Battle Of The River Plate aka Pursuit of the Graf Spee

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In the first major naval battle of World War II, the British Navy must find and destroy a powerful German warship. Suspense Clutches Your Heart in This Spectacular Saga of the Sea!

ACTORS :  John Gregson, Anthony Quayle, Peter Finch

YEAR OF RELEASE :  1956

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Battle Of The River Plate aka Pursuit of the Graf Spee  In the fall of 1939, the German heavy cruiser (referred to as a pocket battleship) Graf Spee seems to have command of the Atlantic. In the first three months of World War II, she was responsible for sinking nine ships. The British sent three cruisers commanded by Commodore Henry Harwood to confront her. The battle took place on December 13, 1939 and the British came out on top. The Graf Spee headed for the neutral harbor of Montevideo, Uruguay. They were given only a short time to effect repairs and the British did their best to make them believe a British fleet of six or eight ships awaited them. Rather than chance the loss of his men, the German Captain ordered the Graf Spee scuttled.

A solid entry from Powell/Pressburger

Battle Of The River Plate aka Pursuit of the Graf Spee  Not withstanding the negative comments of some critics, this is another great Powell/Pressburger film. Perhaps what prevents it from getting its due is that it looks like another entry in the “big WW II battle recreation” genre, but the structure, the performances, and the film’s intent in general aren’t really in the service of that genre. The climactic battle is fought in the middle of the film, and the last third unexpectedly takes place on the docks and in the cafes and embassies of Montevideo, with a festival air and comedy relief. Powell rightly feels that the core of the film is Bernard Lee’s admiration of his captor; indeed, the final scene is the expression of that admiration. Yet the viewer isn’t “pointed” to that relationship. All the expository dialogue serves the battle scenes–where the Spee might be, how to attack it, the relationship between the British Commodore and his Captains–and later, the strategies of the Spee’s leaving port. Particularly in the latter part, there’s a lot of discussion which doesn’t relate to the film’s denouement. And the collection of British prisoners on the Spee don’t coalesce into an ensemble. In an odd way, their fate never seems integrated into the battle, nor does it particularly highlight the relationship between Lee and Finch. This unusual structure is in part due to the film apparently following actual events fairly closely, and actual events don’t follow conventional dramatic structure. But, really, that absence of conventional structure, and the refusal to emphasize the Lee-Finch relationship or to make it a dominant theme, are the film’s greatest strengths. Finally, note should be taken of the superb photography in VistaVision.

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