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633 Squadron is a 1964 British film that depicts the exploits of a fictional World War II British fighter-bomber squadron and stars Cliff Robertson, George Chakiris, and Maria Perschy. The plot was based on a novel of the same name by former Royal Air Force officer Frederick E. Smith, published in 1956, which itself drew on several real RAF operations. The film was directed by Walter Grauman and produced by Cecil F. Ford for the second film of Mirisch Productions UK subsidiary Mirisch Films for United Artists. 633 Squadron was the first aviation film to be shot in colour and Panavision widescreen.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Walter Grauman|
|Produced by||Cecil F. Ford|
Lewis J. Rachmil
|Written by||Frederick E. Smith (novel)|
|Music by||Ron Goodwin|
|Edited by||Bert Bates|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Box office||$1,700,000 (US/Canada) (This figure is rentals accruing to distributors not total gross.)|
After the Norwegian resistance leader Royal Norwegian Navy Lieutenant Erik Bergman travels to Great Britain to report the location of a German V-2 rocket fuel plant, the Royal Air Force's No. 633 Squadron is assigned to destroy it. The squadron is led by Wing Commander Roy Grant, an ex-Eagle Squadron pilot (an American serving in the RAF before the US entered the war).
The plant is in a seemingly impregnable location beneath an overhanging cliff at the end of a long, narrow fjord lined with numerous anti-aircraft guns. The only way to destroy the plant is by bombing the cliff until it collapses and buries the facility, a job for 633 Squadron's fast and manoeuvrable de Havilland Mosquitos. The squadron trains in Scotland, where there are narrow glens similar to the fjord. There, Grant is introduced to Bergman's sister, Hilde. They are attracted to each other, despite Grant's aversion to wartime relationships.
The Norwegian resistance is tasked with destroying the anti-aircraft defences of the facility immediately before the scheduled attack. When unexpected German reinforcements arrive, Bergman returns to Norway to try to gather more forces. However, he is captured while transporting desperately needed weapons, taken to Gestapo headquarters and tortured for information. Since Bergman knows too much, he must be silenced before he breaks. Grant and newly married Pilot Officer Bissell are sent in with a single Mosquito to bomb the Gestapo building. Though they are successful, their shot-up Mosquito fighter-bomber crashes on its return, and Bissell is wounded and becomes blind. A tearful Hilde thanks Grant for ending her brother's suffering.
Still worried, Air Vice-Marshal Davis decides to move up the attack to the next day. However, the resistance fighters are ambushed and killed, leaving the defences still intact. Although Grant is given the option of aborting, he decides to press on. The factory is destroyed at the cost of the entire squadron, though a few crews are able to ditch in the fjord. Grant crash-lands but a local man helps Grant's navigator, Flight Lieutenant Hoppy Hopkinson, pull the wounded wing commander from the burning wreckage. Back in Britain, Davis tells a fellow officer who is aghast at the losses, "You can't kill a squadron."
|Character (novel)||Role||Character (film)||Actor|
|Squadron Leader Roy Grenville DSO DFC||Wing Commander||Wing Commander Roy Grant||Cliff Robertson|
|Flight Lieutenant Hoppy Hopkinson||Grenville's Navigator||Flying Officer Hoppy Hopkinson||Angus Lennie|
|Lieutenant Finn Bergman||Norwegian resistance leader||Lieutenant Erik Bergman||George Chakiris|
|Hilde Bergman||Sister of Finn Bergman||Hilde Bergman||Maria Perschy|
|Air Commodore Davies||Air Vice-Marshal Davis||Harry Andrews|
|Wing Commander Don Barrett DFC AFC||Station Commanding Officer||Group Captain Don Barrett||Donald Houston|
|The Brigadier||Liaison with the Norwegian Resistance|
|Squadron Leader Frank Adams||Station Intelligence Officer||Squadron Leader Frank Adams||Michael Goodliffe|
|Warrant Officer Gillibrand||Pilot, B Flight, Canadian||Flight Lieutenant Gillibrand, Australian||John Meillon|
|Jimmie Willcox||Gillibrand's Navigator|
|Squadron Leader Scott||John Bonney|
|Bissell||Pilot Officer Bissell||Scott Finch (as Scot Finch)|
|Flying Officer Evans||John Church|
|Maisie||Barmaid at Black Swan Inn||Rosie||Barbara Archer|
|Flight Lieutenant Nigel||Sean Kelly|
|Flight Lieutenant Singh||Julian Sherrier|
|Flight Lieutenant Frank||Geoffrey Frederick|
|WAAF Sergeant Mary Blake / Bissell||Suzan Farmer|
|Flight Lieutenant Jones||Johnny Briggs|
|'Teddy' Young||Flight Commander, A Flight|
|Sam Milner||Flight Commander, B Flight|
|Lieutenant Maner||Peter Kriss (uncredited)|
|Jan Ericson||Norwegian resistance fighter||Ericson||Cavan Malone (uncredited)|
|Johansen||Norwegian resistance fighter||Johanson||Richard Shaw (uncredited)|
|Goth||Chris Williams (uncredited)|
|Kearns||Landlord of the Black Swan Inn|
|SS Interrogator||Anne Ridler (uncredited)|
Originally a project for director John Sturges, he initially worked on a script with Rod Serling of The Twilight Zone fame as early as 1958 and offered Jack Lord the leading role. After Sturges dropped out in favour of making The Magnificent Seven, Walter Mirisch took on the project after reading the book. Filming took place during the summer of 1963.
