The Dam Busters (1954) Home Release Review
"Those damn busters"
In honor of the 75th anniversary of Operation Chastise, the daring mission in which the Royal Air Force successfully breached the supposedly impenetrable Ruhr river dams of Germany, the 1955 British classic The Dam Busters
is getting a special new home release.
Directed by the late, great Michael Anderson (Logan's Run
, Around the World in 80 Days
), The Dam Busters
tell the true story of Commander Guy Gibson (Richard Todd) and aeronautical engineer Barnes Wallis (Michael Redgrave), two key figures in operation to take down the dams.
Wallis is determined to come up with a way to attack the dams and cripple Germany's heavy industry in the process. His revolutionary idea is that of a bouncing bomb. Released at the right time, speed, distance, and altitude, the bomb would skip over the water, dodging protective nets and then sinking along the dam before exploding for maximum damage.
Gibson is the commanding officer of the Royal Air Force Squadron tasked with making Wallis' idea a reality. Much of the movie centers around the numerous logistical problems both men face while trying to prepare. Every step of the way is fraught with obstacles - from skeptical higher-ups and issues of financing to practical problems with the bomb's casing to the pilots struggling with flying as low as they need to.
It's a deeply engrossing tale of determination and ingenuity - even knowing full well that the operation was ultimately successful doesn't make the whole the film any less fun or thrilling. The Dam Buster
is all forward momentum, moving quickly and succinctly from one problem to the next.
There's always something that needs fixing, some issue that needs a clever or unorthodox solution, some unexpected new hurdle. The fresh supply of problems results in a brisk and entertaining pace. There's a handful of light character flourishes sprinkled throughout that ensures the story isn't missing the human element.
One highlight was the squadron growing increasingly flustered over the secrecy surrounding the operation and the teasing they receive from other pilots. This results in a great big brawl to let off some steam.
There are two aspects in which the movie's aged particularly poorly. One is the minor detail of Gibson's dog, a black labrador called the N-word (which is historically accurate, yet renamed for the American release). It's not offensive, but it is one of those funny, wince-inducing little details you sometimes find in really old movies.
The other way in which The Dam Busters
has aged is, unfortunately, the final sequence which is a dramatization of the operation itself. It is readily apparent that this was incredibly impressive at the time. The sequence was, in fact, a huge inspiration for the Death Star battle and trench run in Star Wars: A New Hope
, which, incidentally, has also aged terribly.
It's just not at all exciting to watch other than for its historical significance. Peter Jackson has been circling a remake of The Dam Busters
for years, which sounds like a fantastic idea. A movie that recaptures the spirit and energy of the original while modernizing the actual flying sequences would be amazing.
Still, The Dam Busters
mostly holds up and is well worth revisiting. It's a damn fine movie three quarters of the way through that doesn't lose face just because the last part is boring from a modern perspective.
The home release also comes with a wide array of special features and extras, from archival footage to documentaries about the movie and the history of Operation Chastise. There is about two and a half hours of supplementary materials to go through, not counting the few extra bits you can get if you buy the Collector's Edition.
Here's a full list of the extras:
STANDARD DUAL FORMAT RELEASE:
- The Making of the Dam Busters Documentary (39 min)
- Restoration featurette (5 min)
- 671 Squadron Remembers - 2010 Documentary (56 min)
- Sir Barnes Wallis - 1972 documentary (28 min)
- Bomb Test Footage (7 min)
- Dam Busters Roayal Premiere (3 min)
- Dam Busters Reunion (3 min)
- Behind the Scenes Stills
- 64 page booklet with foreword by Dan Snow
- 5 art cards
- RAF Chastise Lancaster Bombers Poster
- Reproduction photograph of the Möhne Dam after the raid, signed by the original 617 Squadron
- A gripping dramatisation of an incredible true story
- Moves at a brisk, entertaining pace
- A wide array of special features and extras
- The final flying sequence shows its age