Saturday, July 3, 2010

Re-viewing Mosquitoes in film

February 18, 1944, at 12 noon, two Mosquitoes after dropping their bombs on the prison walls at low altitude. Image: RAF.

I'd occasionally speculated as to why a film about the Amiens prison raid hasn't been made (details here, here and here) and particularly triggered recently by Sir Peter Jackson's decision to remake the Dam Busters movie, another unnecessary fly-over of well bombed dams in my opinion. Even more ironic is that as Jackson is a New Zealander, one might think he'd be interested in Operation Jericho as it featured several New Zealand airmen in an RNZAF Squadron, deserving of at least one feature film.

But there were films of the raid. A treasure is the film of the actual raid shot at the time, a not inconsiderable achievement, and unlike any commercial film a primary if partial source of the event. An extract of the film is on the Pathe newsreel website here and the image above is I think a still from that film.

Secondly there was a post-war French film (details here and here) but one that focuses more on the details of the prisoners than on the technical achievement of the operation. It also looks rather like what you'd get with a modern Hollywood director got hold of it, starting with the overwrought poster from here seen above, or as the French site says: "Au moment de l'exécution, la Royal Air Force bombarde la prison." Zut Alors.

Dave Homewood, a fellow writer and researcher, but from New Zealand found (on a now defunct website) the following description:
Lang.: FRENCH; Length: 95 Minutes

Once the French film industry was able to make WWII epics, it did so with a vengeance. Jericho is the true story of the bombing of the Nazi-held prison at Amiens. It is argued that, while the RAF took an enormous public-relations risk in the bombing, the end result was largely salutary, resulting in freedom for 50 French hostages. The dramatic portions of the film share space with newsreel footage of the actual attack. One of the better films of its kind, Jericho failed to make a dent in the U.S. market, which at the time was inundated with war pictures.

The sole reader review on IMDb contains the following:
1944: A train full of petrol has stopped in the station of Amiens. The German army, still occupying France, fears sabotage. So they decide to take 50 hostages: if the resistant fighters attack the train,they will be shot.

Brilliant scenes: The sleepy town where people hide,afraid of the boots marching in the streets.

The city council,who has got to choose the hostages. "We've got to put our names at the top of the list" says the mayor. But two members are frightened and they resign their mandate.

The scenes in the jail, where a man (Pierre Brasseur) is so afraid of dying he'd do anything to save his life, even boot-licking: "I know where the commies and the Jews are" he shouts at the soldiers.

But it's the long sequence in the church were the hostages are imprisoned which climaxes the film. Calef avoids the usual cliché that all French people were brave resistance fighters; among these 50 people, some of them rebel, they are afraid to die,they cannot stand that dawn which is inexorably approaching. In the priest' s pulpit, Morin (Brasseur) has gone completely mad, his terror knowing no bounds. His attitude is in direct contrast to that of Simone who bravely enters the jail between two soldiers. She too is to be shot with the fifty men.
(Minor edits for grammar & punctuation.)

Back in 1945 the RAF could provide a Squadron's worth of Mosquitoes. As Colin Ford recalls:
Mosquitoes of No.487 (RNZAF) Squadron during September 1945 were flying during filming of a documentary movie titled "Jericho", a recreation of the Amiens Prison raid. After being renumbered No.268 Squadron in October 1945 they continued that flying activity sporadically until mid November 1945 when the big flying scenes were filmed which included a full Squadron formation and flights making dummy attacks over the Amiens Prison accompanied by a photographic Mosquito from No.69 Squadron. A number of the pilots and navigators who had to fly their Mosquitoes up to Paris for certain parts of the filming took advantage of the visits for some R&R. One of the scenes the Squadron filmed using the aircrew at the time was the full Squadron raid briefing.

The film might be of interest for the flying, but the somewhat over-dramatic description doesn't really appeal otherwise.

We should have an airworthy Mosquito in 2011, while there have been none flying since the tragic demise of the British aerospace T.3 RR299. In the meantime, lacking the real thing, for a rather well put together film of completely CGI Mosquitoes, see the famous short demonstration by Tochy called Merlins, here.

1 comment:

  1. Well, there's always Mosquito Squadron... on second thought, perhaps not.

    I hope somebody in the special effects industry has given Tochy a job by now!