The Dambusters is my ideal war movie. It has understated but very real heroism, perfectly pitched acting, the most stirring music possible - this is a Boys-Own feast of true valour, when we fought the war which had to be won.
The Dambusters is a true account of the raid upon the Ruhr dams in Germany, the source of German industrial power during the Second World War. The famous bouncing-bombs, invented by Barnes-Wallis, were guided to their targets by low-flying bombers led by Guy Gibson, VC. Their hazardous mission succeeded - but with a sad roll-call of 'missing in action'.
The film was derived from two books - The Dambusters by Paul Brickhill, and Enemy Coast Ahead, a great memoir written by Guy Gibson in a brief time of rest before he went on to fly another mission, from which he never returned.
The crisp black and white photography lends a grainy reality to the movie, and allows for the splicing-in of actual documentary footage of the tests of the bouncing-bomb, the actual Dambusters attack and the aftermath of floods and devastation. The grain of the documentary footage makes it clear that this is old film; but that just goes to emphasise the reality of this movie.
This is, by the way, an uncensored presentation of this classic movie, with no cuts of any kind. In Britain, where this is shown on television annually, television censors have excised from the screening print any voicing of the name of Guy Gibson's big black dog, in much the same way as Agatha Christie's most famous novel became known later on as Ten Little Indians.
It is hard to believe that Richard Todd is an actor; he seems to totally embody the quiet heroism of men such as Guy Gibson. And watch too for the Australian actors playing our own Dambusters - this special squadron boasted a huge number of Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians, and the movie gives them due credit. Michael Redgrave as Barnes-Wallis is wonderfully characterised. It is impossible to reconcile this Michael Redgrave as the same person who gave us the definitive Jack in The Importance of Being Earnest. He could well be Barnes-Wallis himself, using the Redgrave name as handy cover.
The famous Dambusters March was written by one of Britain's finest light music composers, Eric Coates. He had in fact written the March some years earlier, and had it tucked away in a drawer. When approached by the filmmakers to compose the theme for the movie, he was about to tell them he did in fact have a tune which seemed suitable, when a friend advised him to hold his fire. "Don't tell them it's already written", his friend said. "Tell them you can do it, but it'll be hard work to come up with something really appropriate. Hold out for a few weeks, then send it to them. Then they'll really appreciate it - and pay more for it, too".
Whatever he was paid, he should have received double. The Dambusters March is a great musical summation of the struggle and eventual triumph of that war and a major ingredient in one of the finest British movies of all time.
This is not an especially great transfer, but there's nothing too bad about it either. There are signs - the occasional mark of wear - that this is not a pristine print, but this is still better than its incarnations on video, and is a good representation of one of the greatest of all British movies.
The black-and-white tones are well realised and the music score comes out with a strong monophonic presence.
The only extra is a theatrical trailer of reasonable quality.