Sink the Bismarck! (1960)

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Released 11-Aug-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War Theatrical Trailer-2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0 (2:55)
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1960
Running Time 93:36
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (47:42) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Lewis Gilbert
Studio
Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Kenneth More
Dana Wynter
Carl Mohner
Laurence Naismith
Case ?
RPI $31.95 Music Clifton Parker


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles Dutch
English for the Hearing Impaired
French
Italian
Spanish
French Titling
Italian Titling
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Man how many times have I seen this film over the years? I would just hate to guess. During the 1970's this was almost a monthly staple of the afternoon matinee on television and I lapped it up every time it was broadcast. Indeed, this film had such an impact upon me it ended up making me read C.S. Forester's book as well as a lot of history books on the Second World War. There was just something about the Bismarck that had an impact upon me. Aside from reading books about the ship, it was the first model kit I ever built of a naval vessel (I was exclusively an aircraft modeller up to that time). Truly however, it is quite staggering the impact the ship had on naval history, given that its operational life was rather short.

    Whilst people tend to think of the great navies of Great Britain and the United States when discussing the naval powers of the Second World War, consideration should be given to the Kriegsmarine. They had a collection of battleships that at one time were the dominant naval vessels. Ships like the Scharnhorst and the Gniesenau managed to become feared ships of the early war period but it was the Bismarck that became the obsession of the British. Why? Simple - it was the biggest and fastest battleship of its day and far superior to anything the Royal Navy had (and the US Navy was of course notionally neutral at this time). Named after the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the pride of Germany's fleet was launched at Hamburg on 14th February, 1939 by the former Chancellor's granddaughter. She was officially commissioned on 24th August, 1940, under the command of Captain Ernst Lindemann, but did not leave Hamburg until 15th September, 1940. She proceeded through the Kiel Canal into the Baltic Sea where she spent the next several months on sea trials, before returning to Hamburg for final fitout in December, 1940. The British were well aware of her existence and made several unsuccessful attempts to destroy the battleship before she could go to sea.

    After embarkation of all crew, supplies and spotter aircraft, the Bismarck made ready to leave the safety of trials in the Baltic. On 18th May, 1941, Operation Rheinubung commenced. This involved the Bismarck in company with the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, and an initial destroyer group, making their way out into the Atlantic Ocean to maraud British convoys. This was what the British feared and were determined to stop. Heavy emphasis was placed upon locating the Bismarck and destroying her. Under the cover of heavy overcast skies, the group anchored in the Grimstadfjord. By luck, a Coastal Command Spitfire reconnaissance aircraft located the Bismarck and the Admiralty pondered where she was going to break out into the Atlantic. The British Home Fleet, reinforced with ships taken off convoy duty (in itself a fair indication of how important it was to stop the Bismarck), was deployed as best as possible to locate and destroy the German battleship. The Bismarck weighed anchor on 21st May and in company with the Prinz Eugen headed out to the Atlantic directly north. The British cruisers H.M.S. Suffolk and H.M.S. Norfolk were assigned to the Denmark Strait and located the two German vessels on 23rd May, whereupon a brief skirmish took place with neither side suffering major damage. The British ships then shadowed the German ships, whilst the Home Fleet despatched the battlecruiser H.M.S. Hood, pride of the Royal Navy, and the battleship H.M.S. Prince Of Wales to intercept the German ships at dawn on 24th May. This was not to be a good day for the Royal Navy as the Hood was literally blown to pieces by a direct hit from the Bismarck. The outgunned, and damaged, Prince Of Wales disengaged the Germans in the aftermath of the shocking loss of the Hood and all bar three hands. This was a tragic demonstration of why it was so important to stop the Bismarck getting into the Atlantic to maraud British convoys.

