Sunday, May 24, 2009

Another British World War II picture

I mentioned the excellent movie Carve Her Name With Pride at the end of last summer, and commented on how British movies looking at World War II have a much different feel than their American counterparts. That's true of our next feature, The Dam Busters, airing tonight at 10:15 PM ET.

Nazi Germany had a number of important industrial targets, among them being dams in the Ruhr valley that provided hydroelectric power to the German war machine. The British naturally wanted to bomb them, but it was easier said than done, as the dams were incredibly well-protected. Bomb-maker Michael Redgrave eventually comes up with the idea of designing a bomb that can be bounced across the reservoirs like a skipping stone, eventually winding up at just the right distance to destroy the dams from behind -- water pressure can do quite a bit. However, it's a very daunting technical task, as the bomb has to be made the right shape to bounce, it has to be dropped from the right (very low and dangerous) altitude, at the right distance from the dam, and with the planes flying at the correct speed. Never mind that they're going to catch flak from Nazi surface-to-air fire.

The first two-thirds of The Dam Busters deal with the preparations for the boming. This is from the engineering side, as Redgrave tries to perfect the bomb's design, suffering through a series of failures along the way. But, the movie also looks at the bombers (led by Richard Todd), who are stuck in base doing practice runs for a mission they know nothing about, basically being bored out of their minds. It's only in the final third of the movie that they actually head off for the Ruhr Valley to bomb the dams.

Despite the lack of real "action", The Dam Busters is an excellent movie. It fits in well with procedural movies, meticulously building up the story. The way that the bombers figure out how to calibrate their alititude more precisely than their altimiters will let them, for example, is ingenious. When the movie gets to the "action" scenes, the effects aren't all that good, but in fact, that doesn't detract from the movie at all, as it's not really about the action.

The Dam Busters is an excellent example of British filmmaking looking back at World War II, and is one not to be missed. Thankfully, as such a good example, it's made its way to DVD should you miss tonight's TCM showing.

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