Release Date(s)1962 (July 8, 2022)
Studio(s)Columbia Pictures (Imprint Films/Via Vision Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B-
[Editor’s Note: This is a Region-Free Blu-ray release.]
Damn the Defiant! (or H.M.S. Defiant as it was known in its home country) didn’t make much of an impression with US audiences when it was ported over and released in 1962. Penned by Nigel Kneale (the Quatermass series) from Frank Tinsley’s novel Mutiny and directed by Lewis Gilbert (Alfie, You Only Live Twice), it was more successful abroad, particularly in the United Kingdom where it was one of the most popular films of that year.
Royal Navy Captain Crawford (Alec Guinness) leaves his home and takes command of the titular war ship during war time. While at sea, his first lieutenant, Mr. Scott-Padget (Dirk Bogarde), is proven to be savagely tough on the crew, which Crawford disagrees with, causing a rivalry between them. Under the surface, the crew has been planning a coordinated mutiny to demand better treatment. During all of this friction, they happen upon a French frigate, and after taking the captain aboard, they learn from him that the French are sailing to Britain with the intention of invading it. Whether Crawford and Scott-Padget’s power struggle and the crew’s potential uprising will lead to their downfalls will depend upon their willingness to put it all aside for the good of their country.
While many might consider Damn the Defiant! (an exploitative title more than a descriptive one) to be a traditional mutiny film or a swashbuckler of sorts, especially from an era that produced similar films like Mutiny on the Bounty and Billy Budd (released the same year), it’s a little more complex than that. Even though there are aspects of the story that seem like they’re taken from reality, this is totally a work of fiction. There was definitely more than one Royal Navy ship christened H.M.S Defiance, and there were at least two major mutinies in the late 1700s, but the events of the film merely reflect these things rather than catalog them. There’s also purportedly many differences between the original story and the film, though the basic structure is still intact.
Like many complicated stories of this nature, there are no villains in Damn the Defiant! 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.
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. The opening and closing titles are a little rough with crush, fading, scratches, speckling, and chunky grain (appearing to be sourced from a print), but things improve dramatically afterwards. It’s clearly an older master (likely taken from an interpositive), 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 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. Most of the time there isn’t much in terms of dynamics, though occasionally there are carefully placed sound effects, particularly when the battle scenes commence.
Damn the Defiant! on Blu-ray sits in a clear amaray case with a double-sided insert featuring artwork from the film’s Spanish poster by Jano on one side and a still from the film on the other. Everything is housed in a slipcase featuring artwork from the film’s Belgian poster. The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary with Barry Forshaw and Kim Newman
- Cast Adrift (HD – 28:20)
- Defiant Crew (HD – 47:30)
- Sheldon Hall on Damn the Defiant! (HD – 16:57)
- Theatrical Trailer (Upscaled SD – 3:12)
Authors and film historians Barry Forshaw and Kim Newman provide another valuable audio commentary, discussing the film in depth, with particular regards to the original novel and other naval-based films that were being released at the time. They also talk about the cast and crew, particularly Lewis Gilbert, Alec Guinness, and Dirk Bogarde, as well as Nigel Kneale. In Cast Adrift, actors Roger Mutton, Brian Phelan, and Peter Gill recall their careers and discuss their experiences making the film. In Defiant Crew, production manager Richard Goodwin, assistant editors John Crome, Norman Wanstall, propman John Chisolm, and special effects technician Martin Gutteridge all talk about working with the cast and crew and reflect on the film. Sheldon Hall discusses the film’s literary source, its title changes, other similar films of the era, the actors and filmmakers, the film’s thematics, the filming locations, the special effects, and the success of the film. It’s worth noting that the original Sony DVD release contained a brief still gallery, which hasn’t carried over here.
Fans of old-fashioned war-at-sea type films will appreciate Damn the Defiaint! the most, and others will be pleased to see a new Blu-ray of a British classic that, as of this writing, hasn’t had a Blu-ray release in the US just yet. With a decent picture and quality extras, it’s worth a look.
- Tim Salmons