Authentic period aircraft were used instead of models or special effects to create many of the aerial sequences. In part, this was because 633 Squadron was the first film shot in colour in Panavision widescreen format, a choice that made the use of archival film (a common expedient and cost-saving measure in previous films) problematic. However, some aerial sequences were created using models and these are very obvious due to the unrealistic ways the models move.
The original drafts of the script were penned by The Great Escape scriptwriter James Clavell. When Robertson expressed reservations about the story, producer Walter Mirisch engaged U.S. scriptwriter Howard Koch, resident in London, to rewrite the film to placate him.
The scenes were shot in the Scottish Highlands near Glencoe, with most of the attack sequences filmed above Loch Morar and Loch Nevis. The distinctive outline of the island of Eigg can be seen behind some of the cockpit shots. While the spectacular aerial scenes used real aircraft, more dangerous sequences were created with models.
RAF Bovingdon substituted for the fictional RAF Sutton Craddock bomber airfield. The riverbank where Robertson's character romances Maria Perschy was Hurley Lock on the river Thames and was also used in a similar early scene in the Bond film From Russia with Love. Some scenes were filmed at Staverton Airport, Gloucestershire, and the nearby Churchdown Hill could be seen in some shots. The pub in which the aircrew relax was The Three Compasses in Aldenham, Watford, which still exists as a pub today.
Walter Grauman, the director, collected flying period aircraft, creating the "Mirisch Air Force" or M.A.F. as it was dubbed. Grauman's wartime experience as a North American B-25 Mitchell bomber pilot helped create an authentic aviation epic.
The film features eight De Havilland Mosquitos. As the Royal Air Force had retired the type in 1963, civilian operators mostly leased former converted bomber examples (TT Mk 35) to the RAF for target-towing. Scouring RAF airfields at Exeter, South Devon, Henlow, Shawbury, and the Central Flying School at Little Rissington provided not only ten authentic aircraft, but also vehicles and equipment from the war.
Eight Mosquitos were primarily used, five airworthy and others that could be taxied on runways or used as set dressing. The airworthy TT 35 Mosquitos were converted to resemble a fighter-bomber variant (FB Mk VI). The TT 35 models had their clear nosecones and side windows painted over and dummy machine gun barrels fitted. One airworthy Mosquito was a T3 with a solid nose, which only required the fitting of dummy gun barrels. It lacked the two-stage Merlin engines, V-shaped windscreen and bulged bomb bay of the TT 35s. At least one surplus Mosquito was destroyed in a simulated crash scene.
The Mosquitos used in the film were:
- RS709 – flown in the film (now on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio)
- RS712 – flown (now owned by Kermit Weeks, on display at the EAA AirVenture Museum, Oshkosh, Wisconsin)
- RS715 – cockpit section only
- RS718 – written off in simulated crash sequence.
- TA639 – flown (now on show at the RAF Museum Cosford, Shropshire)
- TA719 – flown (now on show at the Imperial War Museum Duxford)
- TJ118 – cockpit section only
- TV959 – at RAF Bovingdon Airfield, but not flown (now at the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum, Everett, Washington)
- TW117 – flown (now on show at National Museum of Aviation, Bodo, Norway)
No German aircraft of the right type were available; consequently Nord Pingouin aircraft (French licence-built variants of the Messerschmitt Bf 108 Taifun) were used to represent the Messerschmitt Bf 109.
