK
Date of Death: 17 March 2001 - London, England, UK
2. John Mills[aka: Lewis Ernest Watts Mills]
Date of Birth: 22 February 1908 - The Watts Naval Training College, North Elmham, Norfolk, England, UK
Date of Death: 23 April 2005 - Denham, Buckinghamshire, England, UK
3. John Gregson [aka: Harold John Gregson]
Date of Birth: 15 March 1919 - Liverpool, England, UK
Date of Death: 8 January 1975 - Porlock Weir, Somerset, England, UK
Mr. Jim's Ratings:
Quality of Picture & Sound: 4 Stars
Performance: 4 Stars
Story & Screenplay: 4 Stars
Overall: 4 Stars [Original Music, Cinematography & Film Editing]
Total Time: 99 min on DVD ~ VCI Entertainment ~ (May 3, 2011)
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