    With the British now content to shadow the German battleship whilst despatching more ships from Force H at Gibraltar, including the aircraft carrier H.M.S. Ark Royal, the Prinz Eugen left the German formation and headed to Brest. After suffering a minor hit during an attack by Swordfish torpedo bombers from H.M.S. Victorious on 24th May, the Bismarck finally shook the British fleet on 25th May. The British then threw everything at trying to locate the Bismarck, finally doing so with a Catalina flying boat on the morning of 26th May, whilst the cruiser H.M.S. Sheffield also made contact later in the day. Obviously also making for Brest, it was imperative that the ship not come into range of Luftwaffe patrol aircraft and the British launched further aircraft assaults from the Ark Royal. One slightly lucky torpedo hit managed to jam the Bismarck's rudder, thereby giving the British the chance they needed to catch the ship. The jammed rudder made manoeuvring the ship impossible and placed them on a northerly heading - directly towards the trailing Home Fleet ships lead by H.M.S. King George V (which was rapidly running out of fuel) and H.M.S. Rodney. On 27th May, the two ships engaged the Bismarck and proceeded to blast the German ship to pieces. Unable to manoeuvre, the Germans had no chance and in the course of the hour-long engagement, the British managed to destroy all the main guns on the German ship. The destroyer H.M.S. Dorsetshire made the coup de grace with several torpedo strikes from close range. Within two hours of the initial salvos, the Bismarck was on the bottom of the ocean with the loss of all bar 115 men.

    The Royal Navy did its job, but at a cost. The cost, however, was minute when compared to the damage that the intended deployment of the battleships Scharnhorst, Gniesenau, Bismarck and her sister ship the Tirpitz as a marauding battle group would have inflicted upon the British convoys. For all intents and purposes, the service history of the Bismarck commenced on 18th May, 1941 and ended 10 days later. She sunk just one ship and damaged several others. Yet we will never forget the Bismarck, for the ferocity with which the British chased her was one of the epic sea battles of the Second World War - and one that pivotally changed British fortunes in the Atlantic. The Tirpitz was herself subject to an almost equally ferocious pursuit later in the war. By that time, the Kriegsmarine was no longer a naval force of large capital ships. She was a defeated navy with little to offer but harassment against the better equipped navies of predominantly Great Britain and the United States.

    The film is reasonably faithful to the real story that was played out in the Atlantic in May, 1941. There are a few liberties taken naturally enough - the sinking of a destroyer named H.M.S. Solent is fictitious, as was the downing of attacking aircraft by the German battleship - but notwithstanding the central character in the Admiralty being completely fictitious, the story is true and thoroughly engaging. One of the very few attempts, if not the only one, to bring the story to the big screen, the film succeeded very well indeed. Aside from a well crafted screenplay, for its day the effects work was pretty good, and whilst they now are fairly obvious at times the overall effect is quite believable. The quality of the screenplay is amply demonstrated by the fact that despite the obvious conclusion to the film, you remain quite engaged by the whole deal. Add into the equation a solid cast, including the gorgeous Dana Wynter, and you have a film that is well worth checking out if you have any interest at all in war films.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Since I have only ever seen the film on television, this is of course the first time I have ever seen it in its full widescreen glory. It changes the character of the film enormously, especially emphasising the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean and the insignificance of even this mighty vessel upon it. I was, however, slightly sceptical as to how the film would look, as it has not been (as far as I am aware) subjected to a full restoration. It does contain some well blended newsreel footage in amongst the purpose-shot film, but under the digital scrutiny, how would this look? Even with the film being made in 1960, only fifteen years after the end of the war, the source material could have ended up looking fairly ropey here. Funnily enough, some of the "acted" film footage actually looks worse than the newsreel footage!

    The transfer is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    All things considered, this is a very good looking transfer indeed. The transfer is generally quite sharp throughout, generally quite clear and with little in the way of objectionable grain. Most of the problems are contained within the war time footage, although it has to be said that the quality of the footage of the launch of the ship is almost unbelievable - you would be hard-pressed to find any fault with it. Shadow detail is thankfully quite good.

