One good British naval film deserved another, so I followed MORNING DEPARTURE (1950) with a film made a decade later, SINK THE BISMARCK! (1960).
SINK THE BISMARCK! stars Kenneth More, who also appeared in a smaller role in MORNING DEPARTURE. He plays the fictional Captain Shepard, Naval Director of Operations, in what is otherwise a fact-based story of the critical 1941 battle to sink the fearsome German battleship.
For the most part the movie admirably sticks to a cut-and-dried docudrama style, only allowing More's Captain Shepard a couple of scenes depicting his reaction to events regarding his son, and More nails both of those moments. His performance is all the more affecting given that he has very little time to connect with the audience emotionally. Dana Wynter plays a Navy Wren who assists Shepard, and their interactions provide the opportunity to humanize his seemingly cold and preoccupied character.
The movie only makes a couple of small missteps. One is that the admiral (Karel Stepanek) on the Bismarck is portrayed so cartoonishly he almost comes off like an over-the-top James Bond villain. (Funnily enough the movie was directed by Lewis Gilbert, who later made three 007 films.) A little underplaying would have been welcome here and would have better fit the movie's style.
I also felt that a few gruesome moments in battle scenes were unnecessary, as the awful destruction was quite clear even in more restrained shots. This was particularly true at the end of the movie; sinking the Bismarck was a great victory, critically important to Britain's survival, but the depiction of individual human suffering seemed out of keeping with the rest of the film's measured tone.
The script by Edmund H. North was based on the book by C.S. Forester, who also wrote the fictional Horatio Hornblower series and THE AFRICAN QUEEN.
The film was shot in black and white CinemaScope by Christopher Challis. The supporting cast includes Carl Mohner, Laurence Naismith, Geoffrey Keen, Michael Hordern, Esmond Knight, and many more. The film runs 97 minutes.
This movie is available on DVD in the Fox War Classics series. It can be rented from Netflix and ClassicFlix.
It also had a VHS release, and it's been shown recently on Fox Movie Channel.
The trailer is at IMDb. The strangely jovial song used in the trailer does not appear in the film itself.
This movie would make a fine double bill paired with another film of the same year, Robert Montgomery's THE GALLANT HOURS (1960) starring James Cagney. Both films examine the courage of those in naval leadership working to win the war under enormous stresses, at points in time when all might still be lost.