War Films Talking Pictures


War Films

A look back at the great British war films that boosted the nation's morale in the postwar years and launched the careers of some of our best-loved actors and directors.


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Transcript


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In post-war Britain, times were tough,

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and the role cinema played in boosting morale

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was never more important.

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In the 1940s and '50s, the nation was nearly bankrupt,

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and rationing would last until 1954.

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So audiences flocked to see a succession of war films

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that reflected both their own recent experiences

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and celebrated how Britain had triumphed in the face of adversity.

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Here, we're looking at the best of those great British war films.

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And we begin with Noel Coward's classic In Which We Serve,

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made during the war, in 1942, and this film is hugely important

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because, as we shall see, it was a launchpad for so many famous actors.

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Not least for Richard Attenborough, who made his big-screen debut

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playing the only sailor who deserts his post.

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Now, Richard's name was accidentally left off the credits of the film

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but Noel Coward, otherwise known as "The Master",

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made some amends for that here, praising his performance

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during this encounter at the National Film Theatre in 1971.

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My friend here...

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gave a wonderful performance.

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And, coming not too far behind, I was very good.

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It was very carefully cast and, I must say, I think

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I'm very proud of it indeed.

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It repaid...for many, many years, having known the Navy,

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and come from a naval family,

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I'd been at sea a great deal with the Navy and I wanted,

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in a way, to pay a very tiny bit of my debt back

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for all the wonderful hospitality that I'd received.

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And without Lord Mountbatten...

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..it would never have got off the floor and onto the screen.

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He had just taken over Combined Operations

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and was working like a dog and, every Sunday,

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I think I told you this, he used to work on the rushes with me,

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so that we did get it accurate.

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And, of course, with his usual extraordinary concentration...

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..he did arrange everything.

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The commander-in-chief, Portsmouth,

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lent me 200 real sailors

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every day for two weeks.

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So that all the drill, and everything, was accurate

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and not a lot of actors putting their lanyards in unorthodox places.

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LAUGHTER

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And, of course, the net result of having the authentic chaps

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doing it made it real.

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MACHINERY GRINDS AND THUMPS

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MAN SHOUTS INSTRUCTIONS

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EXPLOSION

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EXPLOSION

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All right! Shake it up!

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All right. Let's have it down there!

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EXPLOSION

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Come on! Shake it up!

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EXPLOSION

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REPEATED FIRE

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Come on, set 'em ready!

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Pick it up! That's not ready!

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KLAXON, EXPLOSION

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-Keep it up. Stop star shell.

-Stop star shell!

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Star shell, check, check, check!

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And again!

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EXPLOSIONS

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It wasn't entirely a mistake casting him for that part.

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LAUGHTER

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He practically stole the picture.

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And it was fun. Fun.

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Quite a lot of it was fun, but it was very hard work.

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But, thank God, it turned out all right.

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I'd like to tell just one very brief story about In Which We Serve.

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Towards the end of the film...

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LAUGHTER

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..we were in a Carley float and we were in a tank in the studios.

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And because we were all somewhat delicate,

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the water was heated slightly.

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We were in this tank for, I think, between two and three weeks.

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The smell was something to be wondered at.

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There was oil on the water, there was sawdust all round the tank,

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which was going mouldy, it was absolutely awful.

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It was the remains of us every day.

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And on our last day... We all used to lower ourselves,

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holding our noses, into the water, but The Master, of course, never.

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Always first in, off the edge and dived in.

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A little flat but, nevertheless, dived in.

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On this last day, he emerged from underneath the water with oil

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and filth and dirt streaming off his face

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and turned to all of us, who were waiting to go in, and said,

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"There's dysentery in every ripple."

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LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE

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John Mills had appeared in films for a decade before In Which We Serve

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but it was his role as Seaman Shorty Blake

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that really saw his career take off

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and made him one of British cinema's biggest stars.

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MACHINE-GUN FIRE

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-HE COUGHS

-Got it. I spoke too soon.

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How did they get the gunshots there?

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You were obviously in a studio,

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but how the dickens did they get machine-gun fire

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on the top of the water?

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Well, that was a bit tricky and, of course,

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it was a long time ago and special effects weren't what they are today.

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And they didn't know what to do.

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Noel said, "We can't use live ammunition,

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"he's only halfway through the film."

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They got the property master to come and, this is absolutely true,

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he went out into Denham, he went to a chemist and he bought grosses of

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what we used to call in those days, rather delicately, French letters.

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Brought them back to the studio and the special effects

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got a long steel pipe, put it under the water,

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about that far from the top, fitted these things on, one after another,

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like that, blew in compressed air, and then they got the shot.

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It really worked.

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And so I'll really go down as the only actor to have been

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shot in the arm by a contraceptive.

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It was a very good shot.