    Despite the mix of film and actual wartime footage, there is a surprising cohesiveness to the presentation of the film. The black and white tones are solid across the board, with very good grey scale definition. The only time that the transfer is let down is during some of the foggy sequences, but that is effectively balanced by the deep solidity of the black tones at times (notably the departure of the Prince Of Wales under smoke). The contrast is very good too, and this is certainly better looking than I have ever seen it before.

    There is nothing in the way of MPEG artefacts in the transfer. The only real issue with film-to-video artefacts is some consistent aliasing in the furniture seen in the operations room of the Admiralty (such as the desk at 13:34 and the filing cabinet at 26:15). There is some variation in the prevalence of film artefacts of course as a result of the mixing of actual footage and film, but at no stage is it any worse than I would expect in a film of this vintage - and often it is significantly better than expected.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD with the layer change believed to be at 47:42. I say believed as I really could not detect it and it was simply the slight pause in the sound at this point that possibly indicated the layer change. I could of course be wrong.

    There are a small number of subtitle options on the DVD. The English efforts are not too bad at all, with only minor omissions in the dialogue.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The three available soundtracks on the disc comprise Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtracks in English, French and Italian. Since this after all is a British film, it seemed inappropriate to sample anything but the English soundtrack.

    Whilst the age of the soundtrack certainly means that there are the odd problems hanging around, in broad terms the dialogue comes up pretty well and is reasonably easy to understand throughout. There were the odd instances where the sync was perhaps very slightly off, but nothing really that noticeable. This might have been the result of slightly poor ADR work but either way it did not bother me at all.

    The original score comes from Clifton Parker, and a fairly fine effort it is too. Some of you might well know the song Sink The Bismarck by Johnny Horton? This was done as a promotional effort for the United States release and does not actually appear in the film (it does in the trailer). The score is in broad terms not an intrusive one, and is a rather complementary effort that fleshes out the on-screen action well.

    The biggest problem that you will notice with the soundtrack is that, especially towards the climax of the film (during the engagement between H.M.S. King George V and the Bismarck), there is something in the way of an audio dropout whenever the big guns blaze. I would assume that this is evidence of problems in recording the original soundtrack rather than a subsequent degradation of the sound. Whatever the reason, it is the only instance that I have to express any disappointment with respect of the sound. I would presume that this is the original mono soundtrack and all-in-all it certainly is not too shabby at all. I welcome the fact that they have not attempted a remix of the soundtrack, as I would be rather loathe to have the ambience of the film destroyed with a multi-channel surround sound effort. Whilst the film certainly has an action element to it, it really remains a dialogue driven film and a surround sound remix in my view would have added too much body to the sound.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Err, this is a bit of a worry - basically nothing makes up the extras package. Where is the newsreel footage? Where is the story of the search for the wreck of the Bismarck? Where is the historical narrative about the importance of the ship? A sadly wasted opportunity.

Menu

    Very, very functional and largely out of character with the era of the film.

Theatrical Trailer (2:55)

    Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, it is 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Apart from the film artefacts that we would expect of a forty-odd year old trailer, there is nothing much wrong with this effort at all.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    It would appear that the Region 4 release misses out on:

    The Region 1 release misses out on nothing but some variation in soundtracks. In Region 2 (UK) the film is available in a two disc set with the other film being The Enemy Below. From what I can ascertain, the transfers of the Region 1 and 2 releases seem to be very similar overall and there is little to choose between the three releases. With the presence of the Movietone Newsreel however, the Region 1 release would have to be marginally preferred.

Summary

    A film that I have always enjoyed, it is terrific to have it coming to Region 4 in all its widescreen glory. It is, however, something of a shame that we don't get more in the way of extras. With a generally very good video transfer and an acceptable enough audio transfer, Sink The Bismarck! is a classic war film that deserves your attention. Highly recommended.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Wednesday, July 23, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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Comments (Add)
A DVD Review or an SBS Documentary? - Dark Lord (Bio? We don't need no stinkin' bio!) REPLY POSTED
A few corrections are needed.... - REPLY POSTED