Friday, April 17, 2009

633 Squadron

Star Wars is a mishmash of mythology, Flash Gordon, World War 2 movies and samurai flicks. One of those World War 2 movies is the 1964 British film 633 Squadron. It tells the story of a small band of RAF Mosquito pilots selected for a secret mission that could change the course of the war.

It’s just before D-Day and the Germans have new rocket weapons that could turn the invasion into a disaster. Fortunately, Erik Bergman (played by George Chakiris; hey, he’s that guy from West Side Story) of the Norwegian resistance is able to smuggle information on the weapon system’s flaw to the Allies. It seems that the rocket fuel is made at a secret, impregnable factory fortress at the end of a fjord in Nazi-occupied Norway. 633 Squadron, commanded by American Roy Grant (Cliff Robertson), is assigned to carry out a daring mission: fly to Norway, maneuver down the fjord to drop bombs in a geologically sensitive spot that will cause a landslide and destroy the factory.

It’s pretty obvious how the plot and action scenes were turned into the trench run at the end of the original Star Wars film. One of those internet wisenheimers even spliced together dialog from the A new Hope with footage from 633 Squadron and the results are quite amusing.

Also, like Star Wars, 633 Squadron is part American and part British for no good reason.

So, is the movie any good? Some of the special effects are not that special. But it was 1964 and we can forgive them. And it is formulaic. You know something bad is going to happen the young airman who just got hitched and the Nazis are standard issue movie-Nazis who love motorcades and torturing prisoners for information. But, the aerial footage with real airplanes zooming around the mountains in Scotland is very well done. Even if the movie had just been 90 minutes of aerobatics without all the subplots, I would have been OK with that. When I watched this film on a laptop on a plane, it distracted the guy sitting next to me from reading his bible, even though I had headphones on and he couldn’t hear any of the sound. Eventually he put the good book away and kept watching. After a while he even nudged my elbow and asked what movie it was and we talked about it for a few minutes. All in all, it’s a good old WW2 movie, the kind that used to be on TV a lot in the seventies.

This is the first of what I hope will several posts about movies that influenced Star Wars.