Battle of Britain
20th Century Fox, 2003. DVD, 132 minutes. Rated G, $14.98.
TO MAKE MGM’S 1969 TRIBUTE to the Union Jack, high tea, and aerial havoc, producer Harry Saltzman (of James Bond fame) assembled what at the time became the third largest air force. He spent a reasonable chunk of the movie’s reported $12 million budget assembling a fleet of Spitfires, Hurricanes, Messerschmitts, and even one of those butt-ugly Stukas. The Stuka—on loan from the Royal Air Force Museum—turned out not to be flyable, so Saltzman converted two Percival Proctors (equally unappealing) to stand in for the Junkers. And when he couldn’t find enough German bombers on the open market, he did the next best thing: He went to the Spanish air force, which was still flying Heinkel He 111s.
In Battle of Britain, the aircraft are the stars. Flying tail-end-charlie to them (and that’s not hard to do when Rolls-royce Merlins are a-turning and Stukas a-burning) is the cast, which includes Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Robert Shaw, Christopher Plummer, and Lawrence Olivier. Problem is, the stars are crammed into a plotline tighter than the cockpit of a Spitfire. The story includes seemingly every historic nugget having to do with the Battle of Britain. Just when you start to get a feel for life in a Spitfire squadron, you’re off to see how the Jerry pilots are fairing or off to the hospital, then pressing on regardless (sorry, slipped in a RAF Bomber Command motto there) to get inside the mind of Hugh Dowding, the head of Fighter Command. Two hours and 12 minutes of this stuff is almost enough to make you want to hit the silk.
Remember, though, that in the Battle of Britain, the airplanes have the best parts. All that aerial firepower is displayed on screen almost to a fault—almost. The majesty of a squadron of Spitfires in battle formation sailing across the screen, the dogfights with Messerschmitts, the pilot’s point-of-view shots (however fleeting)—most everything is real. It is some of the best aerial footage of World War II aircraft you will ever see, because the producers did not rely on some CG whiz kid. What you see when you look at a Spitfire in flight in the Battle of Britain is 5,000 pounds of stressed-skin aluminum, Perspex, doped fabric, and ethylene glycol doing what it was born to do.
DC AGLE SAT IN A SPITFIRE…ONCE. HE
MOST RECENTLY WROTE ABOUT LOCKHEED’S
P-80 SHOOTING STAR (OCT./NOV. 2014).