This one was directed by my friend Michael Anderson. So far as Wiki knows, Michael is still alive at age 93! I wish him many more happy years.
The opening scene is worth commenting about. It’s in an ornate office of the fucking Nazi in charge of the German rocket program, and after two men speak to each other the camera moves in and focuses on two steel things on his desk. One is a model of the V-1 Flying Bomb, the first drone to be used in warfare. And the other is … a Hugo Award! (I mean, it’s actually a V-2, of course, but it could sure pass for a Hugo, just like the … ahem … three sitting on my bookshelf.)
The movie is about the British and American attempts to find out more about the rocket program, to see if it’s really a threat and worth bombing the shit out of the base at Peenemünde instead of more industrial targets in Germany. It was at the extreme long range of Allied bombers, which would have to fly without fighter escort, and would certainly be shot down in large numbers, so it was quite important to see if these were useful weapons, or just bottle rockets, as the chief British scientist kept telling them.
Very early on I thought I caught the filmmakers in a big error. They had mounted a V-1 on a track, which was correct, and then they turned on the engine. Whoa! I had always heard that the resonant pulse jet that powered the V-1 had to be moving at a certain speed to operate. It had a shutter in front, so the fuel could be ignited and come out the back end. Then the shutter would open again to take in air, close, ignite, and so on. That was what cause the awful, pulsating sound over London that was the reason they were called “buzz bombs.” But I was wrong! V-1s could operate from a static start. They pumped in compressed air and acetylene gas to get them going, started them with an ordinary automotive spark plug, and once they reached the right temperature they would continue to run. Sorry, Michael. I should have trusted you.
One thing they did get wrong (probably on purpose, for dramatic reasons) is that the fucking Nazi Bitch Hannah Reitsch actually flew one to find out what was wrong with the guidance system. Never happened, though it would have been nice if she had flown it and crashed and killed herself. This was the woman who was Hitler’s favorite pilot. This bitch was in Hitler’s bunker during the last days of the Reich, and said it was the blackest day of her life when she wasn’t asked to kill herself with him. This was the bitch who was working on a suicide plane during the last days of the war. As far as I can tell, she was barely punished for anything after the war. She was unrepentant right up to her death in 1979, even going so far as to say the only thing they did wrong was to lose the war. I’d have cheerfully shot her in the gut and watched her die. I wish I could make it to her grave so I could piss on it. Along with a lot of other fucking Nazis.
This is quite a big production, with realistic special effects for the rockets and huge explosions in the streets of London when the bombs fall. The story is largely made up, with engineers including George Peppard trying to get into the gigantic underground factory which is making the rockets, to find out if they are real or just decoys. Before they can do that, the bombs start raining on London, which pretty much answers that question, but there is still the matter of the super-rocket, capable of reaching New York. This part is made up. There was no such rocket, but it makes for a good thriller to see George trying to stop the first test launch, and in the process blowing up the factory (with a little help from a massive RAF bombing raid). Sophia Loren figures prominently in the credits, but has only a small part. All in all, a superior WWII action thriller. Good job, Michael!