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In Which We Serve was also the first directing opportunity

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for a man who would go on to become

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a giant of world cinema.

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Oh! The great David Lean.

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Oh, yes, he started in Britain.

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We'll hear from David himself later but, for now,

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here, once again, is Noel Coward.

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Noel, what made you choose David Lean?

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Well, when I knew that I was embarked on this project...

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Up until then,

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I hadn't been profoundly impressed with British films,

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as a whole.

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And I thought, well, I'd better have a look-see.

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And so I went to a projection room

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twice a day for two weeks

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and saw every British film that was available.

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LAUGHTER

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And out of the credits

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I observed that the ones I'd liked, the cutting...

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..had been done by somebody called David Lean

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and the photography had been done by somebody called Ronald Neame

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and the general production

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had been done by Anthony Havelock-Allan.

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And so, I said, "All right, let's have a look."

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So, I asked David Lean to come and see me.

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And he said, yes, he would do it with pleasure

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but he insisted on co-directing.

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People stiffened, like a Bateman drawing.

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But I said, "Oh, please, do,"

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because I knew nothing, apart from having played a scoundrel,

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I knew nothing, really, about any of the technical side

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of making a movie.

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And, of course, it was David who directed the picture.

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I took the actors aside occasionally...

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LAUGHTER

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But he was a wonderful director.

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The director of The Dam Busters, Michael Anderson,

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also got his big break on In Which We Serve.

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He's seen here acting opposite John Mills in the role of Albert Fosdick.

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He was also working behind the camera as David Lean's assistant

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and here he is discussing how one particular scene of Lean's

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had made a huge impression upon him.

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I worked with him as his assistant very closely

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on In Which We Serve,

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and I remember, for instance,

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a scene - I was standing there when it was being shot -

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and David and Noel Coward were directing it.

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The scene in the shed when the ship had gone down

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and the men were shaking the captain by the hand and saying goodbye.

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In the script, it just read, "The men say goodbye to the captain."

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The way it was handled, it developed into a deeply moving scene,

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playing on the face of nearly every man that the audience

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had come to know throughout the story.

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And I was...

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This kind of thing, I think,

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has affected some of the moods that I've tried to create myself.

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Goodbye.

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-Goodbye, Sir.

-Goodbye, Rawlings.

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-Goodbye, Sir.

-Goodbye. Thank you.

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-Good luck, sir.

-Thanks. Goodbye.

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-Bless you, sir.

-Thank you. Goodbye.

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Goodbye, sir. It's been very nice to know you.

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Thanks, Roach. Goodbye.

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-Very best of luck, sir.

-Thanks, Moone. Goodbye.

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Goodbye, sir.

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-Goodbye, sir.

-Goodbye, Moran.

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-Goodbye.

-Goodbye, Hollett.

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-Goodbye, sir.

-Goodbye, Edgecombe.

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-Goodbye, sir. Bon voyage.

-Thanks, Brodie.

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-Goodbye, sir.

-Goodbye, Mackeridge.

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-Good luck, sir.

-Thanks, Blake. Goodbye.

-Goodbye, sir.

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And Michael Anderson goes on to talk about

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how he tried to create a similar mood in The Dam Busters.

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The men are preparing to take off for the raid

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and some are playing cricket

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and others are drinking soup from Thermos flasks

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and others are writing letters home, and it set

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the mood of the people who were about to embark upon this mission.

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And I did it all in one continuous take.

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I did it from the moment of a man catching a cricket ball

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until the final moment, when everyone is on the last truck

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and the waiting planes are mere dots in the distance.

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This is the kind of contribution, I think, that one makes.

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MURMUR OF CONVERSATION

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MUSIC: The Dam Busters March PLAYS SLOWLY

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LAUGHTER AND CONVERSATION

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JAUNTY WHISTLING

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Well, chaps. My watch says time to go.

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MUSIC SWELLS

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MUSIC: The Dam Busters March

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One of the things that came, I think,

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mainly from me, was the fact that I wanted to cast all the people

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in all the aircraft to their near physical likeness.

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In other words, I had photographs of all the crews.

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Wherever possible, I spoke to survivors,

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members of crew who'd survived.

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And I went to great trouble to try and get the people in each plane

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as near to those who took part in the raid themselves.

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This was a luxury.

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I'm sure that an audience wouldn't be aware of this fact

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but it was something that I felt was a responsibility of mine

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towards the people who were in the planes.

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I would say that what we did in Dam Busters was the forerunner

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to what became known as audience participation.

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The way the film was treated was to take the audience

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with those pilots on a bombing raid

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and to show them as much as the bombers and the pilots saw.

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We didn't attempt to show the German side at all.

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Whether this is right or wrong is another question.

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This was the point of view we took.

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And we followed it through right through to the end.

