633 Squadron

633 Squadron (1964)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Cliff Robertson, George Chakiris
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

’633 Squadron’ features Cliff Robertson as RAF Wing Commander Roy Grant. It’s 1944 and the Allies must destroy a Nazi V2 rocket-fuel plant in occupied Norway in order to avert an all out rocket attack on England that could jeopardize D-Day. With the plant strategically placed in a narrow, heavily fortified fjord, standard level bombers just won’t do the trick.

So, Grant’s 633 Squadron is tasked to take their high-speed attack aircraft and fly the low-level — and most likely suicidal — mission.

Throw in the obligatory love story and good-natured ribbing between pilots of various nationalities and what you have is a very cookie-cutter sort of war film. With a screenplay co-written by the novelist James Clavell one would have expected a bit more depth and believability. The film is by no means bad, it just doesn’t have the type of story that draws you in on its own merits.

’633 Squadron’ is probably best known for having served as an inspiration for a little film entitled ’Star Wars.’ Watch the climactic attack scene and you’ll certainly notice some similarities to the Death Star trench fight in the latter film. But among historic aviation buffs the film is much better remembered for its focus on one of the greatest aircraft to ever grace the skies — the De Havilland Mosquito. This ’Wooden Wonder’ was a two-engine, high-speed fighter/bomber that, as the nickname implies, was in large part made out of plywood rather than metal. ’633 Squadron’ features three flyable Mossies (as well as a few models) and it’s more than worth sitting through the film just to watch those beauties fly.

Presented in both anamorphic widescreen and full frame versions, this is the type of film that absolutely must be seen in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio to be appreciated. As is the case with most films from the 1960s, the full frame version is a real hack job pan & scan transfer and not merely an open matte abomination.

On the whole the transfer is very solid with decent color saturation, adequate black levels, and only a few physical blemishes. The image is nice and sharp although the brighter scenes do exhibit minor halo effects. Some fluctuation in brightness and color occurs during transitional scenes and a handful of frames have the loose sprocket-hole wobblies. There is also some film grain evident and a lack of fine detail but these are all issues quite common with 40-year old films. All in all, the DVD looks better than I had hoped.

Audio comes in an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix that comes across fairly well. Ron Goodwin’s rousing score is nice and clear as are the dialogue and sound effects. There isn’t much in the way of dynamic range but the track is free from any glaring distortion. Sure it’s only in mono but that is the original mix and the DVD sounds just fine.

The only extra is the film’s original theatrical trailer.

The story is a bit weak, the dialogue stilted, and most of the actors woefully miscast (George Chakiris as a Norwegian resistance leader?) but ’633 Squadron’ still remains a favorite of mine for one reason — the aircraft. There’s just something about movies that use the genuine articles rather than relying solely on models or CGI. The roar of those dual Merlin engines and graceful dance across the sky just can’t be faked.

Easily available for around $10, ’633 Squadron’ comes highly recommended for fans of war movies and aviation enthusiasts alike.