633 Squadron (1964)
The Walter Mirisch Company brings to the big screen this WW2 adventure that is enjoyable though presented on a much smaller scale than some of Walter’s other 1960’s productions including The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. The principle difference is more than obvious. It’s the budget. This film stars the thoroughly capable Cliff Robertson but he alone carries the film whereas the two previously mentioned films had all star casts and a strong director in John Sturges. On that thought, you’ll be quick to notice character actor Angus Lennie brought over from The Great Escape if you’re a fan of that one. So, with only Cliff on board and George Chakiris in support, this turns into a minor effort though not without action and thrills of it’s own for the B circuit. Looks as if The Mirisch company released this on a double bill with the far more popular film as well.
It’s Norway in 1944 during Nazi occupation. Chakiris is a member of the underground resistance who will be sent off to an allied airforce base where he’ll meet the top pilot and stern task master Robertson under company commander, Harry Andrews. Always a welcome presence in any moving picture, Andrews seemed best suited to authoritative roles thanks to both his commanding presence and voice. Chakiris’ knowledge of a German factory developing rocket fuel is much needed so he’s to partake in a suicidal air raid mission assigned to Robertson and his group of flyers. Following the formula of such B fare, a good majority of the film’s 95 minute running time will see the boys go thru special bomber training and partake in much drink at the off base pubs.
Did I mention there’s a blond who catches the eye of the old war horse Robertson? It’s Austrian beauty Maria Perschy who is not only receptive to Robertson’s advances but she’s also the sister of Ohio’s own Chakiris which ties the bonds between all three even tighter as the war rages on all about them.
Raise your hand if you think the set date for the air raid is going to be moved up. Anyone? Yes I saw that cliche coming and wasn’t surprised when Andrews makes the announcement. “Your orders are to obliterate the target at whatever the cost.” This decision is fueled by the capture of someone who knows of the raid and adds a touch of sadness to this war time tale in the decision that must be made to preserve the mission and fight the good fight.
Couldn’t help but think of a Leonard Nimoy line from Star Trek II having watched it just the night before this. ‘The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” It fits the decision future Oscar winner Robertson has to make here.
The footage captured in the skies of the fighter planes both in training and on the actual mission is a mishmash of both real and stale F/X of the model variety. All in all it comes off ok though the mark they intend to destroy is easily dismissed as a mock up stage bound model. I half expected Godzilla to rear his gigantic frame into camera range when the model planes made their run. Mixed into the film are plenty of ground skirmishes bringing war time action to the proceedings for the paying crowd.
Cliff Robertson had a knack for war time movies and seemed well cast in this, the Naked and The Dead, Midway and Too Late the Hero among others during his lengthy career. The spotlight on Chakiris had pretty much peaked in 1961 with West Side Story though that film served him well for the next few years landing supporting roles opposite the likes of Cliff, Heston and Brynner in the sixties before fading into TV by the end of the decade.
633 Squadron is a passable entry and readily available on DVD from MGM should you be looking to catch up to the war time exploits of actor Cliff Robertson before he became known to a generation of children as Uncle Ben in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films.