Thursday 7 June 2018

Film Review: Dunkirk, 1958

I could swear I've already written a review of this? Still, I can't find it anywhere, so here goes... Oh, and BTW, I last watched this several years ago - I really ought to watch it again before posting this! - and this is written almost entirely from my memories of that viewing.

Mills as Cpl. 'Tubby' (?) Binns, left, and Lee as newspaperman Charles Foreman, centre.

Dickie Attenborough, at left, as John Holden, manufacturer of buckles!

The first thing to say is that I far prefer it to the 2017 Nolan film.

But it does have its faults. Two of these, which really do hurt the film for me, are John Mills' rather poor Cockney accent, and Bernard 'M' Lee's frankly poor acting, particularly at one crucial moment. Having said this, this film captures far better the 'Dunkirk Spirit', both in the panic and meltdown on the battlefront and beaches, and in the heroic/nostalgic propaganda sense that immediately grew up around this celebrated defeat.

Mills relaxes...

... filming at Camber Sands

Seascapes were often filmed indoors, at Ealing Studios!

Above are a few pictures showing how it was done, pre CGI. Beach scenes were filmed at Camber Sands, and we see Mills relaxing as the crew buzzes around, and filming with Lee. Some of the sea-scenes were filmed indoors, at the Ealing Studios, as can be seen in the bottom of these three pictures.

This film is rather quaintly old-fashioned in feel, and, in places, rather too propagandistic for my liking. That said, it's also quite dark, really. And perhaps surprisingly negative, inasmuch as it does depict confusion and pessimism, both at home and on the beaches. 

Certainly it totally outperforms the 2017 film in conveying far more sense of context, for example in contrasting the lives of those at home in Blighty, where the war was still perceived as 'phoney', with the fighting in France, a perception those at the 'sharp end' would and did hotly dispute!

Cpl. Binns is slow to accept responsibility for his small ragtag band of demoralised, disorganised men.

The 'armada' of little boats is also better evoked. And there's even the story of a young boy joining the rescue flotilla against the wishes of his elders, as reprised in the 2017 version. In this 1958 version Sean Barratt plays Frankie, Holden's young apprentice. Pop trivia fans might know/recall that The Smiths used a picture of him from the film on a record sleeve!

The older movie also does a better job with the battle for Dunkirk itself, in which Mills and his fellow soldiers are a demoralised and disorganised bunch, retreating in a haphazard manner and losing men, and certainly acting far from heroic. Which is good, as it balances the more propagandistic elements of the film somewhat.

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