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THE DAM BUSTERS [1954 / 2015] [55th Special Anniversary Edition] [Blu-ray]
on 19 February 2017
THE DAM BUSTERS [1954 / 2015] [55th Special Anniversary Edition] [Blu-ray] They Fly Where No One Ever Flew Before! The Dam Busters: Hits Its Targets!
A much-loved British film classic, Michael Anderson's 1954 drama captures the tension and bravery of an audacious raid on the centre of Nazi Germany's industrial complex, and the quintessentially English combination of inventiveness and dogged determination. For the first time on screen! The whole amazing story of the incredible “bombs that had to bounce” and the top-secret squadron that flew on an impossible course to hurl them against Europe’s toughest targets!
Split into two distinct sections, the film deals first with the fraught, but ultimately successful development of a new weapon by Dr. Barnes N. Wallis [Michael Redgrave]. The second and pacier section deals with the mission itself during the British raid on the Ruhr Dams, and its associated costs for the enemy and for the British airmen.
Adapted by R.C. Sherriff from Paul Brickhill's book “Enemy Coast Ahead” and featuring superlative special effects photography by Gilbert Taylor, to say nothing of Eric Coates' stirring theme tune. ‘THE DAM BUSTERS’ was Britain's biggest box-office success of 1955. Shot in black-and-white to allow the integration of original footage of the bomb trails, the film boasts a 'gritty' documentary-style reality. Michael Anderson’s 1955 dramatisation of the 1943 RAF mission to bomb German dams is fairly true to life and bounces along entertainingly.
Cast: Richard Todd, Michael Redgrave, Ursula Jeans, Basil Sydney, Patrick Barr, Ernest Clark, Derek Farr, Charles Carson, Stanley Van Beers, Colin Tapley, Frederick Leister, Eric Messiter, Laidman Browne, Raymond Huntley, Hugh Manning, Edwin Styles, Hugh Moxey, Anthony Shaw, Laurence Naismith, Harold Siddons, Frank Phillips, Brewster Mason, Tony Doonan, Nigel Stock, Brian Nissen, Robert Shaw, Peter Assinder, Richard Leech, Richard Thorp, John Fraser, David Morrell, Bill Kerr, George Baker, Ronald Wilson, Denys Graham, Basil Appleby, Tim Turner, Ewen Solon, Harold Goodwin, John Breslin (uncredited), Edward Cast (uncredited), Richard Coleman (uncredited), Peter Diamond (uncredited), Gerald Harper (uncredited), Arthur Howard (uncredited), Lloyd Lamble (uncredited), Philip Latham (uncredited), Patrick McGoohan (uncredited), Jack McNaughton (uncredited), Nina Parry (uncredited) and Edwin Richfield (uncredited)
Director: Michael Anderson
Producers: Robert Clark and W. A. Whittaker
Screenplay: R.C. Sherriff (screenplay), Guy Gibson (based on "Enemy Coast Ahead" own account) and Paul Brickhill (“The Dam Busters” book)
Composers: Eric Coates and Leighton Lucas (music score)
Cinematography: Erwin Hillier (Director of Photography) and Gilbert Taylor (Special Effects Photography)
Video Resolution: 1080p [Black-and-White]
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English: 2.0 LCPM Mono Audio
Subtitles: English SDH
Running Time: 125 minutes
Region: Region B/2
Studio: Associated British-Pathé (UK) / StudioCanal
Andrew’s Blu-ray Review: ‘THE DAM BUSTERS’  is based on the true heroic RAF pilots, that on the night of 16 - 17 May 1943, 617 Squadron of the Royal Air Force, later nicknamed the Dam Busters – carried out Operation Chastise to attack German dams in the Ruhr valley. The film begins with aviation engineer Dr. Barnes N. Wallis [Michael Redgrave] developing a bouncing bomb. “He spends hours and hours shooting golf balls up and down,” complains the supervisor of an experimental ship tank in Teddington, “and every now and then he breaks a window.” It would be a struggle for screenwriters to get anything like the amount of exposition in this script past a studio executive today, yet the clear explanations of technical, military and engineering details are one of the reasons second world war enthusiasts love this film. There are a few minor inaccuracies, but they are not bloopers. Parts of Upkeep, as Dr. Barnes N. Wallis’s project was codenamed, were classified until 1963. This is why the bouncing bombs which in real life were cylindrical are spherical in the film.
Faced with largely fictional obstructions from the Government bureaucracy and from his employer, Vickers, Dr. Barnes N. Wallis goes to Arthur “Bomber” Harris [Basil Sydney], head of Bomber Command. Arthur “Bomber” Harris remains a controversial figure today, particularly for his involvement in and justification of the bombing of Dresden. That’s a separate issue from the story here. Still, it’s worth noting that, in real life, Arthur “Bomber” Harris was sceptical about “Operation Chastise” from the beginning. Rather than being supportive, as he is in the film, he called Dr. Barnes N. Wallis’s plan “tripe beyond the wildest description.”
A squadron is formed under wing commander Wing Commander Guy Gibson, V.C., D.S.O., D.F.C. of the Royal Air Force [Richard Todd] and his male black Labrador retriever and was also the mascot of 617 Squadron. Certainly the name in this film is historically accurate, and it is also true that the dog’s name was used as a code word during “Operation Chastise” which means a Morse code operator has to shout it with great gusto at a key moment in the film. Yet there was far less awareness in Britain during the 1940s and 1950s of the harm caused by using such language and so, in real life and in the film, Guy Gibson’s dog’s name was respected at the time.
The technical achievement of staging both the test flights and the bombing raid itself for the film was very impressive. The film-makers had four Lancaster bombers rather than the full complement of 19. They were borrowed from the RAF, which also lent pilots to perform the terrific stunt flying. The film has fun with dramatic licence; especially watching showgirl’s dance in spotlights at a London theatre gives Guy Gibson the idea for the Dam Busters spot lamp altimeter. In real life, this was designed by Ben Lockspeiser of the ministry of aircraft production who went on to be the first president of the council of CERN, which as you may know stands astride the Swiss-French border, close to Geneva, and is one of the jewels in Europe's crown, a demonstration of what can be achieved through worldwide collaboration. Today it hosts around 11,000 scientific users from its Member and Associate Member States and other regions in the world who come to CERN to pursue their research work at the Organisation’s facilities.
The raids on the Möhne and Eder dams as shown in the film were successful; the Sorpe dam was not breached, and its bombing does not make it to the screen. Undoubtedly, ‘THE DAM BUSTERS’ film is right in suggesting that “Operation Chastise” greatly boosted British morale and it was an extraordinary and courageous achievement for all the men involved. Yet the hopes of Dr. Barnes N. Wallis and others that bombing the dams might seriously damage the German war effort or even shorten the conflict and were not really borne out. There is evidence “Operation Chastise” put a dent in German coal production, but little more than that. Of the 1,650 or so people killed by the flooding, more than 1,000 turned out to be forced labour camp inmates and prisoners of war, mostly Ukrainian, Dutch, French and Belgian. Arthur “Bomber” Harris himself was disappointed in the results of the operation: “It achieved nothing compared with the effort and the loss,” he wrote in 1945.
The actual raid occupies surprisingly little screen time, with Dr. Barnes N. Wallis, his invention and his determined pursuit of the idea making up the bulk of the film. Director Michael Anderson's clear intention is to celebrate the unsung heroes of the wartime period, and to highlight one facet of Britain's national identity. In demonstrating the way in which Dr. Barnes N. Wallis's inventions are routinely confronted by the insufferable bureaucratic negativity and director Michael Anderson also passes critical comment on Britain's dismal tendency to stifle genius. The decision was made to shoot the film in black-and-white, in order to allow the integration of original footage of the bomb trials, and to preserve a 'gritty', documentary-style reality. By good fortune, the Ruhr was in flood at the time of shooting, allowing the crew to film the flooded towns and valleys and incorporates this into the closing scenes. It is testament to director Michael Anderson's authoritative, quiet guidance that the performances are largely realistic, and multi-dimensional. The end of the film might, in other hands, be an opportunity for jingoistic flag-waving, but instead director Michael Anderson emphasises the human cost of war without falling into sentimentality.
