Sink the Bismarck! [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Eureka
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (11th March 2019).
The Film

1941, London: British warships have are barely holding their own against German U-boats "as the dark stain of Nazi conquest spreads across Europe," when they receive intelligence that the battleship Prinz Eugen and what may be the invincible Bismarck have been spotted near Norway. On the day they receive this news, Captain Jonathan Shepard (The Longest Day's Kenneth More) has taken over as the Admiralty's chief of operations. He does not give off a warm impression to those under his command, looking down upon the informality with which they carry out their duties and holding Commander Richards (The Day of the Jackal's Maurice Denham) and Women's Royal Navy Second Officer Anne Davis (Invasion of the Body Snatchers' Dana Wynter) responsible for setting an example (not that he is not also unsettled by a woman's presence in the war room). Shepard is, however, exactly what First Sea Lord Sir Dudley Pound (Village of the Damned's Laurence Naismith) is looking for: a man with seemingly "no heart at all, no soul, just an enormous brain." Upon discovering that present on the Bismarck is Fleet Admiral Günther Lütjens (The Frozen Dead's Karel Stepanek), however, the mission becomes more personal for Shepard whose own ship had been sunk by ships commanded by Lütjens. Lütjens is unaware that he is going up against such an adversary, his decision to board the Bismarck and command over the shoulder of Captain Ernst Lindemann (Rififi's Carl Möhner) motivated by his bitterness over being overlooked for his efforts during WWI; and his quest for recognition will dictate all of his subsequent moves, even those that go against the advisement and concerns of Lindemann. Although Shepard had shut himself away from all emotions after the death of his wife in an air raid – including his apprehensions over his son Tom (Juggernaut's John Stride) being a gunner on the Ark Royal – he comes to feel the weight of gambling the lives of thousands of men on calculated risks; a concern that distinguishes him (and even Lindemann) from Lütjens whose need for recognition has his doing away with all doubts about his approach after receiving birthday wishes from Der Führer in contrast to the grim acceptance of Shepard and those above him to send all they have against the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen even if that means leaving others vulnerable after an audio communiqué from Churchill (a particularly awful impression credited to Norman Shelley who was rumored to have delivered Churchill's House of Commons speeches on subsequent radio broadcasts). While the romantic subplot seems obligatory, More is quite adept at communicating his unease with anything emotional as well as the reasons behind it, and he is well-supported by a who's who of British character actors – Mark Burns (Death in Venice), Roy Castle (Dr. Terror's House of Horrors), Ian Hendry (Repulsion), Michael Hordern (Where Eagles Dare), Geoffrey Keen (Moonraker), Bernard Lee (the original M. starting with Dr. No), Olaf Pooley (Crucible of Horror), Robert Rietty (The Omen) whose voice is more recognizable than his face as a prolific dubbing director and performer of British, Spanish and Italian films, and Hammer's Michael Ripper (Taste the Blood of Dracula) – many of whom would be better known stateside for their supporting work in American/British co-productions and then-unknown British leading men David Hemmings (Blow-Up) and Edward Judd (The Day the Earth Caught Fire). American TV reporting legend Edward R. Murrow appears as himself, although years older than when he actually covered the war. While Czech actor Stephanek played Nazis in other British films, German actor Walter Gotell was generally known stateside for playing Russian characters, including General Gogol in the Bond series from The Spy Who Loved Me through The Living Daylights. Director Lewis Gilbert would later helm the Bond entries You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Moonraker.

Video

Released theatrically through Twentieth-Century-Fox on both side of the ocean, Sink the Bismarck! was released on cassette by Fox and laserdisc in the United States in widescreen with Dolby Surround audio. DVDs appeared from Fox in the US and UK. The first Blu-ray release appeared in Germany from WVG Medien GmbH. Eureka's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen is quite attractive once one become accustomed to the textures of the film, UK exteriors looking overcast and overall gray, the war room scenes a contrast of black uniforms against varying shades of white and grey furnishings and props, the location battle scenes a mix of stock footage, some plane and boat camera rigs that seem to have caused some issues with exposure and scratches, studio close-ups, and effects photography which is all the more apparent here (yet the visible seams of the illusions should be of interest to those curious about the effects technology and innovations of the time). Although the war room was a soundstage set, the camera does get close enough for Cinemascope mumps and other distortions associated with the earlier anamorphic lenses to be apparent.

Audio

Sink the Bismarck! was released with mono and 4-track stereo mixes. While the US DVD featured the a 2.0 downmix of the multichannel mix, the UK DVD featured only a mono track. The aforementioned German Blu-ray featured DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono English and German tracks. Eureka's Blu-ray includes LPCM 2.0 mono and stereo options, the latter presumably from the master struck for the laserdisc with Fox either not bothering to do a new mastering of the magnetic tracks or they may have deteriorated beyond use by now. There is some directional dialogue and a sense of depth to the movement of planes, bombs, and torpedoes slicing through the water but everything is anchored to the center as expected. Optional English HoH subtitles are provided.

Extras

Besides the film's theatrical trailer (3:03), the disc includes anew interview with film historian Sheldon Hall (34:06) who discusses the popularity of war films in Britain throughout the late forties, fifties, and into the early sixties with audiences but less so with the film critics. He also notes that the films made during the war not only had a propagandist message but were also more inclusive of a wide spectrum of society participating in the war effort while post-war war films focused on the officers and class stereotypes of the pre-war era while the slant was more cynical and sometimes blatantly anti-war. Of the production, he reveals that it was the brainchild of producer John Bradbourne (Murder on the Orient Express) who commissioned a screenplay from Horatio Hornblower author C.S. Forester who did extensive research, but the screenplay was not satisfactory to Bradbourne. Bradbourne then hired Edmund H. North (Patton) while Forester turned his work into a novel. While the credits cite North for the screenplay based on the novel by Forester, they are actually independent works. He also reveals that Bradbourne's father-in-law had been director of operations during the war which gained him access for shooting at certain locations. No booklet is included for this release.

Overall

 


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