Tuesday, December 09, 2014


In 1942, the Mediterranean island of Malta, of great strategic importance to the British, is under constant attack by the Germans. Peter (Alec Guinness), an aerial photographer pilot for the RAF on his way to Cairo, is waylaid on Malta and is asked to stay on under Commander Frank (Jack Hawkins). On his first photo mission, he ends up going 90 miles off course because he thinks he can get some important pictures, but he gets in trouble for using up fuel which is in short supply because the Germans have been attacking Allied ships, causing problems not only for the military but also food shortages for the locals. Soon Peter hits it off with a local woman named Maria (Muriel Pavlow). Her mother (Flora Robson) is upset because her son (Nigel Stock) is suspected of espionage for the Axis. There's another boy/girl plot involving a British officer (Anthony Steel, pictured at left with Guinness) and his fiancée (Renee Asherson), but the focus generally remains on the attempts to keep the Germans away and on the sacrifices that the local populace has to make.

This is the kind of WWII flag-waving propaganda film that was popular during wartime—except it was made eight years after the war. My untested theory is that most WWII movies made in the 50s were either star vehicles (John Wayne), big-budget affairs (BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI), or scrappy little action B-films (THE TANKS ARE COMING). This British film doesn't fit any of those categories, instead feeling like the kind of movie made during the war specifically to keep up the homefront spirit (THE IMMORTAL BATTALION, THE LION HAS WINGS). The characters are not particularly well-developed and the budget is low, with little compelling action presented, so I'm not sure why this was made except to bring to light a part of the war that the British perhaps hadn't heard much about. Guinness is very low-key which may have been an acting or directing choice, but I wound up not caring much about his character, and the fact that he vanishes from the narrative for a good chunk of time in the middle doesn't help. Hawkins and Steel are much better, as is Robson in just a couple of short scenes. Nigel Stock (pictured at right) is quietly effective as Robson's traitorous son. It was interesting to learn (in that fictionalized movie way) about the siege of Malta, but somewhere a better movie is waiting to be made about it. [Netflix streaming]

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