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We lead the audience to take the part of the pilot in that raid.

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This is new.

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Hutch, warn the others.

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New course, skipper. 165, magnetic.

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MUSIC: The Dam Busters March

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The real-life leader of Dambusters Squadron was

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Wing Commander Guy Gibson,

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played in the film by Richard Todd.

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Todd was also Ian Fleming's

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first choice for the role of James Bond

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before Sean Connery got the licence to kill.

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He was also a war hero,

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one of the first British soldiers to

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land in Normandy as part of Operation Overlord.

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Didn't you find it difficult or inhibiting

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to play a real and recent hero?

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Erm...

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I found it difficult.

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I find it difficult playing anything, but I'd spent

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nearly two years working up to the Guy Gibson role,

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talking to people who knew him,

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his relations and friends and chaps who had flown with him.

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Not inhibiting, because whether you create an imaginary character

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or whether you try to model yourself on a living person,

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if a character has sufficient impact and reason for being

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put on the screen at all,

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whether he's living or whether he's imaginary,

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it does presuppose the fact that it is an interesting person, you know?

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And you either try to create the interesting person or you try

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to model yourself on an existing interesting person.

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You wouldn't agree with somebody who said that a hero in fact was

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just brave, but not interesting apart from his bravery?

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Well, that's difficult to answer,

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because there are so many different types of hero. Erm...

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A lot of so-called heroic people that

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I have met are very intelligent and very interesting people

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and their bravery didn't come out of sort of derring-do so much

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as out of taking an intelligent,

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calculated risk and hoping to get away with it.

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And here is Todd talking again in a much later interview

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about the film with which he became most strongly associated.

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Brakes off!

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All the leading actors were ex-service.

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They knew how to salute and how to march and how to stand

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and how to take an order and how to give an order.

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-All set?

-Yes, sir.

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'And they knew what all those blokes must have felt during the raid.'

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Good luck.

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For added authenticity,

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grainy test footage of the bouncing bomb was added to the film.

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Whenever you saw the bouncing bomb,

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it was always as if you were seeing through a pair of binoculars.

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That explained why the quality of film was different,

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because the original film was pretty dire, pretty scratchy.

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At the time of filming,

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the famous backspin of the bombs was still a state secret,

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so each frame was painted over with a blobby circle to

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hide its true barrel shape.

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The whole ethos of The Dam Busters was, "It's a job,

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"let's get on with it," which is what it was actually like in war.

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Enemy coast ahead.

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Two years after The Dam Busters, in 1957,

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came another giant of a war film.

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David Lean's Bridge On The River Kwai,

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today considered one of the greatest epics of all time.

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It starred Alec Guinness as Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson,

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the man in charge of British soldiers in a Japanese war camp

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in Burma.

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I must call your attention, Colonel Saito,

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to Article 27 of the Geneva Convention.

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Belligerents may employ as workmen prisoners of war

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who are physically fit other than officers.

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Give me the book.

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By all means. You read English, I take it?

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-Do you read Japanese?

-I'm sorry, no.

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But if it's a matter of precise translation,

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I'm sure that can be arranged.

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You see, the code specifically states that the...

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MEN MURMUR

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Stand fast in the ranks!

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You speak to me of codes?

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What code?

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The coward's code!

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What do you know of the soldier's code, of Bushido?

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Nothing!

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You are unworthy of command!

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Despite the praise that has been heaped on the film

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ever since its release,

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Lean himself was not entirely happy with all of it.

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The cameras were taken away from me, the movie... The sound cameras.

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And I finished that film with an Aeroflex,

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which as you know is a hand camera.

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We did the waterfall scene, a whole lot of scenes,

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which gave it a size that it hadn't got before.

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Anyhow, that's that.

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What scene had you shot, then, that prompted them to say, "OK.

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"That's the end and we'll take away the cameras now"?

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Alec is blown up at the end.

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And I foolishly...

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..took a shot of James Donald, who was the doctor,

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looking around the blown-up bridge and saying, "Madness, madness..."

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And then walking away from camera. Now, as he walks away from camera,

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James was put straight onto the aeroplane, of course,

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as soon as he had said, "Madness, madness," and it was a double,

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who is like some ghastly mannequin sort of walking across the sand.

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I can't bear it. I saw the other day.

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The film won seven Oscars,

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including the Best Actor award for Alec Guinness, who here tells

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Michael Parkinson the story of how he cracked one particular scene.

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What about that famous walk in River Kwai, you mentioned

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the film there, when you'd been put in that awful isolation thing

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and you had that extraordinary staggering or lurching

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walk across the parade ground when they let you go.

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Where did that come from?

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Well, that's a sort of very personal one.

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But it's true because it shows the funny process that does

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go on with an actor, maybe.

