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It's spring 1941, England is the only undefeated European nation who can stand up against Nazi Germany. But the most powerful battleship in the world, Germany's Bismarck, is faster and has more fire power than anything Britain can throw against it...and it's headed towards the North Atlantic. This juggernaut of destruction must be stopped, and Churchill himself gives the order to the Royal Navy-sink the Bismarck at any cost!

Lewis Gilbert
Kenneth More, Dana Wynter, Carl Mohner, Laurence Naismith, Geoffrey Keen
Writing Credits:

Personal! Powerful! Human! Heroic!
Not Rated.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Digital Stereo
English Digital Mono
Spanish Digital Mono
French Digital Mono
English, Spanish

Runtime: 97 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 5/20/2003

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Sink the Bismarck! (1960)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 21, 2003)

During the early parts of World War II, the Germans hampered the Allied war effort with their attacks on ships that crossed the Atlantic. The Germans prevented massive amounts of materials from reaching England, which severely hampered their war effort. Eventually an escort convoy system largely halted these disruptions, but they definitely took a toll on the Allied side of things.

1960’s Sink the Bismarck! offers an intriguing examination of the topic. It focuses on one of the Germans’ main warships, the Bismarck. The film briefly opens with that craft’s christening in February 1939 before it leaps to the German air raids over England in May 1941. We meet real-life newsman Edward R. Murrow, who does the Basil Exposition thing here; he pops up periodically throughout the movie to fill us in on facts related to the war effort. At the start, he lets us know about the u-boat attacks in the North Atlantic and sets up the admiralty operations in London.

With these details out of the way, we meet a few denizens of the latter organization. Captain Jonathan Shepard (Kenneth More) comes in to take over Operations, and he clearly doesn’t like the informal tone of the place. He cracks down on that and comes across as a cold fish without much tolerance for casual things, though we find out that he used to be warmer until some nasty events affected his personal life. We also learn that his son Tom (John Stride) serves in the British military, and Shepard obviously worries about his safety.

The folks in Operations get a report of two German warships at large around Norway, and they believe one might be the Bismarck, apparently the strongest vessel in German fleet. When the Nazis nail a secret agent in Norway, Operations only receives part of his transmission, and they have to assume it’s the Bismarck involved. The military scrambles to stop the Bismarck from running rampant in the North Atlantic.

In the meantime, we meet the crew of the Bismarck. We get to know Fleet commander Admiral Gunther Lutjens (Karel Stepanek), who desires to use the Bismarck to attain glory for himself and Germany. He’s assisted by Captain Lindemann (Carl Mohner), a more levelheaded person who urges more caution from Lutjens. The latter seems cocky as he brags that the Bismarck’s “faster and unsinkable”.

Essentially the rest of the movie follows the progress in these battles. We see British attempts to halt the Bismarck and German reactions to those efforts. We watch the actions back at Operations, and matters become personal when Shepard’s son’s crew on the Ark Royal enters the fray.

While many movies would accentuate melodrama, Sink focuses tightly on the story at hand. To be sure, we find some divergences into the Shepard subplot. We watch what happens with his son and also find out why he displays such an icy demeanor. The film even hints at potential romance with Shepard’s assistant second officer Anne Davis (Dana Wynter).

Happily, however, the movie doesn’t turn into a Pearl Harbor melodrama, as it keeps matters where they belong: on the military maneuverings. Director Lewis Gilbert moves the story at a nice pace and presents the material in a concise manner. The tale flows smoothly and efficiently as it distinctly depicts the information.

At times Sink seems a little workmanlike, and it doesn’t bring a tremendous amount of spark to the material. One shouldn’t expect a terribly dynamic examination of the subject, as the movie occasionally feels somewhat dry. However, this doesn’t mean that the flick lacks excitement, as the tale generally comes across as rather taut and tense. The film doesn’t telegraph its points, so the eventual outcomes remain somewhat in doubt. That helps make the flick more involving and intriguing.

Some of the film’s attempts at verisimilitude cause mild distractions, though. The Murrow bits seem unnecessary and gimmicky; the tale would move fine without his updates. Sink also uses a fair amount of stock footage, and much of that doesn’t blend well with the other material. Those instances moderately took me out of the story at times.

