Post war Britain, especially in the 50’s saw UK cinema audience embracing war films. Whether because the Allies had won and the UK was starting to get itself back together with rationing finally coming to an end is anyone’s guess. But films like The Cruel Sea, The Dam Busters, Dunkirk (not The Chris Nolan one) and The Bridge on the River Kwai did great business in the UK. Sink the Bismarck was no different. Though released in 1960 six months before Hitchcock’s Psycho which would audiences expectations forever, the film about the Royal Navy’s efforts to….…..well………sink the Bismarck would be another hugely successful WWII film and rightly so.
Set in the Spring of 1941 the Bismarck was the Nazi’s greatest battle ship and the scourge of the North Atlantic but had now been pinned down in Norway but decides to make a break for freedom and the aerial cover of the Luftwaffe. The Nazi warship finds itself chased by the Royal Navy’s best determined to sink it in an operation strategized by the Admiralty’s Chief of Operations.
Though it was based on the book by CS Forester he had actually written the film’s first draft but when this was shelved he turned it into a book for which eventual screenwriter Edmund H North would ironically base his script on. It was not an easy story to adapt with a huge number of ships involved over an immense area it would have made a confused screenplay and the device to centre the film in the Naval HQ where the strategists headed up by the Captain in charge of the operation was based was the right decision. However it was a film that somewhat typically for the era focused on the senior officers rather than the rank and file sailors and it was further emphasized by these stock roles played by actors typically cast in these type of roles notably Michael Hordern as the naval Commander in Chief and Kenneth More as the Captain who ran the operation. In fairness More, for once, who was riding wave of popularity from ‘Reach for the Sky’ (another war film) but also light comedies ‘Genevieve’ and the ‘Doctor’ series here was playing a far more straight laced, by the books role despite it being a fictional one in a real life story.
Made in Pinewood studios and financed by 20th Century Fox the film producers were able to call on the favours of Lord Mountbatten who at the time was the Navy’s First Sealord and was friends to one of the producers which enabled them to get access to naval facilities as locations as well as real ships which they were able to destroy as the ships were destined to be scrapped anyway. Many of these ships in the film were interspersed with stock footage and some fantastic models and miniatures work. Well, we say miniatures, the Bismarck model was 20 foot long and was shot in the studios tank and its rear cyclorama was disguised by smoke to replicate the poor water conditions seen in that the battle took place and the effects are almost seamless and certainly still stand up well even today in an age well before the over saturation we have of CGI today.
Sink the Bismarck was directed by Lewis Gilbert who was ideally suited to the subject having already shot four WWII films previous to beginning work on this one. He was a highly regarded and experienced director who would go on to make three Bond films including Moore’s career Bond best ‘The Spy who Loved Me’. The film was released to huge success in the UK and was popular in the US too and in fact when it eventually went on to be screened on TV attracted an audience of 16 million people a figure which today’s TV executives would kill for.
Sink the Bismarck is part of Eureka’s Classics series and rightly so because its great war film and is now on blu ray for the first time. A little thin on extras its does have the original trailer and some audio options but it’s best feature is the featurette with film historian Sheldon Hall talking about the film which is both informative and insightful. Much like ‘Ice Cold in Alex’ this is one of those old war films that is great to watch on a Sunday afternoon.
Here’s the trailer…….
SINK THE BISMARK IS AVAILABLE ON DVD & Blu Ray ON 11th MARCH 2019