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My son had polio when he was about 12

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and was paralysed from the waist down. He's fine now.

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He plays rugger and runs around, does whatever he wants,

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but when he was recovering and walking again a bit,

0:23:070:23:12

it was obviously a very stiff, strange walk,

0:23:120:23:16

and I had a little cine camera

0:23:160:23:17

and I remember, when he was first walking, taking shots of this

0:23:170:23:21

and then when one saw it on the screen,

0:23:210:23:23

my wife and I persuaded ourselves that he was fine,

0:23:230:23:25

he was walking fine,

0:23:250:23:27

but obviously deep down inside one, one thought, "Oh, Lord,

0:23:270:23:30

"he's going to limp for life,"

0:23:300:23:32

or something, you know, of that nature.

0:23:320:23:35

And years later,

0:23:350:23:38

when it came to doing that scene on the River Kwai, I found

0:23:380:23:43

myself doing the identical walk that I had on that little

0:23:430:23:48

cine camera from five, six years previously.

0:23:480:23:52

I had entirely forgotten. I didn't know I was doing it.

0:23:520:23:55

It was only when I saw myself on the screen, I thought,

0:23:550:23:58

"Where on earth did that curious, slightly lurchy,

0:23:580:24:02

"bent walk come from?"

0:24:020:24:04

-It was the same as I had on the cine camera.

-That's extraordinary.

0:24:040:24:08

Now to another film where getting the walk right was crucial.

0:24:110:24:15

It's Reach For The Sky,

0:24:150:24:17

the tale of Douglas Bader,

0:24:170:24:19

the great pilot who became a World War II hero,

0:24:190:24:23

despite having lost both legs in an earlier flying accident.

0:24:230:24:26

Douglas Bader was a one-off.

0:24:280:24:31

Originally, he was meant to be played by Richard Burton,

0:24:310:24:34

but Kenneth More lobbied hard for the part

0:24:340:24:38

and absolutely made it his own.

0:24:380:24:40

-How did you actually get inside the part of Bader?

-Well, I met Douglas.

0:24:420:24:45

I played a round of golf with him -

0:24:450:24:47

that's the way to learn about a man, you know, to play golf with him -

0:24:470:24:51

at Gleneagles, and met him

0:24:510:24:53

once or twice at dinner with Ronnie Squire, my old friend.

0:24:530:24:57

And he hated the film people. He said,

0:24:570:24:59

"I like you, Ken. You're all right.

0:24:590:25:01

"You can do it, but the rest of them can't. They're awful."

0:25:010:25:04

But I managed to sort of... I took to his character.

0:25:040:25:08

I warmed towards him and I saw what he stood for,

0:25:080:25:11

because he's really a Rudyard Kipling fellow, you know?

0:25:110:25:14

There's not many men like Douglas Bader.

0:25:140:25:17

But it seems to me that it's much,

0:25:170:25:18

much more than simply learning how to play a man with tin legs?

0:25:180:25:22

Well, you've got to learn to walk with no legs.

0:25:220:25:24

I mean, I went to the limb centre in Putney

0:25:240:25:27

and they made some artificial legs to go round my own.

0:25:270:25:30

And I remember Danny Angel telling me,

0:25:300:25:33

"You must remember that your legs weigh a ton each.

0:25:330:25:37

"Everything is painful, dragging your legs around.

0:25:370:25:40

"If you haven't got any legs, you've still got them.

0:25:400:25:42

"And you're conscious of them all the time."

0:25:420:25:45

And when you appreciate that,

0:25:450:25:47

that you cannot move this enormous weight below you,

0:25:470:25:49

you understand the part.

0:25:490:25:51

I think we ought to see a clip now.

0:25:510:25:53

It's a particularly telling scene.

0:25:530:25:55

It's in fact after you have had your aeroplane crash, as Douglas Bader,

0:25:550:25:59

and you don't in fact yet know that you've lost both legs.

0:25:590:26:02

At the age of 21.

0:26:020:26:03

Nice of you to come and see me.

0:26:030:26:06

Yes, isn't it?

0:26:060:26:07

As a matter of fact, I've come to say goodbye.

0:26:090:26:12

What?

0:26:120:26:13

I've been posted to the Middle East.

0:26:130:26:16

Oh...

0:26:160:26:17

Lucky devil.

0:26:190:26:21

I wish I was going with you.

0:26:210:26:23

HE MOANS

0:26:240:26:26

Giving you some trouble?

0:26:260:26:28

Well, it's the left one. It hurts like hell.

0:26:280:26:31

It's bound to hurt at first, I expect.

0:26:340:26:36

Well, I wish they'd cut it off, like they did the right one.

0:26:360:26:39

That doesn't hurt at all.

0:26:390:26:41

Would you really like them to cut it off?

