The Battle of the River Plate (film)
name = The Battle of the River Plate
(Pursuit of the Graf Spee)
image_size = 215px
caption = theatrical poster
director = Michael Powell
producer = Michael Powell
writer = Michael Powell
John Gregson Anthony Quayle Peter Finch
distributor = Rank Film Distributors Ltd.
released = 30 November fy|1956 "(UK)"
runtime = 119 minutes
country = United Kingdom
language = English
imdb_id = 0048990
"The Battle of the River Plate" is a fy|1956
war filmby the British director-writer team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, starring John Gregson, Anthony Quayleand Peter Finch. In the United Statesthe film was retitled "Pursuit of the Graf Spee".
The film portrays the
Battle of the River Plate, ["River Plate" is a mis-translation of the river's Spanish name, "Rio de la Plata". "Plata" in Spanish means "silver" and "Plato" means "plate", so the river should actually be called the Silver River.] a naval battle of 1939, between a Royal Navyforce of three cruisers (HMS "Exeter", HMS "Ajax" and HMS "Achilles" ) and the German pocket battleship "Admiral Graf Spee". Unlike many British war movies of its time, "The Battle of the River Plate" treats the Germans as honourable opponents rather than as cardboard cut-out "Huns". This was a recurrent theme in Powell and Pressburger's films, including " The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp".
In the early months of WWII, the German Navy sent out various surface raiders to attack Allied merchant shipping. The
Royal Navysent out various hunting groups to find them. The group that found "Admiral Graf Spee" was very lightly armed in comparison, but went straight to the attack.
The British were led by Commodore Harwood (
Anthony Quayle), with Captain Woodhouse (Ian Hunter) commanding the "Ajax", Captain Bell ( John Gregson) the "Exeter" and Captain Parry ( Jack Gwillim) the "Achilles". Captain Hans Langsdorff's ( Peter Finch) "Graf Spee" was much better armed than the three cruisers and inflicted a lot of damage but was fooled by the tactics of the British. The "Graf Spee" sustained damage itself and took refuge in a neutral port, but according to international law, had to leave by a specified time. Falsely believing that an overwhelming British force was lying in wait, Langsdorff took his ship out with a skeleton crew and scuttled her.
The film pays particular attention to detail, including the bells ringing before each salvo, the scorching on the gun barrels after the battle, and the accurate depiction of naval procedures. The scene where Harwood meets with his captains on board "Ajax" is pure fiction, created for the movie in order to explain the situation to the audience. The battle is seen entirely from the perspective of the British ships, plus that of prisoners (captured from nine merchantmen) held on "Graf Spee".
John Gregsonas Capt. Bell, HMS Exeter
Anthony Quayleas Cdre. Harwood, HMS Ajax
* Ian Hunter as Capt. Woodhouse, HMS Ajax
Jack Gwillimas Capt. Parry, HMNZS Achilles
Bernard Leeas Capt. Dove, MS Africa Shell
Peter Finchas Capt. Langsdorff, Admiral Graf Spee
Lionel Murtonas Mike Fowler, Montevideo
Anthony Bushellas Millington Drake, British Minister, Uruguay
* Peter Illing as Dr. Guani, Uruguayan Foreign Minister
Michael Goodliffeas Capt. McCall, Royal Navy military attaché
Patrick Macneeas Lt. Cmdr. Medley, HMS Ajax
* John Chandos as Dr. Langmann, German Minister, Uruguay
Douglas Wilmeras M. Desmoulins, French Minister, Uruguay
William Squireas Ray Martin, Montevideo
Roger Delgadoas Capt. Varela, Uruguyan Navy
Andrew Cruickshankas Capt. Stubbs, Doric Star
Christopher Leeas Manolo
* Edward Atienza as Pop
* April Olrich as Dolores
* Muriel Smith as Dolores (singing voice only)
John Schlesingerhas a small part as a prisoner onboard the "Graf Spee". [imdb name|0772259|John Schlesinger (I)] , as does Capt. Patrick Dove, who is himself portrayed in the film by Bernard Lee.
