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August 31, 2010


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Tom Russell

Completely agree with you on this one, Glenn. I've seen it twice and it's one of my favourite pictures by the Archers.

I first saw this film projected in 16mm B&W as "Pursuit of the Graf Spee" in a free showing at my local library, with about a half-hour missing from its running time. It was astonishing even in that bowdlerized version. I recently had the pleasure of seeing it on TCM-- back when I had TCM, so that would've been maybe six months or so ago?-- in colour, as "Battle of The River Plate", and with the footage that was missing from the American release restored (though in the wrong aspect ratio, presented in 4:3 instead of 1.85 letterboxed, oddly enough).

If Wikipedia is to be trusted, the three pocket battleships (the other two being the Lutzow and the Admiral Scheer, the latter of which, I think, my father-in-law-- a member of the Canadian armed forces-- saw towards the end of the war before it was destroyed by the Royal Navy) were called as such because they packed a ridiculous amount of firepower relative to their size.

I'm really surprised that Criterion, with its steadfast devotion to all things P&P, hasn't released it domestically yet. I wonder if it's a rights issue, or if they're trying to locate Criterion-worthy materials?

Castle Bravo

Hell and High Water. Because every submarine movie needs at least one hot European scientist chick on board!

Chris O.

Castle, I would argue submarine movies are a different sub genre (ar ar) than those of the battleship kind. I was a little disappointed in Hell and High Water compared to the rest of the first half of Fuller's filmography, but it has its moments, Richard Widmark and, yes, the hot European scientist chick.

Nonetheless, this Powell/Pressburger effort I gotsta see.

Castle Bravo

Oh, yeah. I was being sardonic. Hell and High Water is crap.

Tom Russell

I think my favourite naval battle sub-genre is airplane-vs-submarine movies, of which there is the excellent MURPHY'S WAR-- a very lived-in, grimy, tactile action film, with a real sense of the physicality of the human body that's often missing from today's slicker action films-- and, um, MURPHY'S WAR.

Really, I just wanted an opportunity to say, holy crap, Murphy's War is awesome.


I have this saved in my DVR, and it's been there a loooong time. I have to watch it this weekend.

Tom Block

The thing I love about this movie is the tonal switch when the action moves to Montevideo. It starts out as one of those grim WW II dramas where the Empire is at stake and the Nazis are coming, yadda yadda, but then in pretty much a single cut it turns into just a slightly more serious version of "Beat the Devil".

Victor Morton

Tom Russell:

The three "pocket battleships" (all at least started, BTW, under the pre-Hitler Weimar Republic) were more like 'roided-up cruisers than battleships. They had about 12,000 tons displacement and carried 11-inch guns, which made them formidable as commerce raiders (the mission the Graf Spee was on, and the only) or against cruisers of the era, which typically displaced 6,000-12,000 tons and carried only 6- or 8-inch guns and were barely armored at all, much less against 11-inch shells. The Graf Spee would have been hopelessly outgunned and outarmored against any full battleship or battlecruiser of the 1930s, which displaced 30,000 tons and more, and typically had 14-inch or greater guns.

Ironically, the Graf Spee battle was fought against a British 8-inch cruiser and two 6-inch cruisers. One of the reasons the three British ships could fight the vastly superior German vessel to a standstill was that the Weimar German government only wanted to nick the post-WW1 Versailles Treaty (which forbade Germany any ships of 10,000 tons or more) rather than shred it outright. They every possible advanced technique of German engineering (which is a lot) to keep displacement as low as possible to allow plausible lying. As a result, the six 11-inch guns on the Graf Spee (and her sister ships) were arranged in two triple-turrets rather than the more usual three-double arrangement. This saves quite a bit of weight, but means that only one target can be engaged at a time with much accuracy. When fighting three smaller ships, even when they're smaller, the problem is obvious.

I dunno how the Powell & Pressburger movie has it, but this was why Lansdorff scuttled his ship in Montevideo harbor. The three British ships took vastly more punishment than the Graf Spee but they were able to bloody its nose sufficiently to require some repair work on the German ship. And Lansdorff thought that in the time he would have needed, while trapped in harbor, the Royal Navy would have had more than enough time to send vastly superior forces that he couldn't hope to outfight.

