Dunkirk (1958)

Genres - War  |   Sub-Genres - War Drama  |   Run Time - 130 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Mike Cummings

In the 1940s, British and American moviegoers received a steady diet of war films glorifying the heroism of the Allies as they clawed their way to victory against the Axis powers. Many of these films served a patriotic purpose if not an artistic one: to spread spirit-lifting propaganda. But in the 1950s, British and American movie directors began making films focusing on Allied defeats as well as victories -- and all of the suffering and recrimination that accompanied such defeats. Leslie Norman's 1958 film Dunkirk was one such film. It chronicles the aftermath of the humiliating rout of the British and other Allied troops in northern France in May and June of 1940. Norman's film not only captures the enormity of the defeat but also the logistical nightmare of rescuing the defeated soldiers. Behind them is smoke and death and ruin -- and the Germany army, in front of them water, bobbing sea vessels, and an uncertain future. The success of this film lies in its panorama; it arrests a moment in time on a grand scale. Nevertheless, faces in the crowd --including Richard Attenborough (John Holden), John Mills (Corporal Burns), and Cyril Raymond (General Viscount) -- come to the fore to tell bits and pieces of the story of Dunkirk, or to scold, lament, cajole or inspire. War is hell, and Dunkirk conveys this message effectively.