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Monday, November 8, 2010

DAMN THE DEFIANT (aka H.M.S. DEFIANT) (1962)


Looking for a cinematic tour of French/English naval battles in the Napoleonic Wars?; with a bonus lecture on changing production methods and acting styles over six decades? Start with THAT HAMILTON WOMAN/’41 for classic b&w with WWII trimmings; then CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER/’51 for that TechniColored soundstage ├Žsthetic; proceed to this British production, cast with real WWII naval officers, and F/X that combines studio artifice with real ships at sea; finish off with MASTER AND COMMANDER/’03 for convincing CGI & a shipshape (rather than ship-shaped) Russell Crowe. DEFIANT finds Alec Guinness & Anthony Qualye (on a brief hiatus from LAWRENCE OF ARABIA/’62) co-starring as a benevolent Captain & an agitating crewman; but it's Dirk Bogarde as a sadistic flog-happy officer who gets all the fun. The film wasn’t well received when released, the ending remains too tidy & convenient, and stuffed with sentiments straight out of Gilbert & Sullivan’s PIRATES OF PENZANCE. Yet, the acting is expectedly fine, and Lewis Gilbert keeps the pace up while helming the battle scenes with uncommon verve & clear lines of action. It all feels smart and looks good. (Even better if you tone down the blu-ish tint on the Columbia Classics DVD.) Guinness played the sadistic military bully on his last pic, TUNES OF GLORY/’60, and he hated playing this blandly competent man. But who else could have found BILLY BUDD’s Captain Vere in this ordinary material? (Look close at this poster and you'll see the U.S. title bleeding thru the British paste-over.)

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