On the positive side, the acting in Sink generally seems good. Stepanek’s Lutjens comes across as a bit hammy and broad, but the rest of the performers work efficiently and don’t overly embellish their roles. The film also achieves a nice sense of humanity, and while it doesn’t try to make heroes out of the Nazis, it also doesn’t turn them into cartoon baddies.

One of the better World War II dramas, Sink the Bismarck! presents a tense and entertaining piece. Not much about the movie stands out as particularly outstanding, but it appears well paced and generally exciting. The film tells its tale well.

One potential oddity occurs at the start of the film. We see the christening of the Bismarck, and this scene includes some German narration. None of this offers subtitles, though. You can still figure out what’s happening, but it seems strange that the film doesn’t attempt to translate the lines. I never saw this movie prior to this DVD, so I don’t know if this was an oversight or if the film’s always been that way, but I thought I’d mention it just in case it is a goof.

The DVD Grades: Picture A- / Audio B / Bonus D

Sink the Bismarck! appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite the age of the flick, I thought the picture looked very positive overall.

The image displayed very solid detail. Sharpness consistently came across as well defined and accurate, and virtually no instances of softness interfered with the presentation. I detected no problems related to jagged edges or shimmering, but a little edge enhancement did cause a few small distractions.

Print flaws seemed very minor for an older film. A little light grain appeared, and I saw the occasional speckle or blotch, but these were very infrequent and insubstantial. Black levels came across as nicely deep and rich, and contrast was distinct and well defined. Shadow detail appeared accurately opaque but never was overly dense. I found little to distract from the movie during this very good presentation.

Although the stereo soundtrack of Sink the Bismarck! didn’t seem quite as positive as the picture, it remained positive for its era. For the most part, the soundfield remained concentrated on the front center speaker. The music demonstrated decent stereo imaging but didn’t demonstrate anything terribly distinctive.

Effects became more open and broad as the movie progressed. Those elements stayed largely restricted to the center during the film’s early parts, but they spread more actively during the flick’s second half. In those scenes, I heard fairly nice movement and involvement from the sides, especially during the big battle bits. Guns and explosions came convincingly from the right and left when appropriate.

Audio quality demonstrated its age but usually was fine. Speech appeared generally distinct and natural, and I noticed no problems related to intelligibility or edginess. Dialogue sounded a little thin at times, but the lines remained good for their age. Effects also came across as a little trebly at times, but those elements also displayed pretty solid impact when appropriate and seemed fairly rich. Explosions and louder bits presented good power and depth. Music sounded fairly vibrant and bright, and the music also demonstrated reasonable bass response for the era. Overall, there wasn’t a lot to the soundtrack, but it seemed decidedly above average for its age.

One potential presentation oddity occurs. The film starts with the christening of the Bismarck, but no German translation appears for the narration of this event. Since I never saw Sink prior to my receipt of this DVD, I don’t know if this represents an omission from this release. I still could figure out what was happening, but it felt like some form of subtitles should have appeared there.

Sink provides only a few small extras. Most significant is a Movietone News program called "Battle In Atlantic Between British Navy and Bismarck”. This clip lasts two minutes, 21 seconds and offers a short recap of the fight. It’s too brief to be very useful, but it’s nice to get a quick look at the reality behind the movie.

We get two of the film’s theatrical trailers. We find the flick’s US ad plus a similar clip with Spanish text and narration. The US ad’s worth a look if just to hear the goofy theme song that thankfully doesn’t appear during the movie itself. With lines like “We gotta sink the Bismarck to the bottom of the sea/We’ll find the German battleship that’s making such a fuss”, it’s a riot. In addition, the Fox War Classics domain presents promos for five other DVDs that street the same day as Sink. It provides trailers for 13 Rue Madeleine, The Blue Max, The Enemy Below, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison and The Desert Fox.

An efficient and compelling examination of one particular side of World War II, Sink the Bismarck! provides one of the genre’s better releases. The movie keeps matters believable and terse and lacks the sentiment or sappiness that often drains this kind of project. Instead, it focuses tightly on the events and hand and depicts them well. The DVD presents surprisingly excellent picture along with very competent audio. Unfortunately, it lacks much in the way of supplements. Despite that latter weakness, Sink the Bismarck! presents a fine film, and with a list price of less than $15, I definitely recommend a purchase for this solid DVD.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.68 Stars Number of Votes: 25
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