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Gift Horse [DVD] 
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Trevor Howard and Richard Attenborough star in this famous story of a Royal Navy destroyer and her officers and crew during the early years of the Second World War. Placed in command of a poorly serviced ex-US Navy warship, Lt. Commander Fraser struggles to overcome mechanical problems and a new and inexperienced crew as HMS Ballantrae is rushed into service on Atlantic convoy escort duties.
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Top Customer Reviews
"Gift Horse" is authentic and free from anachronisms. There are no post-war ships appearing in a wartime setting, no German battleships portrayed by American cruisers, no Colony class cruisers representing Leanders, no Vanguard portraying KGV, no post-war aircraft carriers in the background. Interiors are just as authentic - no studio sets acting as palatial-scale flats or mess-decks. The at-sea footage is superlative and true to life. My impression is that the Royal Navy must have lent the film-makers a Town Class destroyer and let them play with it.
Life aboard is portrayed with equal accuracy. This is no band of cheerful cockneys who are all friends and all potentially heroic - there are tensions, fights, conflicts, domestic setbacks and all of the atmosphere to be expected in a crew of 100 of whom most are conscripts from Civvy Street and only a handful have ever been to sea before. Uniforms, routines, drills, language, slang, nicknames - everything is accurate and nothing is played in a heroic or nostalgic glow.
Things go wrong, as they so often did - we see collisions, fouled propellers, scrapes, frequent engine break-downs, errors of navigation and other setbacks.
Well before the mid-point of the film, the viewer is completely immersed in what it was really like for a crew of (predominantly) civilians, led by previously-retired or reservist officers, to fight a worn-out ship in the Battle of the Atlantic.Read more ›
Some of the ships were war ships either of WW1 or early 1920s vintages and merchant ships of similar age all of which had been 'mothballed' or laid up unused for some years. They were not necessarily in impeccable condition and a lot of work was needed by both parties to make the vessels sea-worthy and to ensure that their engines were usable and then, in some instances, modified to accommodate additional equipment. With the rate of losses Britain was suffering in the first two years of the war being beyond the capabilities of British shipyards to maintain, something needed to be done.
However, most of the movie surrounds the acquisition of the vessel, its commission into the Royal Navy and the training of its crew. Rather little covers the Raid itself. Several of the British seamen were killed, many injured and the vast majority interred for the duration. Although first thought to be a failure due to damage to the timers needed to safely explode the bow cargo of tons of high explosive, the explosion did occur but hours late and destroyed the dock gates and some of its structure. The wreck of the ship also blocked the dock until about 2 years after the war's end.
Well acted and with a solid cast including several familiar names and a reasonable if not completely accurate representation of events.
The story begins with a British crew assembling in USA in 1940 to take charge of an old American destroyer, USS "Whittier", which will become then HMS "Ballantrae". This transfer is the consequence of "Destroyers for Bases Agreement", a real-life event (signed on 2 September 1940). At 23 years of age USS "Whittier" is already an old and used ship, but as they say "you don't look a gift horse in the mouth" and in fact the British crew will nick name their new ship "Gift Horse"...
What follows is the story of a hastily assembled group of very different people slowly overcoming all kind of difficulties under the leadership of a harsh and for a long time very disliked skipper, Lieutenant Commander Hugh A. Fraser (Trevor Howard) - before becoming finally a well integrated crew in charge of an efficient war machine. Then finally HMS "Ballantrae" will be ordered to participate in an extremely dangerous mission - the raid on Saint-Nazaire on 28 March 1942. And whatever the issue of the raid, she is not meant to return...
The story described in the first part of the film is inspired by real experiences of British crews which were hastily assembled in 1940 to man the 50 old American destroyers. One of them, HMS "Campbeltown" (ex-USS "Buchanan") was indeed used during the raid on Saint-Nazaire and those events are described in the second part of the film.
This black and white movie was not a superproduction, there is virtually no special effects and fighting scenes are not very spectacular - but it doesn't really hurt the film.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Well acted British movie set on board an ex American destroyer given to the Royal Navy in early WW2. Recommended viewing.Published 12 months ago by Paul W. Schirley