The Dam Busters
I have a connection with this film, in that it was directed by Michael Anderson, the man who did his best to make a good film out of the remains of my script, Millennium. Michael directed the Best Picture Oscar-winning Around the World in 80 Days. He has some wonderfully wacky stories about Michael Todd, the certifiably insane producer. He has several science fiction movies to his credit, including Logan’s Run and 1984. He also directed Orca, of which the IMDb has this to say: “The killer whale was portrayed by a combination of stock footage taken at Marine World in Redwood City, California, and an animatronic whale which was filmed off the coasts of Malta and Newfoundland.” It’s a damn lie. Michael had us all in stitches telling the story of how they activated the animatronic critter off the coast of Malta on the first day of shooting … and it caught fire, burned, and sank, never to be seen again. There he was, obligated to make a (completely silly) movie about an orca, and he had no orca. That he managed to shoot around it and end up with a movie at all was a miracle.
This movie was the one that put him on the map. It was a huge success, and has appeared on many Best WWII Films lists. It tells the true story (much more accurately than your typical cinematic “true story”) of the RAF’s 617 Squadron, who were given the job of blowing up the dams on the Ruhr. To do this they had to fly their Lancaster bombers at 60 feet, precisely, and release the 5-ton bombs precisely 600 feet from the dams, from where they would skip across the water like tossed flat rocks and concentrate all their explosive power right up against the structures. All this while flying into formidable flak from the ground. It was well-nigh impossible, but they did it. The film shines in another area, too. In your typical action adventure, after pulling off the big caper the end credits are only minutes away. Here, they suffer (in British stiff-upper-lip fashion) over the many crews lost that night. The tension is in the attack, but also in the men who stayed behind and monitor it all, agonizing over sending so many men to their deaths.
It is that rarity, a film that shows in great, scientific detail just how this was all put together, from the inventor, Dr. Barnes Wallis, skipping golf balls in his back yard, to larger tests in water tanks, to a series of failures in the ocean. It shows how you can keep your altitude at 60 feet without radar, and how you determine when you are at the correct distance. In fact, the film goes on for 90 minutes, covering development and training, before anyone flies into action. But what action! The SFX were primitive, but it just shows you how much you can accomplish if you know how to build tension. The last half-hour was so good, in fact, that George Lucas used it as a sort of template for the final scene of Star Wars, the attack on the Death Star. So good that Peter Jackson is apparently at work on a re-make. I’m sure it will be a lot more dazzling than the original, but listen, Peter, if you don’t lay it out meticulously, step by step, as Michael Anderson did, you’ll end up with just another ho-hum Stars Wars clone.
Filming must have been a challenge. It was only 10 years since the end of the war, but all the old Lancasters (in my opinion, an exceptionally ugly aeroplane) were mothballed, soon to be scrapped, and had been replaced by jets. But the RAF tuned up four of them, and flew them right down on the deck. They even modified the bellies as the 617 Squadron’s Lancs had been to accommodate the gigantic bombs. The movie was partly based on a book by Paul Brickhill, who was actually a prisoner in Stalag Luft III, and wrote the book The Great Escape.
The other source material was a book by the leader of the Squadron, Guy Gibson, and something from that book is more than a bit jarring. Gibson actually had a black Labrador called—no shit—Nigger. The first time he shouts “Here, Nigger!” you want to clean out your ears, sure you’ve misheard. And every time thereafter, it startled me. You just don’t get used to it, it continues to make you wince. For an American release, some time later, the name was re-dubbed as “Trigger.” Now, I detest censorship in any form, and can’t really approve of that … and yet, damn, it sounds so awful. Peter Jackson has said he is facing a no-win situation concerning the damn dog. Don’t call him Nigger and be accused of altering history, or go with Nigger and offend everybody. Tentative solution: It seems Gibson often called the pooch “Nigsy.” That might work. (One historical inaccuracy, according to the IMDb: In the movie, Nigger is killed by a hit-and-run driver. In actual fact, the car’s driver and a passenger were injured when he swerved to avoid the dog.) (One more bit of trivia: Nigger was played by a dog called … Nigger.) IMDb.com
The Dam Buster (Second Review) I have already extensively reviewed this movie, and you should find that rather lengthy essay above this one. After seeing it yet one more time, in 2012, I had to add just a little bit more, and that concerns the dog, N*gg*r.
WTF! My word processing program just censored … well, okay, it didn’t, but I’m afraid that may be the next step in the march of political correctness. I was reading some of the comments at the IMDb, and wasn’t too surprised that at least half of them concerned the name of the black Lab in the movie, whose name in real life as well as the part he played were both Nigger. What sort of stunned me was that almost no one spelled the word out. We got N****r, Ni**er, and of course, N-word. What is this? Why is it that for some reason many websites have a scanning tool that looks for words like fuck, shit, cunt, motherfucker, nigger, and retard, and won’t post your comment if you spell them out? But it’s perfectly okay to write f*ck, sh*t, c*nt, m***********r, N-word, and now, R-word?
Ask yourself this. When you are reading the last sentence, silently to yourself, did you think eff asterisk cee kay? You did not. You thought FUCK. And your mind somehow survived this assault on your sensibilities. When you hear someone on TV say “N-word,” you know the word is nigger. How is it that these words are so poisonous that not only can you not SAY them—and I have no real problem with that, when it comes to TV, though I think it’s mighty silly—but you can’t even SPELL them?
Not long ago some very foolish black leaders … sorry, African-American leaders, and their white sympathizers, held a media event where they “buried” the N-word (they couldn’t even say it aloud) in a real coffin. The idea was that this word should never be used again. It should be expunged from the language, wiped from all the dictionaries. I presume that would be retroactively, in trashy books like Huckleberry Finn … which has recently had an expurgated edition published, for schools. One of the ironies among many ironies was, of course, that in most poor black … African-American neighborhoods, the word nigger is second only to motherfucker in common spoken usage. But let’s bury the f*cker anyway, okay?
Dude, I realize the words are offensive. Anyone who calls someone a retard, as that filthy cunt Ann Coulter recently called Obama, is beneath contempt. But in the story I read about that, the word retard was never used. I’m not saying we should pepper our speech with them, and any white person who calls someone a nigger deserves to get beaten to a bloody pulp. But you can’t SAY the word? In a quote? You can’t write it? You want to go the 1984 route and pretend the word never existed? That way lies insanity. No, insanity is already here. Where we go now is beyond my powers of reckoning.
Lord, do we ever need George Carlin again.