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True story of the Allied evacuation of occupied France at the start of World War II.
In the spring of 1940 in Belgium, British troops, including Corp. "Tubby" Binns, watch newsreels reaffirming the strong bond between the British and French nations. Afterward, Binns wonders what the atmosphere is like back home and his squad-mate Mike observes that English civilians likely do not realize there is a war on. In London, a representative at the Ministry of Information releases a statement on the strength of British and French unity to reporters and refuses to answer questions by journalist Charles Foreman about the rumor of German troops massing on the Belgian and Dutch borders. Charles later meets his wife Diana at a local pub and angrily decries the government's silence. When mild-mannered engineer John Holden stops in at the pub and laments that they have run out of Scotch, Charles criticizes him for being spoiled because his company has a large government contract. After John lightly dismisses the war as "phony," a wounded Navy officer just released from the hospital angrily berates him. On the day that Germany invades Holland and Belgium, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain resigns and is replaced by Winston Churchill. Binns, Mike, Pvt. Dave Bellman, Pvt. Barlow, Pvt. Fraser and numerous units of the British Expeditionary Force are forced to withdraw from Belgium. On a mission under Lt. Lumpkin, Binns and his men blow up a bridge to slow down the enemy approach, but are left behind by the hasty withdrawal of their unit. Ordered by a courier to withdraw toward the coast, the soldiers are then strafed by German dive bombers and Lumpkin is killed, leaving Binns in command. Back in London, Charles meets with the French press liaison Jouvet at the embassy and is stunned when Jouvet reveals the Germans have broken through the French Maginot Line and there are no reserves to bolster the weakened French forces. Mingling with thousands of refugees on French roads, Binns and his men attempt to learn about current conditions, but are disparaged by the angry populace. After Binns orders the men off the road to move faster, they watch in horror as the civilians are strafed by German Stukas. That afternoon, Binns and his squad arrive at a small British military post where they are fed and given supplies before a bombardment begins. Fraser is killed and the post's sergeant major orders Binns to leave, despite Binns's offer of support. Soon after departing, Binns and the others witness the post's annihilation by another bombardment. At BEF headquarters, commander-in-chief Gen. Gort is dismayed by the disarray of the retreat. When Gort receives information that the Belgian line is crumbling he realizes that in order to save the British Army, they must be pulled out toward the sea, the only avenue of escape. In Dover, Vice Admiral Ramsey hears the distant shelling at Calais and, reviewing suggested plans for the BEF evacuation, decides that Dunkirk is the only possible harbor. At nightfall Binns and the squad take refuge in a farmhouse only to be driven out early the next morning by German troops. Dave is seriously wounded and Mike protests bitterly when Binns insists that they must leave the injured man behind. In England, a general call has been broadcast for all boats over thirty feet to be registered with the Navy, but the boat owners are given no further explanation. Gathering at the harbor with other boat owners, Charles runs into John, who is distressed that his vessel has been commandeered when he purposely lied about its length to avoid registration. Disturbed by the men's angry reaction to his admission, John returns home to his wife Grace, who is alarmed at having been issued a gas mask for their baby. When Grace pleads with John to promise that he will never leave them, John abruptly refuses and telephones the naval office to inquire whether he may pilot his boat, Heron , to Sheerness. The next morning while preparing his boat, Charles witnesses several hundred weary and wounded British troops coming ashore and understands that the boats are to be used to evacuate the Army from France. Taken aback, Charles asks the Navy representative if he might pilot his craft to France, but is initially refused. When Charles and others insist they know their vessels best, permission is granted. Charles is gratified to see that John has joined the crowd, taking along teenager Frankie as first mate. In a countryside barn, Binns attempts to rouse the men long before dawn to continue their retreat. When the men respond with indifference, Binns considers continuing alone until Mike reminds him of his responsibilities. Binns succeeds in stirring the men into action, but they are immediately pursued through the forest by German troops. When Mike collapses in exhaustion, Binns and another soldier return for him and the squad is rescued by a lone British driver who offers the squad a lift in his lorry. After driving all day toward the coast, Binns, Mike and the driver are startled to come across countless abandoned and destroyed BEF vehicles. Halted at the perimeter by British rearguard, they are ordered to continue to the coast on foot. Upon arriving at the water's edge, Binns and his men join thousands of soldiers waiting in lines snaking all along the beach. Several dozen troops wade into the sea toward various sized vessels as they are strafed by the Germans from the sky. As night falls and the Heron nears the French coast, John and Frankie are horrified to see Dunkirk in flames. Charles and his mate Joe watch as a large ship takes a direct bomb hit and sinks, leaving many men flailing in the sea. Amidst the confusion, Binns keeps his men together as they near the lengthy mole packed with troops waiting to load onto ships. When a section of the mole is bombed, repairs are quickly rigged. Binns and his men finally board a large ship, but it is bombed and sinks before it can pull away. Several survivors are picked up by Charles and Joe. At Dover, Ramsey insists that destroyers are necessary for any hope of success in the evacuation of more than 170,000 soldiers still waiting at Dunkirk. The next morning, Charles' boat is hit and he is rescued by the struggling Heron . During another bombing later in the day, Barlow is wounded and Binns takes him to a nearby hastily set-up infirmary. When the Heron drifts in to shore, Mike offers to help John repair the engine and Charles and Frankie walk along the beach. That night Binns asks Charles if the English people hold the Army responsible for the ignominious retreat, but Charles reassures him that the Army is not to blame. The next morning Charles is amazed when several soldiers stand in line for Sunday prayers and Frankie kneels with the soldiers. A Stuka attack breaks up the formations and, to Frankie's horror, Charles is killed. John and Mike repair the Heron and, although stunned by Charles' death, John orders twelve soldiers to be rounded up as he intends to return to Dover on his own. Binns and his remaining squad members board the Heron but only a few miles out in the channel, the engine dies. The boat begins drifting back towards France before a naval vessel comes to the rescue. Binns, Mike, John and Frankie gratefully return to England late that day. Several days later, Binns and Mike are back drilling in preparation for the defense of England.
Cast & Crew
|MPAA Ratings:||Premiere Info:||London premiere: 25 Mar 1958; New York opening: 14 Sep 1958|
|Release Date:||1958||Production Date:||
A Michael Balcon Production
EB; AFI; Private
|Color/B&W:||Black and White||Distributions Co:||Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.|
|Sound:||Mono (Westrex Recording System)||Production Co:||Ealing Films, Ltd.|
|Duration(mins):||115 or 135||Country:||Great Britain and United States|
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uk r2 dvd available
Alex Amuro 2007-07-09
That`s the good news but bad news is it`s been released pan-scanned 1.33:1.It was shown on uk tv a few months ago in a nice widescreen print so no excuse...