Blu-ray review: “Damn the Defiant” (1962)

“Damn the Defiant” (1962)

Drama

Running Time: 101 minutes

Written by: Nigel Kneale and Edmund H. North based on the novel Mutiny by Frank Tilsley

Directed by: Lewis Gilbert

Featuring: Alec Guinness, Dirk Bogarde, Anthony Quayle, Maurice Denham and Nigel Stock

Lieut. Scott-Padget: “What is your name?”

Wagstaffe: “Wagstaffe. Percival Pallister Wagstaffe.”

Lieut. Scott-Padget: “Wagstaffe? Are you by any chance related to Admiral Wagstaffe?”

Wagstaffe: “Remotely, yes. He’s a distant cousin.”

Lieut. Scott-Padget: “But he would speak for you?”

Wagstaffe: “Well, I’m quite sure that he…”

Lieut. Scott-Padget: “Admiral Wagstaffe – how well do you know him?”

Wagstaffe: “Intimately.”

Lieut. Scott-Padget: “You visit his house?”

Wagstaffe: “Oh, yes, often.”

Lieut. Scott-Padget: “You claim that, do you? Do you also claim to be a mad-man? For to have constantly visited someone who does not exist?”

Wagstaffe: “Not exist! Would I not know my own cousin?”

Lieut. Scott-Padget: “I invented him a moment ago.”

Critical Commentary

Released recently on the Imprint label on Blu-ray is the drama “Damn the Defiant” (1962) a sea based drama about war and mutiny. This film represents a way of making and casting a movie in an older style that by the late 1960s had all but disappeared because of the American New Wave.

The plot of “Damn the Defiant” is a little complex in that it almost involves a war on two fronts, it is set in1797, the humane Captain Crawford (Alec Guinness) is in command of the frigate HMS Defiant during the French Revolutionary Wars. He soon finds himself in a battle of wills with his first officer, the sadistic and supercilious first lieutenant, Mr. Scott-Padget (Dirk Bogarde). The lieutenant believes that Crawford is too soft on his crew, and also disagrees with the captain’s decision to follow his orders to sail to Corsica despite word that Napoleon’s army has overrun much of Italy. Scott-Padget has powerful family connections, which he has used in the past to “beach” two previous commanding officers with whom he disagreed. Knowing that Crawford is helpless to intervene, Scott-Padget subjects the Captain’s son, Midshipman Harvey Crawford (David Robinson), to excessive daily punishments so as to gain leverage over the captain. Meanwhile, some of the crew, led by seaman Vizard (Anthony Quayle), are preparing to petition for better conditions, in conjunction with similar efforts throughout the British fleet. They eventually pledge virtually the entire crew.

“Damn the Defiant” didn’t make much of an impression with US audiences when it was released in 1962, however it did do extremely well internationally, particularly in the United Kingdom. Written by Nigel Kneale, who most people will know from his genre defining work “Quatermass” as well ashes other horror and science fiction work and Edmund H. North who is arguably best known as the co-writer of “Patton” (1970) for which he won an Oscar. Interestingly North also had some serious bonafides in genre movies as well, one prime example is “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951). Directed by Lewis Gilbert who directed “Damn the Defiant” was about to come into his own with the now classic “Alfie” (1966) as well as being behind four James Bond movies would become a very well known, bankable and dependable director. It is odd then that with such a pedigree this movie is not more well known, especially as this was a twist on the mutiny narrative which had been explored on-screen successfully before.

Interestingly as complicated as the plot on show is there are no true villains since the common enemy is the French. A single incident reveals two characters’ true colors, but even so, they’re intertwined and don’t really reflect everyone else. Because of this, the film is more interesting because it deals with shades of gray instead of black and white, which it isn’t totally successful at, but it’s more intriguing than most. There are also aspects of the story that aren’t perfectly clear and require an additional watch to get absolutely everything, but regardless, the biggest draw are the sets, the cinematography, the battle scenes, and the performances.

Technical Commentary

Video

“Damn the Defiant” was shot by cinematographer Christopher Challis on 35 mm film with CinemaScope (anamorphic) lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The film comes to Region-Free Blu-ray from Imprint Films with a presentation that’s solid, if a bit imperfect. It is clearly an older master, but saturation is good and grain is distributed evenly enough, being heavier in some scenes more than others. Contrast is lacking at times and blacks aren’t very deep, but everything appears bright with decent clarity. Speckling is prevalent, but the image is mostly stable and detail is generally pleasant. It could look better, yet it’s in good enough shape to be enjoyed.

Audio

Audio is included in English 2.0 LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. The volume is a bit uneven, but the majority of the track is clean with good support for the score. Although this is listed on the case and menu as a dual mono track, it’s definitely stereo.

Special Features

  • 1080p High-definition presentation on Blu-Ray
  • Special Features TBC
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
  • Audio English LPCM 2.0 Mono

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