BATTLE OF BRITAIN is a huge WW2 epic, a tribute to the airmen who defended England against Hitler’s bombers in 1940. Producer Harry Saltzman, flush from his partnership in the Bond movies, poured $17,000,000 worth of 1969 loot into the production, giving a rich look to it all, and more than 100 vintage planes were restored, flown and/or demolished for the many battle scenes. Add scores of models and mock-ups. There are reams of material online about this amassed arsenal.
For flying buffs, or those particularly keen on that aspect of military history, the movie dutifully commands a look, with realistic panoramas of aerial dogfights, bombing raids and related calamities running throughout its 132 minutes.
The documentary-like approach however, kills the dramatic element, and the dull activities of the gala all-star cast, leadenly steered by Guy Hamilton, provide nary a minute or two of human interest. A veritable Who’s Who of British Cinema parade by, so it becomes a star-spotting event rather than an involving saga of world-at-risk conflict.
Sets, props, wardrobe, cinematography, pyrotechnics are all splendid, and the music score is fairly good, split between Ron Goodwin and a fine segment from William Walton. But the pace of the enterprise is elephantine, and the excellently staged fighting gets monotonous (even for patient action fanciers). A backfire, and a major disaster at the boxoffice. It did well in Britain, but only recouped $2,000,000 in America, caught up in agony over Vietnam. The film lost nearly $10,000,000 total. Saltzman could afford it, thanks to 007.
Best sequence in the film, ironically, belongs to Hitler, when he (or rather, actor Rolf Stiefel) gives a threatening speech before a massed crowd, who respond with deluded fervor. It has all the energy that the rest of the movie suffocates.
Put down your tea: here comes the cast—-Robert Shaw, Christopher Plummer, Laurence Olivier, Susannah York, Trevor Howard, Ian McShane, Michael Caine, Nigel Patrick, Kenneth More, Michael Redgrave, Heinz Reiss, Patrick Wymark, Ralph Richardson, Harry Andrews, Michael Bates, Curt Jurgens, Edward Fox, Karl Otto Alberty, Barry Foster, James Cosmo.