0:26:430:26:46

I don't give a damn what they do as long as they stop it hurting.

0:26:460:26:49

Matter of fact, Douglas, they have taken it off.

0:26:510:26:55

Why does it hurt so much, then?

0:26:550:26:57

You had to know some time.

0:27:140:27:15

Yes, I suppose so.

0:27:150:27:18

Thanks for telling me, John.

0:27:180:27:20

Now, that's a very moving scene. There's a story, isn't there?

0:27:200:27:24

There is a story about that scene.

0:27:240:27:26

Just before that scene took place, the tea trolley,

0:27:260:27:28

the studio tea trolley, came around.

0:27:280:27:30

Now, on the tea trolley there were always 12 pieces of bread

0:27:300:27:33

and dripping. Only 12, never less, never more.

0:27:330:27:35

Now, 12 people wanted bread and dripping.

0:27:350:27:38

More than 12 people wanted bread and dripping, including me.

0:27:380:27:41

But you had to get in fast before everybody else grabbed it.

0:27:410:27:44

So just before the scene started, I said to my stand-in,

0:27:440:27:46

Jack Mandeville, "Get me a piece of bread and dripping!"

0:27:460:27:49

So we played the scene and I really rose to the occasion

0:27:490:27:52

and I had them all crying and I was crying myself.

0:27:520:27:54

You couldn't hear a pin drop in the studio.

0:27:540:27:58

And immediately Lewis Gilbert who directed the film said, "Cut."

0:27:580:28:03

And everybody was going, "Oh, my God..."

0:28:030:28:06

I said, "Jack! Did you get my piece of bread and dripping?"

0:28:060:28:10

Reach For The Sky was Britain's biggest box office hit

0:28:110:28:15

for 1956.

0:28:150:28:16

In fact, it was the most successful film in Britain

0:28:180:28:21

since Gone With The Wind.

0:28:210:28:23

So what was it like for the film's subject?

0:28:240:28:27

Here is the man himself, Douglas Bader,

0:28:270:28:30

talking to Dennis Tooie in 1965.

0:28:300:28:33

What was your general reaction to Reach For The Sky? I know,

0:28:360:28:40

in fact, you never saw the film publicly,

0:28:400:28:42

but I gather you did see, it or most of it, before it was released?

0:28:420:28:44

Yes, I did. Well, actually, it was...

0:28:440:28:47

It's a very difficult thing to answer, that,

0:28:470:28:49

because the producer of the film,

0:28:490:28:51

a chap called Daniel Angel, for whom I have the greatest possible regard,

0:28:510:28:55

he was in the Army in the war and he got polio in India,

0:28:550:28:58

fighting out there, and he's paralysed from the waist down.

0:28:580:29:01

He's a very good chap

0:29:010:29:02

and we had the most monumental arguments about the script

0:29:020:29:05

and so on and, of course, the difficulty of looking

0:29:050:29:08

at a film about yourself, whether it is you or me or whoever it is,

0:29:080:29:11

and your past, is that you see...it's unreal.

0:29:110:29:15

You see, for instance, scenes you recognise,

0:29:150:29:19

words you recollect, and people are saying things

0:29:190:29:25

and you recognise it all, but it's being said by strangers.

0:29:250:29:28

Your wife is some girl you've never seen before in your life.

0:29:280:29:33

You are depicted by Kenneth More or whoever it is, you know, and

0:29:330:29:38

so you can't understand it anyhow, but the whole thing is unreal.

0:29:380:29:42

You cannot see it objectively.

0:29:420:29:45

Did Kenneth More in fact consult much with you about the part?

0:29:450:29:48

No. Kenneth More was very, very wise about this,

0:29:480:29:51

certainly afterwards. He saw me once.

0:29:510:29:54

We met at lunchtime, when he said he'd do the part, you know,

0:29:540:29:57

and then he played a round of golf with me

0:29:570:30:00

because he wanted to see what happened on the golf course.

0:30:000:30:02

And he never saw me again

0:30:020:30:05

until the film had been finished

0:30:050:30:07

because he said - and of course he was quite right - he said, "Look,

0:30:070:30:09

"if I live with you..." A lot of people said to me,

0:30:090:30:11

"I suppose Kenneth More has lived with you for weeks,

0:30:110:30:14

"because he's so frightfully good. He took you off so marvellously."

0:30:140:30:18

And the answer was, as Kenneth said,

0:30:180:30:20

"If I am against you all the time I shall caricature you."

0:30:200:30:24

And he was absolutely right.

0:30:240:30:27

We were talking about how you felt about the film.

0:30:270:30:29

How did people close to you, your friends and your wife...?

