Latest addition to STUDIOCANAL’s Vintage Classics collection on Digital, Blu-Ray and DVD is this underrated and seldom seen WWII naval thriller.
Directed by Compton Bennett and Starring Trevor Howard and Richard Attenborough and with a cast that includes Bernard Lee, Sid James, Sonny Tufts and Dora Bryan, this first class new restoration will be available on Digital, Blu-Ray and DVD from April 4 and on VOD from May 9.
I can’t recall when I last saw this film, but it couldn’t have been too many years after its release in 1952. Watching it now, it is hard to believe it is not a much more highly revered example of the genre. Bennett’s taut direction drives the story forward while allowing space for character development and highlighting the cost of war to individuals, be they uniformed or civilians.
In 1940, the Royal Navy is frantically recruiting for WWII so pulls discredited Lieutenant Commander Fraser (Trevor Howard) out of retirement to captain the HMS Ballantrae, herself recently re-commissioned and lent by the Americans to a seriously under-resourced British Navy, hence the “Gift Horse” tag.
Despite an inauspicious start and multiple repairs, Fraser crafts the ship and its crew into an efficient fighting force, culminating in a daring mission to destroy a French dockyard which is crucial to the Nazis in maintaining their formidable battleships.
The climax of the film is a fictional account of the real-life St Nazaire Raid of 1942 (Operation Chariot) – led by a ship very similar to the Gift Horse itself, and celebrated as “The Greatest Raid of All”.
STUDIOCANAL have done their customary excellent restoration work, and included here are some interesting extras – there’s the original trailer, a behind the scenes stills gallery, plus “Operation Chariot and HMS Campbeltown – James Dorrian Remembers the Real Gift Horse” and a 1947 British Pathe film of the Ceremony Commemorating the 5 Year Anniversary of the St Nazaire Raid. All in all, this is a well worthwhile package.