The Dam Busters

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THE DAM BUSTERS—-documentary-style telling of how British aircraft used “skipping bombs” in a nervy raid that blew up dams in Germany’s Ruhr Valley in 1943.  Most of the film covers the painstaking preparations for the daring nighttime run, and it’s all very  square and flat, pretty dull stuff.  A sincere tribute, minus the usual romantic and melodramatic frills that hamstrung many of its type, but if you’re not keen on the mechanics of low-level bombing you might not volunteer to view.

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The last twenty minutes are taken up by the mission itself, which is cleverly done with models, matte shots and animation, reasonably impressive given the era and available resources. The Special Effects were Oscar nominated (losing to another air-raiding adventure, The Bridges At Toko-Ri). The stiff upper lip acting is yeoman.

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It was the most popular movie in England in 1955, and is rather a cultural touchstone there, with the march theme used at football games and assorted commercial enterprises (have to say it’s pretty tame sounding music for a march).  Director Michael Anderson impressed the right people with his handling and next year was given the pilot seat for the huge canvas of Around The World In 80 Days. Twenty-two years later, in Star Wars, George Lucas patterned some of the ‘Death Star’ attack off this film.

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With Michael Redgrave, Richard Todd, Basil Sydney, Patrick Barr, Raymond Huntley, Ursula Jeans, Laurence Naismith, Robert Shaw (at 27), Nigel Stock, John Fraser and Patrick McGoohan, 26.  Depending on the edition, it’s either 104 or 124 minutes. US markets that played it on TV often edited out a racial slur (used here as a dog’s name).

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While the raid didn’t have the hoped-for effect of shortening the war, to a Luftwaffe-pounded Britain it gave a morale boost similar to what the Doolittle Raid on Japan did for Yank audiences of Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.  Though taking note of the air crew losses in the ballsy assault, the movie omits from the “hurrah, chaps!” angle the less cheerful news that 1,300 civilians were killed in the resultant flooding, including 500 Ukrainian slave laborers, mostly women. War.

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