0:30:290:30:32

Well, my friends - and these are the people who matter in life,

0:30:320:30:36

obviously - my friends said it was frightfully good

0:30:360:30:38

and my wife slipped off to the local one evening, you know,

0:30:380:30:42

several weeks after it had been shown, and she came back and said,

0:30:420:30:45

"It was absolutely uncanny the way that Kenneth More has got you.

0:30:450:30:50

"He's quite extraordinary."

0:30:500:30:52

Now, that's from your wife.

0:30:520:30:54

I mean, I've been keeping the woman for 30-odd years now

0:30:540:30:57

and she really must know!

0:30:570:30:59

The director of Reach For The Sky was Lewis Gilbert.

0:31:040:31:07

I've had the privilege to work for him a couple of times myself.

0:31:070:31:11

He also made Alfie, Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine, oh,

0:31:110:31:17

and three James Bond films.

0:31:170:31:19

Did you enjoy making Reach For The Sky with Kenneth More?

0:31:210:31:23

Yeah, I loved Kenneth More.

0:31:230:31:26

And it was very interesting with Douglas Bader,

0:31:260:31:28

but Bader, who was a great man, lost his legs when he was about 21,

0:31:280:31:32

learned to walk, and rejoined the Air Force with no legs.

0:31:320:31:37

I mean, he was an amazing character.

0:31:370:31:39

But he was very difficult. I mean, really difficult.

0:31:390:31:42

And I suppose...

0:31:420:31:44

-In what way?

-Well, in many ways.

0:31:440:31:48

Well, for instance, he said to me,

0:31:480:31:51

"Well, Gilbert, you were in the Air Force.

0:31:510:31:53

"Why don't you write the script?"

0:31:530:31:56

And I did and then he said to me,

0:31:560:31:58

"Well, you've left out all my friends," and I said,

0:31:580:32:00

"Well, the book is 600 pages and there's 500 people.

0:32:000:32:03

"We obviously have to leave some out," and he said,

0:32:030:32:06

"Well, that's your problem.

0:32:060:32:08

"You've got to put my friends back in.

0:32:080:32:10

"And if you don't, I won't help you

0:32:100:32:12

-"and I won't be doubling for Kenneth More."

-Oh, goodness.

0:32:120:32:14

And I'd had enough of that so I said to him,

0:32:140:32:17

"Well, Douglas,

0:32:170:32:19

"if we can make an ape climb up the Empire State Building

0:32:190:32:23

"in King Kong, I daresay we can find

0:32:230:32:24

"somebody to double for you without legs."

0:32:240:32:26

-Which we did.

-Tough talking.

-That's what happened, yes.

0:32:260:32:30

Reach For The Sky wasn't the only story of a real-life war hero

0:32:320:32:37

that Lewis Gilbert directed.

0:32:370:32:39

Two years later, in 1958,

0:32:390:32:42

he made Carve Her Name With Pride,

0:32:420:32:46

starring Virginia McKenna.

0:32:460:32:49

This was the powerful and harrowing true story of Violette Szabo,

0:32:490:32:54

a British spy who bravely worked behind enemy lines.

0:32:540:32:58

I don't think I really did look like Violette very much.

0:33:010:33:04

First of all, she was dark and I was fair, and they didn't want me

0:33:040:33:08

to change the colour of my hair. They said it was fine as it was.

0:33:080:33:11

It was more the essence, really, of the character they wanted,

0:33:110:33:14

more than someone who looked the same.

0:33:140:33:17

Tres bien. Merci, bonsoir.

0:33:170:33:19

Virginia was wonderful in that film,

0:33:190:33:22

but she wasn't naturally that kind of character, because she's

0:33:220:33:25

very quiet and very laid back, and it was a great difficulty for her

0:33:250:33:30

to be running round with a machine gun and being a wartime heroine.

0:33:300:33:34

The film's most moving scene comes at the end

0:33:420:33:46

where, despite being tortured,

0:33:460:33:49

Violette refuses to betray her comrades.

0:33:490:33:53

We had to walk out and down a path to a barren square,

0:33:540:34:01

where there was a line of men with guns.

0:34:010:34:04

We were asked to stand in a row.

0:34:050:34:08

And that's where we were executed.

0:34:080:34:12

The three British agents - Denise Bloch, Lillian Rolfe,

0:34:120:34:17

and Violette Szabo - are to be shot.

0:34:170:34:21

I'd had a message that they would like me, just before I was shot...

0:34:210:34:26

..to have a little half smile on my face.

0:34:280:34:31

And I said to Lewis, "I can't. I absolutely can't."

0:34:330:34:37

It was so ludicrous to me to have been asked to do that

0:34:390:34:43

and then he, thank God, absolutely understood

0:34:430:34:47

what I meant. So I didn't have to smile.

0:34:470:34:51

Fire!

0:34:570:34:59

GUNFIRE CONTINUES

0:34:590:35:02

Carve Her Name With Pride was unusual for

0:35:050:35:08

focusing on a female character's war experiences.

0:35:080:35:12

In 1958, I benefited from another prominent female role.

0:35:120:35:16

A wartime nurse, sister Diana Murdoch, in Ice Cold In Alex,

0:35:180:35:23

now considered one of the most important films of the period.

0:35:230:35:27

It tells the story of a dangerous trek across the desert

0:35:280:35:33

by a small band trying to reach the safety

0:35:330:35:35

of the British base in Alexandria.

0:35:350:35:38

It was shot over several gruelling but unforgettable weeks in Libya.

0:35:390:35:43

The days were boiling, the nights were freezing,

0:35:430:35:47

and the wind blew sand everywhere.

0:35:470:35:50

The film's most famous scene of all comes at the climax, when we've

0:35:510:35:56

reached Alex, and we've reached the ice-cold lager that's been

0:35:560:36:01

Captain Anson's incentive throughout the punishing journey.

0:36:010:36:05

We had to use real lager, as no imitation had the right look.

0:36:050:36:11

And John Mills was the only one of us

0:36:110:36:14

who could glug the whole glass down in one.

0:36:140:36:18

Worth waiting for.

0:36:230:36:26

Ice Cold In Alex was a success everywhere,

0:36:260:36:30

even winning one of the top prizes at the 1958 Berlin Film Festival.

0:36:300:36:34

Looking back on it today,

0:36:350:36:37

one of the most interesting features is its sympathetic portrayal

0:36:370:36:41

of one of the enemy - very unusual for British films both then and now.

0:36:410:36:47

Anthony Quayle's character, Van der Poel, is discovered to be

0:36:490:36:53

a German spy.

0:36:530:36:55

But despite that revelation,

0:36:550:36:57

a growing respect develops between him and Captain Anson.

0:36:570:37:02

One key scene shows Anson rescuing Van der Poel

0:37:040:37:07

when he gets caught in quicksand.

0:37:070:37:10

This was actually shot at Elstree Studios rather than the desert.

0:37:130:37:17

But the sludge was an awful mixture

0:37:170:37:22

made by the effects team, and when

0:37:220:37:25

it came to filming, it was so cold

0:37:250:37:27

that ice had formed on the top of it.

0:37:270:37:29

Poor Anthony Quayle.

0:37:480:37:50

If that wasn't bad enough,

0:37:500:37:53

his character had to wear very short shorts.

0:37:530:37:56

And of course, that wasn't the only flesh on display.

0:37:570:38:00

The film includes a love scene between my character

0:38:020:38:05

and Captain Anson that made headlines

0:38:050:38:08

and had to be re-shot after protests from the censors.

0:38:080:38:12

I had this tremendous romance, big scene,

0:38:120:38:15

didn't I, with Sylvia Syms? And think how things have changed.

0:38:150:38:19

I mean, we were rolling about in the sand and I think it was Lee Thompson

0:38:190:38:24

said, "You know, well, it's a good scene,

0:38:240:38:28

"a quite passionate scene."

0:38:280:38:30

He said to Sylvia Syms, "Why don't you undo two buttons on your shirt?"

0:38:300:38:34

So she said, "OK," so she undid them.

0:38:340:38:37

And I think that didn't get through.

0:38:370:38:39

I think it was too much that two buttons were undone

0:38:390:38:42

and only open about down to here.

0:38:420:38:44

-So it's changed slightly, hasn't it?

-A little bit.

0:38:440:38:46

Actually, looking at stills,

0:38:460:38:48

-it's a little more than two buttons as well.

-Is it?

0:38:480:38:51

But, nevertheless, the point is taken.

0:38:510:38:53

Maybe the stills... Sneaked the stills through.

0:38:530:38:55

I think you don't understand women.

0:38:570:38:59

I don't.

0:39:030:39:05

She'll know what she wants.

0:39:050:39:07

It's poor. Nothing you do will make the slightest difference.

0:39:080:39:12

It's you.

0:39:130:39:15

I think you should know by now.

0:39:150:39:17

And I thought we rolled around rather well in Ice Cold In Alex

0:39:180:39:22

and it was too daring and it was cut out.

0:39:220:39:26

And that was the only really sort of violently exciting love scene

0:39:260:39:30

I've ever had.

0:39:300:39:32

What were my memories of the scene?

0:39:330:39:36

Well, it was very uncomfortable,

0:39:360:39:40

and the sand got everywhere.

0:39:400:39:43

The 1960s saw more successful war films, of course,

0:39:460:39:49

like The Great Escape and The Longest Day,

0:39:490:39:53

but generally, audiences tastes were moving on.

0:39:530:39:56

Rather as the Western was falling out of favour in America,

0:39:560:40:00

so here in Britain we were making fewer war films.

0:40:000:40:04

But the influence of those that we made in the 1940s

0:40:040:40:08

and '50s extend to present-day filmmaking.

0:40:080:40:13

The Dam Busters dogfight scenes were used as a template by

0:40:130:40:17

George Lucas for the space battles in the original Star Wars film.

0:40:170:40:22

And Steven Spielberg was hugely aware of the films made

0:40:220:40:26

here in Britain when he was directing Saving Private Ryan,

0:40:260:40:30

which was praised for its realistic depiction of the D-Day landings.

0:40:300:40:36

Oh, yes. Here he is talking to Mark Cousins about the film in 1998.

0:40:360:40:43

Could you tell me some of the more unusual things that you did with

0:40:430:40:46

camera and sound in order to effect this shellshock in the audience?

0:40:460:40:51

I did a lot of things like de-saturate the colour.

0:40:510:40:55

The film is in colour but the film is very faded,

0:40:550:40:58

so the film looks authentically period,

0:40:580:41:01

it looks like a 1940s colour picture

0:41:010:41:04

would have looked 50 or 54 years later.

0:41:040:41:08

I shot with a 45- and 90-degree camera shutter.

0:41:080:41:12

What that does is it de-glamorises sequences by getting

0:41:120:41:16

rid of all out-of-focus blurring.

0:41:160:41:18

Often, when somebody runs through frame it's kind of beautiful

0:41:180:41:21

because they kind of streak and they blur.

0:41:210:41:24

Not every frame is in focus.

0:41:240:41:25

If you look at every frame one at a time

0:41:250:41:27

on a film you see that only several frames are in focus.

0:41:270:41:30

Most of it's out of focus.

0:41:300:41:32

When you shoot with a 45-degree shutter, every single frame,

0:41:320:41:35

24 frames per second, is in focus, which means that that,

0:41:350:41:38

coupled with my vibrating camera,

0:41:380:41:40

I had a vibrating lens called a shaker lens

0:41:400:41:43

on top of our other lenses,

0:41:430:41:45

and I could press a button electrically and create a shake in

0:41:450:41:47

the lens and take my finger off the button and the shaking would stop.

0:41:470:41:50

All those things made the film nervous to look at,

0:41:500:41:54

which is exactly the kind of fear that the soldiers were

0:41:540:41:57

feeling inside of themselves.

0:41:570:41:59

All I can do here is die. Covering fire.

0:41:590:42:02

Were you aiming to be more brutal than anything that went before?

0:42:040:42:09

Well, that's not really for me to say.

0:42:090:42:11

That wasn't my original intention,

0:42:110:42:13

just to be brutal for brutality's sake.

0:42:130:42:15

I wasn't trying to do that.

0:42:150:42:17

I was simply trying to show war like it was, and like it is.

0:42:170:42:20

And like I said before,

0:42:200:42:22

I've read a lot of testimonies from veterans of that war

0:42:220:42:26

and seen documentaries and talked to them in person

0:42:260:42:29

and they all said, "There were two wars fought - there was our war,

0:42:290:42:32

"and there was Hollywood's war.

0:42:320:42:34

"Can you find it in your heart to tell the story of our war?"

0:42:340:42:38

And when they said that to me, I was an instant convert.

0:42:380:42:41

I said, "Yes, I will tell the story of your war.

0:42:410:42:45

"I'll try to be as conventional to your experience and unconventional,

0:42:450:42:49

"therefore, to the American Hollywood experience

0:42:490:42:52

"as I possibly can be,"

0:42:520:42:53

and sure, there's all sorts of conventionality throughout

0:42:530:42:56

part of my movie, but I try to be as conventional to a real-life war

0:42:560:43:02

as I possibly could be.

0:43:020:43:04

All the films we've examined in this programme share that same ambition,

0:43:070:43:12

to reflect the reality of war.

0:43:120:43:15

It's one of the reasons we always value them,

0:43:160:43:19

with their heroes personifying courage,

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starring actors who lived through the fighting themselves.

0:43:220:43:26

They are stirring tales

0:43:270:43:30

that touched everybody at the time,

0:43:300:43:32

and patriotic reminders of how pulling together can

0:43:320:43:35

result in victory.

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No wonder they still resonate with us so strongly...even today.

0:43:370:43:42

A look back at the great British war films that boosted the nation's morale in the postwar years and launched the careers of some of our best-loved actors and directors.

Featuring contributions from the likes of Noel Coward, Richard Attenborough, David Lean, Alec Guinness, Kenneth More and John Mills, the programme examines classic films like In Which We Serve, Reach for the Sky, Bridge on the River Kwai and The Dam Busters.

Narrated by Sylvia Syms, this episode also includes her own memories of the making of one of the most enduring films of the genre, Ice Cold in Alex.


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