Battle Of Britain
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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 the outcome of war. But when the outnumbered Royal Air Force defied insurmountable odds in engaging the German Luftwaffe, it may well have altered the course of history!
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This does a brilliant job of telling the story and is the very best film on the subject that I have ever seen. It should be noted that it was among a group of high quality WWII films that came out in those years, which also included Patton, Tora Tora Tora and others. Later films such as the appallingly Hollywood BS-ized movie Pearl Harbor bark around ten years ago.
If someone wants to know what it was like for the pilots on both sides of the conflict during that critically important few months in world history, the Battle of Britain is the film to see.
Seventy years ago this month, the Lufwaffe tried to destroy the RAF so Germany could invade Britain. They failed. Historians disagree on exactly why they failed to destroy the RAF, and whether Germany could have pulled off an invasion even if they had destroyed the RAF, but there is nearly universal agreement that the late summer and early fall of 1940 was a crucial moment in world history. The revisionists have had their say, and the consensus has I think come back to something pretty close to the standard narrative, if a slightly more nuanced view of that narrative. This film gives the standard narrative as it was understood before all the revisionist historians had picked it over. In its fundamentals the story told by this film is still true: it didn't happen EXACTLY this way, but it did really happen. The RAF really did save Britain and the world against some pretty frightening odds.
It is also clear that the British made extremely effective use of what is anachronistically called "radar" by the cast of this movie (the word actually used by the RAF in 1940 was RDF for Radio Direction Finding). Whatever you call it, it was key to the survival of Britain in 1940. The Germans actually had much better radar technology; what set the British apart was they built the world's first complete system for gathering all available data -- radar, spotters' reports, the current status of every airfield, etc., and providing a complete picture to those deciding how to deploy available resources. Since the RAF was stretched desperately thin, these data were of vital importance (as was another source of data not yet public knowledge when this movie was made: the Ultra Secret of codebreaking).
But none of the radar systems, none of the planning, none of the technology could have saved Britain without the young pilots who flew their fragile craft on sortie after sortie against daunting odds. They were knights of the air, defending their homeland from a truly evil and frightening foe. Today we know how the story ends. In 1940 the outcome was far from clear, and a lot of smart people on both sides thought German victory was inevitable.
Of course the aerial dogfight scenes are the heart of this movie, which has some of the best aerial battle footage ever filmed. Real airplanes -- nearly every suitable airplane that could still fly in 1969 was used -- were flown over the actual locations where the battles took place. Actual London buildings that were being demolished for new construction were burned down for the making of this movie. Today this movie could not be made that way, too few vintage aircraft are still flyable and many of the landscapes look too different from how they looked in 1940. Today computer graphics would have to be used, and while CGI makes some amazing special effects possible it ain't the same. No WWII film has better aerial combat footage than this one, and indeed clips from this film (sometimes converted to low-resolution grayscale for a period feel) have been used in many more recent movies.
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