Damn The Defiant!

Damn The Defiant! (1962)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Alec Guinness, Dirk Bogarde
Extras: Vintage Advertising, Theatrical Trailers, Talent Files

For a fan of classic movies like myself, the DVD market still contains way too little titles from the 40s, 50s and 60s, in its tendency to focus on blockbusters and action oriented film. As such Columbia TriStar Home Video’s steady release of such films in their "Columbia Classics" line is always a welcome addition that I thoroughly enjoy. "Damn The Defiant!" is an exhilarating high-seas adventure that takes us on board of British naval vessel in the fight for Napoleon’s fleet, and I was eager to check out how this film has translated to DVD.

The H.M.S. Defiant is on its way to meet a timber convoy off the shores of Corsica. Under the command of Captain Crawford (Alec Guiness) the atmosphere on board the vessel is heated nonetheless, and the relentless sadistic escapades of first mate Scott-Padget (Dirk Bogarde) keep fueling the atmosphere among the crew. Flogging people without permission, disobeying Captain’s orders and repeatedly challenging Crawford’s authority, Scott-Padget soon becomes the ship’s biggest enemy, and in order to rectify the problem, Captain Crawford takes according steps. But even from the confinements of his quarters Scott-Padget runs his regime, taking his anger out on the Captain’s son who serves on the Defiant as a Midshipman.

Slowly the situation escalates between the two commanding officers but Crawford is always wise enough to take the right steps. When they reach Corsica however, there is no sign of the convoy they are supposed to meet, and instead the Defiant is entangled in a battle with an enemy ship. During the fiery battle Captain Crawford is wounded, and Scott-Padget is finally taking control over the ship. Not for very long however, as the crew has made plans for mutiny all along, and to their surprise they find an ally for their cause in the most unlikely of people.

The majority of "Damn The Defiant!" is carried on the shoulders of actors Alec Guinness and Dirk Bogarde, and they do an admirable job, making this an exciting thrill-ride. Their play even relegates some of the beautiful effect shots to a sideshow, as their presence on the screen takes in the viewer. While Guinness is the noble and humane Captain who only wishes to make the best of the trip for everyone, Bogarde’s sadistic and self-centered portrayal of Scott-Padget creates a powerful antagonist. Combined with a great supporting cast that manages to bring savage humanity to the screen, there is little this film doesn’t get right. Even the fact that at its heart this is a mutiny story, like so many others, doesn’t really hamper the value of the film, as we watch the gripping events unfold.

"Damn The Defiant!" is presented in a 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio on this DVD from Columbia TriStar Home Video in a transfer that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> television sets. On the flip side of this DVD you can find a heavily cropped and blown-up <$PS,pan and scan> version of the film, but given its scope and the carefully arranged image composition, the cropped <$PS,fullframe> version just doesn’t do justice to this film at all, so stick with the <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> version. Unfortunately the print used for this transfer shows significant signs of age and wear. There is a lot of film grain evident in the entire presentation and especially during the film’s final 20 minutes, the graininess creates a rather poor looking picture.
Speckles, scratches and negative holes are evident throughout the film, providing an image that never appears stable or really clean. Although colors are strong for the most part, color reproduction is inconsistent and parts of the film are noticeably discolored and faded. One of the biggest problems with the presentation is that it is too dark. Much of the image is cloaked in impenetrable blacks with very harsh contrasts, while some registration problems cause the image to jitter. There has also been some significant edge-enhancement applied to this transfer to give it a sharper look but the resulting ringing artifacts can become quite distracting at times, as outlines are showing clearly visible halos. The overall result is an image that feels old and unbalanced, in dire need of restoration or at least a serious clean-up.

The DVD contains a mono <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track that also shows signs of age, but leaves a significantly better impression than the video presentation. Noise reduction has obviously been applied to the track and the high ends are affected by that a bit. Although dialogue clearness suffers a bit from this treatment, it also eliminates hiss and other distracting noises. The audio has a muffled quality but has a rather good frequency response nevertheless, never creating the truly thin and tinny quality found on so many older films. Some distortion is evident, especially during the naval battle scenes where the explosions of the cannons are overloading the channels, but for the most part I found the presentation pleasing and satisfactory.

The only extras found on this release are a Vintage Advertising photo gallery, selected Talent Files and trailers, which has become the standard content for most of the Columbia Classics.

Although the actual presentation of "Damn The Defiant!" turns out to be rather disappointing, the film itself is not. It is a beautiful high-seas adventure filled with all the romantic imagery fans of the genre want to see. From splendid Galleons and Frigates to dagger-throwing shaggy seamen, all the way to run down harbor inns and massive naval battles, the film offers everything that makes a great adventure story. With two well-crafted main characters, this story is a thrilling and rousing movie in the best tradition. Although the presentation could be better, I truly enjoyed "Damn The Defiant!"