Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sink the Bismark! (1960)

Viewer beware.

Sink the Bismarck! is marketed under Fox War Classics.

All Quiet on the Western Front (Universal Cinema Classics) is a classic (read the book too). The Longest Day (Two-Disc Collector's Edition) is a classic, as is Twelve O'Clock High.

Sink the Bismark! is OK, but it's far from great.


The source material is impressive, one of the most famous incidents of the Second World War. The Bismark, launched in April 1939, was the largest battleship ever built by Germany. If not stopped by the British navy in 1941, the Bismark with its huge guns and heavy armour, would have decimated Allied shipping.

The real star attraction in this 1960 effort from director Lewis Gilbert (Educating Rita, The Admirable Crichton) is how all the intelligence the British navy gathered to track the Bismark's whereabouts. Resistance fighters, airplanes, ships and a little intuition all helped in the search for the killer battleship. Seeing how that information is assessed, and strategy developed, is engrossing.


But the script by Edmund North, based on the book, Sink the Bismark!, by C.S. Forester does little to humanize the script. There's plenty to see in this movie, just not much to feel.

Newly-appointed, and rigid, naval director of operations Capt. Jonathan Shepherd (Kenneth More) gets fleshed out in the latter half of the film when we learn his much-loved son, Tom (John Stride) is, conveniently, on one of the ships ordered to change course in the hunt for Bismark. He also happens to be a gunner on a Swordfish torpedo plane that will attack the feared German ship. Anne Davis (Dana Wynter) is the WREN who takes a shine to the seemingly gruff Shepherd. Her character is smart and empathetic and adds some much-needed humanity to the naval war room.

Otherwise, be prepared for a lot of staged shots of British sailors on decks holding binoculars. The special effects are, largely, lacking. (Yes, I appreciate this film was made in 1960). There are numerous phone calls made in this film except when Prime Minister Winston Churchill rings up to stress the mission's importance. That call, conveniently, is put on speaker phone so everyone can hear an actor imitate the great statesman's voice. "You must sink the Bismark," he implores.


For news junkies like myself, there's a few appearances by American journalist Edward Murrow, who broadcast from England during the Second World War. For those who need a little context, Murrow describes how Great Britain was in tough in the early months of 1941. Germany had taken over much of Europe. The Luftwaffe was bombing England. The United States would still be months away from joining the fight. The war wasn't going well.

Sink the Bismark! won't torpedo an enjoyable night in front of the tube, but it's hardly explosive entertainment.

RATING: 6/10

FUN FACTS: Sink the Bismark! was John Stride's first film credit. He appeared in another so-so war film, A Bridge Too Far. Oh, he was in Oh! Heavenly Dog too. Kenneth More also appeared in The Longest Day. Dana Wynter was Queen Elizabeth in the 1982 television movie, The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana. She died May 5, 2011 at age 79. Director Lewis Gilbert is now 91. His last credit was Before You Go in 2002.

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