Tom Russell

Thanks, Victor! I didn't mean to imply that I thought they were actual battleships, though I see my inelegant phrasing might have given that impression. (I rather like your description of the cruisers being 'roided-up.)


There's a WWII sea battle film by the Archers?! Why is information of such import not posted in our town squares? This just made my year.

Jason M.

As otherbill rightly points out, any underseen/unknown Archers film absolutely needs to be announced in the town squares; however, something else nags at me currently. Namely, is the new Peter Berg movie 'based' on the Hasbro board game 'Battleship'?


@Jason M.- it's my understanding that the producers of said film did pony up to Hasbro for the use of the name. It is also my understanding that the film in question will concern contemporary battleships fighting aliens. I did not make any of that up.

Stephen Bowie

Wait, wait, wait ... I almost skipped over this one because I finally broke down and watched the color-boosted, Crayon-y looking UK DVD (I'm not sure which of the UK transfers it was, because it was collected in a P&P set that I borrowed from somebody), from which your screen caps are taken, yes? And now there's a German Blu that no one seems to have reviewed, but it would be difficult to imagine it looking any more mediocre. Sadly there's news this week that, not Criterion, but the budget outfit Hen's Tooth will be DVD-ing PLATE in the US in November. I'm not optimistic.

Anyway, I'm on board (naval metaphor ... get it?) with everybody else in considering this a neglected late P&P work. As Tom Block notes above, it's the structure that makes it special: all the traditional naval battle stuff is concentrated in the first half, and then you have the long epilogue that's enervated and talky, exactly the opposite of how a war movie is "supposed" to end. Brilliant.

Tom Russell

That second part-- about fighting aliens-- is a little despairing, otherbill; I had kinda hoped it was going to be a good, old-fashioned, playing-it-straight naval battle thriller/action/drama what-have-you. While boards game generally has few narrative elements that would make them really "work" as a film, I never really dug the tiresome "Oh my God, they're adapting board games, Hollywood is officially out of ideas" meme that surrounded the acquisition of the Battleship rights; I have no problem with a studio paying assloads of moolah for a recognizable "brand" if it means that I get to see a good film with a sizeable budget in a genre that has, as of late, fallen by the wayside. Battleships versus aliens seems much less exciting, and because it's one of those goofy high concepts that often power summer blockbusters, I'm not sure if it would really need or benefit from the "source material" to draw in the crowds, whereas a straight battleships-vs.-battleships film might-- if the game is as popular as the studio seems to think it is-- benefit and/or need the association with the source material to be financially, as well as aesthetically, successful.

I was also disappointed to learn that Ridley Scott's proposed Monopoly film might be "about" a sad-sack realtor who is good at the board game and wants to break the world record for the longest Monopoly game but gets sucked into a Monopoly World where he has to take on the evil Parker Brothers; really? Because all you need to make a movie of Monopoly is a handful of character actors working in real estate motivated by sociopathic greed trying to screw each other over. Simple, clean, honouring the spirit of the source material without having to do metatextual jumping-jacks.


One reason it may be under-appreciated, and judging by some of the comments above, unknown even, is that it was made 'round about the time Britain was churning out movies detailing its part in the war -- The Colditz Story, Sink The Bismarck, Ice Cold In Alex, 633 Squadron, half a dozen with Dirk Bogarde. These became staples of British tv viewing throughout the sixties and seventies (may still be for all I know) and I think Graf Spee gets lumped in there. If you grew up then in that part of the world you saw all of them, here in the States I imagine not so much.


Back in the 70s us Brits would have watched all these films about our negligible role in WW2 in Black and White, us being too backward to afford colour tvs until the '80s. Didn't even know Battle of the River Plate was in colour til I read Glenn's article.


Surely the greatest cinematic use of the Battleships boardgame was in 'Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey'?

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Battleships versus aliens seems much less exciting, and because it's one of those goofy high concepts that often power summer blockbusters, I'm not sure if it would really need or benefit from the "source material" to draw in the crowds, whereas a straight battleships-vs.-battleships film might-- if the game is as popular as the studio seems to think it is-- benefit and/or need the association with the source material to be financially, as well as aesthetically, successful.

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