Blu-ray Video Quality – StudioCanal presents us this Blu-ray in a stunning 1080p black-and-white crisp image, with an equally nice 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Also outstanding is the picture quality that is positively beautiful and stunning at the same time and you feel like it was filmed in the 21st century. This black-and-white film from yesteryear has been reinvented on Blu-ray and given a new lease on life. The picture is crisp and ever so clear, and no cropping burdens the transfer, something that appears far too often in HD remasters of older films, but sadly now and again you get a white line down the centre of the screen, shame they could not of done some work on the negative to get rid of this anomaly. At 125 minutes it is a fairly long film and one that I had not seen for years prior to purchasing this Blu-ray disc, but what a refreshing, enjoyable experience to relive once to salute these brave heroes who helped save the Second World War and defeat the Nazis. Playback Region B/2: This will not play on most Blu-ray players sold in North America, Central America, South America, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. Learn more about Blu-ray region specifications.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – StudioCanal presents us this Blu-ray that offers a much appreciated crispness, clarity, nuance and weight to the proceedings. Take for example the first outdoor model test very early on. It takes place at an airstrip, out of the way. On the Blu-ray we can clearly make out background sounds of other airplanes taxiing about as well as other machinery and people out of the frame; also the sound of walking on wood planks is correctly manifest itself, that is of greatest importance is that the uncompressed audio track permits an emotional inflection of voices utterly absent on the inferior DVD. How else are we able to make sense out of and empathize with Michael Redgrave's hesitant enthusiasm as he tries to sell his idea for the destruction of the dams, or Richard Todd's boyish matter of fact delivery of the mission to his men? On the inferior DVD if you close your eyes and just listen to the dialogue, there is very little in their speaking that supports the drama. Next to these improvements, the extra slam we hear from explosives sounds on the Blu-ray is just icing on the cake.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
Special Feature: DAMBUSTERS: 617 Squadron Remember  [1080p] [1.78:1] [56:27] Here we have an Exclusive brand new documentary presented by historian Max Arthur and author of “Dambusters” about the real-life mission, and featuring the surviving members of the 617 Squadron. We get mixed view about Wing Commander Guy Gibson, V.C., D.S.O., D.F.C. of the Royal Air Force (12th August 1918 – 19th September 1944), who had completed over 170 operations at the age of 26 and some of the crew says he was a wonderful professional pilot, but if you did not do a professional job up to his standards, you were kicked out of the team, but as stated he was only 26 years of age, so there was a lot of pressure on this team leader. We get to see old newsreels of the testing of the bouncing bomb and the crew getting ready for their mission. All the 617 Squadron people interviewed said that they got a fantastic thrill when they were doing the low flying test runs and at the same time very it was exhilarating, especially when they did the actual "Dam Busters" raid. Because everything was so hush hush top secret right up to the actual night bombing raid, they all speculated on what the mission and actual target would be, some thought it was going to be a battle shipping convoy because of the very low flying. We hear that they had to build specially designed Avro Lancaster bombers that were designed by Roy Chadwick, CBE, FRSA, FRAeS who was an aircraft design engineer for the Avro Company, and was completely different, so it could hold the “Bouncing Bomb.” In the documentary film, we are informed that the specially designed Avro Lancaster bombers had to fly 60 feet above the water, but on the night of the raid, they actually had to fly 30 feet above the water, because the lower you went, there was less trouble for the “Bouncing Bomb.” When they had finished the raid and headed for England, the German pilots tried to stop them, but totally failed as they did not know here the Avro Lancaster bombers were. On the morning of the 17th May, 1943, the Avro Lancaster bombers of the 617 Squadron returned from their successful epic raid on the dams, one by one, but for some unknown reason there was no celebration and so the pilots went straight bed, totally exhausted, but later on they found out the Officers had a celebratory party. By the next day they found out Eight crew went down and of course never returned home, which was roughly 50% of the crew that lost their lives, but of course all the crew that was interviewed in this special documentary, said that in a war situation, you inevitably expect the consequences, as they knew they had a job to do. Also all who went on the raid were very proud and honoured that they helped to shorten the Second World War. Contributors include Flight Lieutenant Les Munro [RNZAF] [Pilot of the 617 Squadron], Sergeant Ray Grayston [Flight Engineer of the 617 Squadron], Sergeant Fred Sunderland [Front Gunner of the 617 Squadron], Flight Sergeant Grant McDonald [RCAF] [Rear Gunner of the 617 Squadron] and Sergeant Johnny Johnson [Bomb Aimer of the 617 Squadron]. Unlike many Second World War documentaries on Blu-ray discs, this extra is thankfully in full 1080p HD.
Finally, ‘THE DAM BUSTERS’  is very much a piece of its time, but it remains a totally splendidly made war film and if you don’t mind a few touches of embellishment, especially a respectably accurate retelling of “Operation Chastise.” This brilliant film was a record of a British operational triumph during the last part of the Second World War, and as stated earlier ‘THE DAM BUSTERS’ film was adapted from Paul Brickhill's “Enemy Coast Ahead” and is a small slice of history, told with painstaking attention to detail and overflowing with the British quality of understatement. For more than 125 minutes, the film is devoted to the planning and preparation, and very absorbing material this proves to be. The reconstruction of the raid and the pounding of the dams are done with graphic realism. The aerial photography is one of the major technical credits. The production is a personal triumph for Michael Anderson. Michael Redgrave, particularly, gives a vividly human portrayal of Dr. Barnes N. Wallis the scientist while Richard Todd makes a distinguished showing as Wing Commander Guy Gibson, V.C., D.S.O., D.F.C. of the Royal Air Force commander. Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Aficionado
Le Cinema Paradiso