One of 20th Century Fox's British productions, "Sink the Bismarck!" remains a thoroughly enjoyable World War II film, with a strong emphasis on military procedure and coordination. Based on the book by C. S. Forester, emotionally dead Kenneth More has been brought in to help the Navy hunt down Germany's infamous battleship, while pretty war widow Dana Wynter tries to unearth her superior's wounded past during the grim hunt.
Dramatizing the twists and judgement errors that led to the ship's demise while on her maiden voyage, "Bismarck!" also recalls the measured pacing of "Tora! Tora! Tora!," another wartime procedural film that gave a more balanced and sympathetic portrayal of the frontline grunts in both warring navies. The conclusion of "Bismarck!" is still quite powerful; capturing the terror of German seamen, vainly attempting to escape their twisted and doomed ship, the British navy shows a measure of sadness for the event's overall human tragedy.
20th Century Fox has found another pristine black & white print, and the CinemaScope ratio amusingly reveals some of the spatial challenges cinematographers faced in filling up edge areas with patient actors and objects. There's an occasional case of CinemaScope mumps in which close-ups of heads are a bit squished - perhaps the old lenses from the fifties were shipped overseas? - but Fox's transfer of this gem contains a stable array of gray and deep blacks, and integration between models and news footage is flawless. The stereo sound mix also showcases Clifton Parker's excellent score, and combat sound effects are quite potent during the attack sequences.
The film's trailer features an intro from Edward R. Murrow - who made his career reporting live from England while bombs assaulted London - and he appears in the film at several desk reportages, to place events in context, and lend an effective taste of authenticity. The U.S. trailer closes with a dreadful pop-country theme song (thankfully NOT used in the finished film), whereas the British trailer retains Parker's rousing score samples.
A newsreel offers a rather amusing series of contrasts: though America hadn't yet entered the war, the narration points out Bismarck being spotted by "an American-built Catalina sea plane," and not the British airmen.
"Bismarck!" is also a curious footnote for James Bond enthusiasts: directed by Lewis Gilbert ("The Spy Who Loved Me") and edited with typical precision by Peter Hunt ("From Russia with Love," and later director of "On Her Majesty's Secret Service"), the film also contains a collection of character actors, such as Walter Gotell and Geoffrey Keen (both appearing in several Bond films, including "The Spy Who Loved Me").
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan