The Dam Busters at the Peckham Multiplex

As part of the BBC's Summer of British Film, The Dam Busters will be showing next week at selected cinemas across the UK. I'll be seeing it, with at least one Airminded regular, at the Peckham Multiplex next Tuesday at 7.30pm, for the surprisingly reasonable price of 99p. Any readers who would like to come along would be most welcome; give me a shout in the comments or directly, and we'll arrange ... something.

It's always a pleasure to see classic movies the way they were meant to be seen, on the big screen. (Although "big" is a relative term, especially here given that it's at a multiplex!) And it is a classic: bombers, boffins, bouncing bombs, a stirring musical score and an unflinching portrayal of Bomber Command's area bombing policy. Well, obviously that last part is a lie -- but it's still well worth seeing.

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19 thoughts on “The Dam Busters at the Peckham Multiplex

  1. While "The Dambusters" is not really my cup of tea, I do think Richard Todd's performance is an absolutely extraordinary, very early example of finely-tuned 'movie acting' in Britain. I've even said in the past that I'd almost class it as one of the first examples of 'Method' acting (in the simplistic, inaccurate, shorthand sense of 'internalized and entirely non-stagey') in British film. It is all in the eyes, and what is going on behind them. Quite brilliant - making Michael Redgrave's 'stagey', OTT turn in the movie all the more unfortunately misjudged....

    And although "Withnail and I" should be very much my bag (man), I tend to agree with Alan - mildly diverting but somewhat over-rated, imho. The music's the best thing in it.

    But my main objective is, I'm afraid, to namedrop: in one of my very earliest jobs I worked with John Fraser, who plays young Hopgood (I think?) in "The Dambusters". What a truly lovely man he was; utterly charming, and more than happy to regale us with stories of making "Repulsion" with Polanski and Deneuve, "El Cid" with Sophia Loren, "The Trials of Oscar Wilde", etc, etc - you name it, he's worked with them all and had one heck of an interesting life. He's even published an extremely honest and often hilariously fruity memoir called "Close Up: An Actor Telling Tales". Highly recommended light reading. Can't recall if he tells us much about "The Dambusters", mind you.

  2. When Battle of Britain was finally released on DVD, it got a cinema outing. It soon became apparent that what we were seeing was the DVD projected onto a big scree. I suspect the same will be the case with this showing of Dam Busters. It's not altogether satisfactory. It's a bit dark, and doesn't look the same as seeing a new print.

  3. My best cinema experience of the last couple of years was The General with live piano accompaniment. (Not just any old pianist - fellow by the name of Neil Brand.)

    Are WWII films a boy thing? (Discuss.) They don't do it for me.

  4. Post author

    I've never seen Withnail and I so am agnostic on the issue.


    Since I've just put up a Doctor Who post ... John Fraser had a good role as the Monitor in the story "Logopolis" (1981). On the DVD commentary for that story, it's mentioned that the actor who played one of the Doctor's young companions, Adric -- the justly maligned Matthew Waterhouse -- actually had the temerity to give Richard Todd a few acting tips when they both performed on a later Who story, "Kinda" (1982). Obviously he hadn't seen The Dam Busters! Or had any idea that he could not himself act his way out of a wet paper bag ...


    Way to rain on my parade! You're probably right though: it's being shown at all participating cinemas on the same night, so they almost certainly aren't film copies (unless they had a few dozen lying around) but some sort of digital format.


    Really? Not any WWII films? None at all? What about ones that don't rely on blowing stuff up so much, such as Enigma?

    Well, it probably is a boy thing to a large degree, but I wouldn't want to generalise!

  5. Well, since I posted the comment I've been trying to think of WWII films I've seen that I have liked. Definitely It Happened Here, if counterfactual WWII counts. I've never seen Enigma. Sounds a bit soppy. (I don't mind bombs. Bombs are fun. But I can't be doing with stiff upper lipped Englishmen with ridiculous cut glass accents.)

    Chris, my friends who persuaded me to go to see the General (I mean, I'm not exactly a silent film aficionado; strangely enough, I ducked out of the 6 hour Napoleon epic) said the same sort of thing about Neil Brand. Awesome.

  6. First rule of acting etiquette: never, ever give another actor notes (unless they specifically ask you for them), no matter how crap they may be (that does happen) or how feeble the director may be (that happens frequently). “You just have to work round them, dear boy…” But Gareth Thomas (of ‘Blake’s 7’ fame) did once blurt out when I was in full flow in rehearsals “you’re not really going to play that scene like that, are you?” I was devastated. Fortunately, he was rather embarrassed that it had slipped out and did apologize later. Then I could ask him ‘how would you play it, because the other actor’s giving me nothing, the director’s not helping, and I don’t know what to do?’ And he told me. And it worked (at least a wee bit better). Now that’s ‘generosity’ amongst actors.

  7. Post author


    I've long wanted to see It Happened Here, as it happens. But if 'Bombs are fun', and since WWII must have seen more bombs used than any other war in history, ergo WWII movies should be fun too. It's only logical ... :P

    There is a bit more romance in Enigma than your average war movie, but that's not why I like it. Good cast, good script (Tom Stoppard from a Robert Harris novel), good period feel and an interesting subject which hasn't been filmed to death. OK; there are some major rewrites of history going on (the main character is obviously based on Alan Turing, but is heterosexual so that mainstream audiences don't go ewww) and there aren't actually any explosions (other than a few gratuitous bits with U-boats), but it's probably my favourite WWII film of the past decade. (Though I haven't seen Eastwood's latest yet.)


    Ouch. I can see why such a code of etiquette would have evolved ... otherwise you'd have half the cast strangled to death and the other half in jail!

  8. Actually, having seen the ads in the papers, I've changed my mind, and think there's a good chance that it could be actually projected from film (albeit off a digitally remastered print).

  9. WWII must have seen more bombs used than any other war in history

    Really? Sorry to get all serious and OT, but I'm curious as to whether that's true. I suppose it all depends on what one means by 'all bombs,' but surely in terms of equivalent-TNT recent wars have now surpassed WWII. According to this site, the Americans dropped five times the tonnage of bombs on Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam from 1965-1973 than they did on Germany from 1942-5. Anyone know the figures for, say, Desert Storm?

  10. Post author

    LOL, I knew somebody would bring that up. I'll admit I didn't check the numbers beforehand, and I won't categorically claim that I was right. But what I was thinking was that that stat applies only to US bombing of Germany: it excludes US bombing of other places (France, Japan, ...), British bombing of anywhere (Bomber Command dropped more tons on Germany than did the USAAF, by a substantial margin -- though less than a factor of two), German bombing of anywhere, Soviet bombing of anywhere etc. I suspect it also only applies to strategic bombing and not tactical bombing. And of course total tonnage doesn't tell you anything about the actual number of bombs dropped -- it would depend upon the distribution of bomb sizes, though having said that I have no idea how that changed from WWII to Vietnam, if at all.

    So it was a gut feeling on my part and I should have said that -- but even if it was more in Vietnam, it's a lot closer than that oft-quoted statistic suggests.

    Re Desert Storm, here's one answer: in absolute terms, only a bit over 60,000 tons, hardly worth mentioning. But at a monthly rate, it's roughly comparable to the United States's WWII and Vietnam/South-East Asia rates. The WWII figures quoted there would appear to be for ALL US aerial forces, and the ratio has dropped to just under 3 to 1. Add in the RAF and everyone else ... well, it won't be too far short. And temporally more intense, certainly, which is surely the criterion for action movie fun :) Though maybe not when you factor in Indo-China's far smaller surface area (ie than the ETO, PTO, etc ...) Hmm.

  11. That stat applies only to US bombing of Germany

    I'm not sure about that - it could just be sloppy wording on the part of the author. Since tonnages are usually given by OOB rather than theater, I suspect it refers to 8th Air Force tonnage rather than tonnage dropped on Germany per se, and so would include the raids on France, etc. But I don't know.

    Bomber Command dropped more tons on Germany than did the USAAF, by a substantial margin — though less than a factor of two

    Not true for the whole war, though certainly true up to early 1944. Wikipedia gives Bomber Command 191,540 tons to the 8th Air Force's 188,573. Of course this excludes the 15th Air Force in southern Europe and the other tertiary theaters.

  12. Sorry, I should have made clear that that last stat refers to 1945. Cumulatively, Bomber Command remained ahead to the end, though its margin of superiority was falling fast.

  13. Post author

    Yeah, they were the same figures I was working off. 964644 cumulative tons for BC vs 623418 for 8th AF -- the RAF was still ahead by more 50%.

    Another page on the site you cited makes it clear that the stat does apply specifically to US bombing of Germany. The figure given there for all US bombing in the ETO is 1.6 or 1.7 megatons. Add in the 1 megaton for BC in Germany and that's 2.6 megatons; which is already pretty close to the tonnages dropped on North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia mentioned in the first link (about 3.2 megatons). Here's another stat: Allied aircraft in the 'Pacific war' dropped 656,400 tons. So WWII has drawn level. BUT, it also becomes apparent that South Vietnam was actually hardest bombed, with another 3 and a bit megatons. So now Indochina is well ahead again, by a factor of two or so. I'm sure Germany, the USSR and Japan all did their part, and there's still the RAF's efforts outside Germany (and the Pacific), but there's probably not 3 megatons' worth. So I'll probably have to concede on the raw tonnage. No data on the actual number of bombs though, so I'm not conceding on that :P

  14. Chris Williams

    WW2 has to win on numbers of bombs, given the number of small incendiary bombs that all sides - but mainly BC and the Twentieth Air Force - used.

  15. Post author

    Good point -- though on the other hand there were a lot of cluster bombs used in Indochina, dispersing a total of 275 million bomblets according to this (non-scholarly) source.

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