This stands in much the same position in the pantheon of British film as BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN in the annals of Russian cinema. It was with these two movies that their respective national film industries first came of age, albeit a span of several decades separates these major achievements. After them, Russian and British cinema were never quite the same, and their impact was indeed universal. Both were in essence propaganda films. They dealt with actual historical events, although the significance of a failed revolution in the early part of the 20th Cent. that turned out to be a harbinger of the events that occurred in October 1917 hardly matches that of a naval battle during World War ll. Eisenstein had few if any role models from whom he could benefit, whereas the terribly young David Lean could exploit the advances generated by a score of great older directors, not least Eisenstein himself. He was fortunate that the advent of CITIZEN KANE had revealed the dramatic cinematic power of the flash-back that is the main technical basis for this movie, but by making it, he created a blue-print that all subsequent naval warfare films could follow. Nothing that the genre has subsequently produced has risen one inch above the height that Lean reached here.
Of course, he was very fortunate in the forces he was able to conscript, most of all to the brilliant Noel Coward who is credited with co-directing, and who wrote the script, the music, and is the lynch-pin of the fine ensemble of actors representing the very best that contemporary Britain could muster. I must take issue with one reviewer who described his acting as 'stiff'. Being American, he fails to understand that in the British tradition, the commander is required to keep a respectable distance from the men he has to lead. Coward does this superbly, yet his acting is full of compassion. Amazon.ca does a terrible job in promoting this great classic, arguably because they think that a DVD costing less than $4 is not worth the space and effort. There is no Editorial review. The information on the cast is abysmal, indeed totally misleading. Prominence is given to two actors of whom I have never heard, and whose names I don't recall being in the credits, whereas giants of the British stage and screen such as John Mills, Richard Attenborough, Bernard Miles, Michael Wilding, Kay Walsh, Celia Johnson and Joyce Carey don't get a mention. Neither of the two current customer reviewers seem to recognize this deficiency. This is important, because it allowed Coward to write superb dialogue and create interesting characters spanning all of Britain's social classes of the period, knowing that his creations would be brought vividly to life by such a gifted cast. In fact, it gradually becomes clear that this film is much less about a naval battle and much more about the battle of two nations in every sphere of war. I am writing this review at a moment of crisis, albeit so far minor, brought on by the imminent collapse of our financial system, watching Washington burn while Congress fiddles, and seeing London in flames while the grandchildren of the present heros roam its streets looting, plundering, and even killing. Viewing this film teaches us a heart-warming and a terrible but necessary message. There is nothing like a good war for bringing out our latent humanity, generosity, courage, unselfishness, compassion, love of country and family, and faith in God. To be in the company of these good people in such terrible times is a rare privilege. They cheerfully go though hell. They die. They give birth even as the walls of their houses come crashing down. They bring tears to our eyes but they also give us joy and hope of better times. Unfortunately, all these fine human instincts seem to return to their underground residence in the subconscious the moment peace breaks out. It is a harsh lesson, but one that is taught with love, poetry, and the full beauty of its specific art form in this compelling masterpiece that the ravages of time have not damaged despite complaints elsewhere ( that I strongly rebut) about the quality of the transfer. It is even more relevant to us than to the citizens of the time in which it was made, and its 'propaganda' will do us even more good than it did them.