Anthony Newleyand Donald Moffathave small parts as a radio operator and a lookout. Moffat was making his film debut, as did Jack Gwillim. [imdb name|0627969|Anthony Newley, imdb name|0595567|Donald Moffat, imdb name|0007232|Jack Gwillim]
Anthony Quayleas Cdre Harwod and Jack Gwillimas Capt Parry] "The Battle of the River Plate" had its genesis in an invitation to Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburgerto attend a film festival in Argentina in fy|1954. They decided they couldn't afford to take the time from their schedules unless it was a working vacation, and used the trip to research the defeat of the " Admiral Graf Spee". They came across the "hook" for their story when one of the surviving British naval officers gave Pressburger a copy of Captain Patrick Dove's book "I Was A Prisoner on the Graf Spee", which became the basis of the necessary human story of the film.Miller, Frank [http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title.jsp?stid=87403&category=Articles Pursuit of the Graf Spee (TCM article)] ] Powell's work on this film was influenced by Noel Coward's film " In Which We Serve" (fy|1942).
Most of the action of the battle and prior to it takes place on real ships at sea. The producers had the advantage of having elements of the Mediterranean Fleet of the
Royal Navyavailable for their use and USS "Salem" to play the part of "Admiral Graf Spee" (although she had the wrong number of main turrets). This meant that they did not have to rely on extensive use of models like most Naval war films, although they did make use of a 23-foot model (with details only on the side being shot) in a six-foor-deep tank at Pinewood Studiosfor scene depicting the scuttling of "Admiral Graf Spee", which was assembled from multiple takes from different angles.
In one scene it is claimed that the "Graf Spee" is being disguised - using features such as a false funnel - as an American cruiser, a trick typical of commerce raiders. The
U.S. Navywould not allow any Nazi insignia to be displayed on the "Salem" so the wartime German flag being hoisted and flown was filmed on a British ship. This is also the explanation as to why the crew of the "Graf Spee" are seen wearing US Navy pattern helmets rather than German "Coal Scuttles" – whilst the film-makers wanted to achieve an accurate impression and use German helmets they were refused permission. This aspect is often erroneously described as a "goof" on the part of the film-makers but was in fact a circumstance forced upon them.
Filming started on
13 Decemberfy|1955, the sixteenth anniversary of the battle. The HMS Ajax and River Plate Association reportedly sent a message to the producers: "Hope your shooting will be as successful as ours." Location shooting for the arrival and departure of the "Graf Spee" took place at the port of Montevideo, using thousands of locals as extras.
Two songs written by composer
Brian Easdalewere used in the film, "Dolores' Song" and "Rio de la Plata". Both were acted by April Olrich as "Dolores", with singing voice dubbed by Muriel Smith. [IMDB [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0048990/soundtrack Soundtracks] ]
*HMS "Achilles" played by herself (INS "Delhi")
*HMS "Exeter" played by HMS "Jamaica"
*HMS "Ajax" played by HMS "Sheffield"
*"Admiral Graf Spee" played by USS "Salem"
*HMS "Cumberland" (which joined after the main battle) played by herself
*HMS "Battleaxe" and HMS "Birmingham" were used as camera ships.
*The supply ship Altmark was played by the fleet oiler Olna.
Release and reception
When "The Battle of the River Plate" was completed and screened for executives at the
Rank Organisation, it went over so well that it was decided to hold the release of the film for a year, so that it could be chosen as part of the next year's Royal Command Performance (in fy|1956), since fy|1955's film had already been selected. The film did very well at the box office, and was the most commercially successful film made by Powell and Pressburger.imdb title|0048990|The Battle of the River Plate]
Awards and honors
"The Battle of the River Plate" was nominated for three
BAFTA Awards in fy|1957, for "Best British Film", "Best British Screenplay" and "Best Film From Any Source". [IMDB [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0048990/awards Awards] ]
"The Battle of the River Plate" does not go into one aspect of the story: the death of the captain of the "Admiral Graf Spee",
Hans Langsdorff, who committed suicide in a hotel room in Buenos Airesa few days after he had the "Graf Spee" scuttled. He shot himself, dressed in full uniform and wrapped in his ship's battleflag.
* Christie, Ian. "Arrows of Desire: the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger". London:Faber & Faber, 1994. ISBN 0-571-16271-1. 163pp (illus. filmog. bibliog. index).
* Pope, Dudley. "The Battle of the River Plate". London: William Kimber, 1956. 259pp (illus).
* Powell, Michael. "A Life in Movies: An Autobiography". , 1986. ISBN 0-434-59945-X.
* Powell, Michael. "Million Dollar Movie". London: Heinemann, 1992. ISBN 0-434-59947-6.
*. Full synopsis, film stills and clips viewable from UK libraries
* [http://www.powell-pressburger.org/Reviews/56_BoRP/index.html Reviews and articles] at the [http://www.powell-pressburger.org Powell & Pressburger Pages]
* " [http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film/DVDReviews8/battleofriverplate.htm Battle of the River Plate] " at DVD Beaver
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