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DAMN THE DEFIANT! (aka: H.M.S. DEFIANT)(director: Lewis Gilbert ; screenwriters: Nigel Kneale/Edmund H. North/based on the novel Mutiny by Frank Tilsley; cinematographer: Christopher Challis; editor: Peter Hunt; music: Clifton Parker; cast: Alec Guinness (Capt. Crawford), Dirk Bogarde (Lt. Scott-Padget), Anthony Quayle (Vizard), Maurice Denham (Mr. Goss), Nigel Stock (Kilpatrick), Peter Gill (Lt. D’Arblay), Victor Maddern (Bosun Dawlish), David Robinson (Midshipman Harvey Crawford), Tom Bell (Evans), Walter Fitzgerald (Admiral Jackson), Murray Melvin (Wagstaffe); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: John Brabourne; Columbia; 1962-UK)
“Alec Guinness gives a dignified performance as the humanitarian captain.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A stalwart fiction sea faring adventure tale from the late 18th-century about the brutality in the English navy that is reminiscent of what happened aboard the Bounty. It’s set in 1797 during the Napoleonic war, and recreates a time of press gangs, irregular and poor pay, floggings, unpopular bully officers and maggots in the food for the British crews. It’s based on the novel Mutiny by Frank Tilsley and is written by Nigel Kneale and Edmund H. North. It’s sharply directed by Lewis Gilbert (“Alfie”/”Sink the Bismarck!”/”You Only Live Twice”), with a good eye for period detail. The photography by Christopher Challis is stunning; Alec Guinness gives a dignified performance as the humanitarian captain, while Dirk Bogarde makes for a menacing heavy as he plays his sadistic first lieutenant.

The H. M. S. Defiant, commanded by Captain Crawford (Alec Guinness), sets sail from Spithead, England in 1797 with orders from Admiral Jackson to go to Corsica to support a convoy. Captain Crawford brings his 12-year-old son Harvey (David Robinson) aboard as a midshipman to train as a future officer. Problems arise when the second in command, Lieutenant Scott-Padget (Dirk Bogarde), tries to countermand his superior’s orders, orders unjust and cruel punishment on the men (especially on the captain’s son) and flaunts his connections back home with the admiralty.

En route to Corsica, the Defiant captures a French frigate that fired upon it, but 12 men die and Captain Crawford has lost an arm in the battle. A French officer taken prisoner has on him plans for a French attack on the British fleet, and the captain wishes to return him to England to warn of the upcoming invasion. But these plans are upset when the men mutiny, led by the level-headed Vizard (Anthony Quayle). The patriotic Vizard agrees to return to England after the captain promises to speak out in behalf of the mutineer men. When they reach England, they learn the entire fleet orchestrated a mutiny and the king agreed to all their terms. But Evans (Tom Bell), a hard-headed sailor, unjustly punished with a flogging by Scott-Padget, knifes him to death. The men are forced to be mutineers again and head for the open sea, but change their mind when they come to the aid of British ships being attacked by the French and after repelling the attack are restored in the British navy.

The crew’s rebellion comes down to taking action against the evil Scott-Padget and the only rotten member of the crew seems to be Evans, who one member of the mutiny says is just as bad as Scott-Padget. When Evans is choked to death and thrown overboard after murdering Scott-Padget, the mutineers come together to fight for their England against France. This well-acted rousing film is only let down by its simplistic take on the mutiny.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”