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Guy Hamilton
Michael Caine, Laurence Olivier, Harry Andrews, Trevor Howard, Curd Jürgens, Ian McShane, Kenneth More, Nigel Patrick, Christopher Plummer, Michael Redgrave
Writing Credits:
Wilfred Greatorex, James Kennaway

Featuring a "big stellar cast!" (Variety), including Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, Michael Redgrave, Robert Shaw, Susannah York and Edward Fox, Battle of Britain is a spectacular retelling of a true story that shows courage at its inspiring best. Few defining moments can change theioutcome of a war, but when the outnumbered Royal Air Force defied insurmountable odds in engaging the German Luftwaffe, they may well have altered the course of history!

Box Office:
$12 million.

Rated NR

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English/German Monaural

Runtime: 132 min.
Price: $14.95
Release Date: 5/20/2003

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Battle Of Britain (1969)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 3, 2003)

According to the DVD case for The Battle of Britain, “when the outnumbered Royal Air Force defied insurmountable odds in engaging the German Luftwaffe, they may well have altered the course of history!” That may sound like little more than marketing hyperbole, but in truth, it strikes pretty close to the mark. After running rampant over continental Europe, the Nazis wanted to soften Britain and take them out of the fight. They attempted this via their aircraft, and that topic provides the focus of 1969’s Battle.

Battle starts with the struggles of pilots who fight the Nazis in continental Europe. However, they quickly find that their cause there is essentially lost, so as requested by Air Chief Marshal Dowding (Laurence Olivier), the Brits decide to reserve their air forces at home in preparation for an almost definite assault by the Germans.

Soon Churchill declares the end of the fight in France and the start of the Battle of Britain. Baron von Richter(Curt Jurgens) officially proposes to Sir David Kelly (Ralph Richardson) that the Germans will stay away from England if the Brits grant them free reign in Europe, but given the cowardly nature of such a choice – and the worthlessness of Nazi promises – the Brits refuse. Von Richter declares that they’ll have their way anyway, and this sets the stage for a fight.

The rest of the movie follows those actions. Short on pilots, we see training exercises meant to get any warm bodies the RAF can find into the air. Eventually we reach “Eagle Day”, the occasion designated by the Nazis to smash the RAF on the ground. They bomb the airfields, and at one point, some German pilots accidentally attack London. This leads to Brit reprisals in Berlin, and that inflames Hitler. He increases the intensity of the war and plans to raze the British capital to the ground.

As the movie points out, this was a big mistake. In fact, along with the timing of the German assault on the Soviet Union, the attack on London stands as one of Hitler’s biggest gaffes. The assault on London overextended the German air force and made them easier picking for the Brits. It also solidified the resolve of the already steely Brits.

There’s a great story to be found in the actions of 1940, but The Battle of Britain isn’t it. A lot of this stems from a bad case of “big movie-itis”. Battle tosses out an enormous roster of famous actors. In addition to those already mentioned, it includes folks like Robert Shaw, Christopher Plummer, Laurence Olivier, Susannah York and Michael Caine. One after another, it almost totally wastes them.

That’s because director Guy Hamilton can’t quite figure out how to elaborate on the personal stories. Hamilton remains best known as the leader of Bond flicks like Goldfinger, and within its world of fantasy, he proved successful. Unfortunately, Battle requires depth in its characters and the treatment of them as real people. The film flits so abruptly from one to another that we never get a sense of any personalities. They come and go without much rhyme or reason, and they never develop into real people.

The relationship between Plummer and York gets the most focus, and that makes it the least satisfying. Their interaction always remains trite and superficial. A movie like this needs to have some sort of human element, but Battle fails to bring off those areas in any even remotely satisfying way.

The segments that show the German perspective don’t fare any better. These really don’t make a lot of sense. They don’t elaborate on the Nazi side well, but they appear frequently enough that they bog down the story. Perhaps if Hamilton more heavily ignored the German viewpoint – which adds nothing to the film anyway – he’d have had more time to develop his British characters. As it stands, neither section becomes satisfying.

Does Battle at least deliver some compelling action? Occasionally, but much of the time, even those sections fall flat. That stems largely from the awkward pacing of the movie. With all those badly developed character moments, the action sequences tend to lack urgency or commitment. Hamilton seems more interested in showing us extended shots of planes as they fall from the sky than in creating briskly paced action. He rarely demonstrates the scope or passion of the fight. We’re told how important all this is to the Brits, but we rarely feel it.

One exception occurs toward the end of the movie. The film’s climax effectively removes all audio elements except for the score. This could become melodramatic, but instead, the absence of dialogue and effects focuses the action. It makes the sequence fairly poignant and tight.

Unfortunately, that segment remains a rare shining moment in an otherwise fairly dull movie. The history of World War II fascinates me, and I hoped to find an exciting examination of The Battle of Britain here. However, the result seems like little more than a plodding, big budget event movie with no passion behind it.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B-/ Bonus D-

The Battle of Britain appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Much of the picture looked positive, but enough problems popped up to knock down my grade to a “B-“.

Sharpness mostly seemed solid. A few wide shots appeared slightly sot and ill defined, but these occurred infrequently. Most of the movie was pretty well defined and concise. I noticed no issues related to jagged edges or shimmering, but edge enhancement was a different matter. Moderate haloes showed up consistently throughout the movie, and these created some notable distractions. A smattering of print flaws also occurred. I saw occasional instances of specks, marks, spots and nicks. These never turned heavy, but they were a little more prominent than I’d like.

Colors mainly came across well. The tones were natural and concise, though they occasionally looked a bit dense. Still, most of the hues appeared fairly accurate and well defined. Black levels also were pretty deep and tight, while low-light shots seemed reasonably detailed and firm. At its best, The Battle of Britain looked very good, but the mix of flaws kept it from excellence.

Nothing about the monaural soundtrack of The Battle of Britain stood out from the crowd, but it seemed perfectly acceptable for its age. Speech came across as a bit thin but it remained consistently intelligible and lacked issues connected to edginess. Effects appeared reasonably accurate. Except for the moderate rumble of plane engines, they didn’t present much range or heft, but they were clean and without prominent distortion. Music sounded about the same, as the score was clear and acceptably bright but not with much depth or dynamics. Overall, the audio appeared satisfactory and more than fine for a flick from 1969.

The Battle of Britain skimps on the extras. All we find is the film’s theatrical trailer.

Something like The Battle of Britain should have been right up my alley. Unfortunately, the film skimped on excitement and concentrated too much on spectacle and its thinly drawn characters. The DVD presented slightly above-average picture and sound for a movie of its era, but it included almost no supplements. With a list price of less than $15, Battle is a great deal for fans of the flick. For those who don’t already know they like it, though, I recommend they look elsewhere for World War II related action, as Battle doesn’t deliver the goods.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.2244 Stars Number of Votes: 49
8 3:
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