The primary camera aircraft, a North American B-25 Mitchell set up as a camera ship by Greg Board (of The War Lover fame) and flown by him, also appears in the film, dropping Bergman back into Norway. The director and former Mitchell bomber pilot Walter Grauman was delighted to fly the B-25 himself, acting as co-pilot in the right-hand seat.
Although the film made extensive use of real flying aircraft, special effects were needed to create the final attack scenes. Oscar winning special effects technician Tom Howard used miniatures, front and rear projection and matte paintings to make the sequences work.
Cliff Robertson enjoyed working on the film and stated that the atmosphere on set was very good, but was unhappy with the ambiguous ending. He noted that the movie was shot on a very tight schedule and budget. He regretted not being allowed to pilot a Mosquito, which he was forbidden to do for insurance reasons.
Differences from the bookEdit
The film and the novel on which it was based follow the same basic plot, but many details were changed for the film. Some scenes were re-arranged in sequence and the story was heavily condensed with most of the characters' backgrounds not mentioned. The first half of the book sees the squadron equipped with Douglas Boston light bombers before converting to the Mosquito. An early coastal shipping strike sequence was omitted for the film, as was an action packed reconnaissance mission. The film adapts only the second half of the novel.
In the novel, Roy Grenville was British and was renamed Grant in the script. Robertson, a U.S. actor, was cast because he was popular internationally at the time and because an American central character improved the production's access to finance and worldwide audiences. Additionally, Robertson was an experienced pilot, owned a Supermarine Spitfire, and was personally interested in making the film as an accurate portrayal of wartime flying. Although he was refused permission to fly for the purposes of the film, his scenes stand out as a realistic depiction of operational flying.
At the end of the film, it is unclear whether Grant survives the mission or not. However, in the book he does survive, although he is taken captive as a prisoner of war. In the novel, much more time was devoted to the personal lives of the squadron's men than we see in the finished film.
The Royal Air Force (RAF) did not form a unit called "633 Squadron" during the Second World War. However, there was a 613 Squadron, equipped with Mosquitos, and credited with an attack on a Dutch Central Population Registry building on 11 April 1944, where the Germans held their Dutch Gestapo records.
A multinational Allied war effort is depicted: in addition to an American central character, the film features members of the Norwegian resistance, airmen from India, New Zealand, and Australia. This reflects three historical facts: first, airmen of many nationalities joined the RAF proper; second, under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, airmen from Commonwealth air forces were frequently assigned to RAF units and; third, many squadrons belonging to Commonwealth air forces, or European governments-in-exile were under the operational control of the RAF during the war.
The film draws from many of the real operations of 617 Squadron, in particular their attack on the German battleship Tirpitz in a Norwegian fjord, although that squadron used four-engined Avro Lancaster heavy bombers to carry the Barnes Wallis designed, 5.35-ton Tallboy earthquake bombs, not the twin-engined de Havilland Mosquitos depicted. However, the Mosquito was used by 618 Squadron in connection with another of Barnes Wallis' "bouncing bombs", called Highball. Though Highball was never used operationally, 618 Squadron was used as a special operations unit and is, probably, the closest match to "633".
The original plot, however, is similar to a real RAF mission. The novel plot did not mention the nature of the target, only that it was a highly rated objective in Norway that could not be reached by the RAF until the Mosquito became operational. There was such a target, the molybdenum mine in Knaben, southern Norway. Typical of the mineral wealth that Hitler stated was worth the sacrifice of a significant portion of the Kriegsmarine, Knaben could produce four-fifths of Germany's requirements for molybdenum, an important element in the production of armour plate. The mine at Knaben was too small to hit in a night raid, and sending heavy, long-range bombers in daylight would have met with disaster. Light bombers such as the Blenheim were ideal for the job, but did not have the necessary range. However, Knaben was within the range of the Mosquito, and 139 Squadron was given the task on 3 March 1943. Nine Mosquitoes were dispatched. All placed their bombs on target, though one failed to return. The target was out of action for some time and was later visited by the United States Army Air Forces's Eighth Air Force.
The "jeep" partly hidden behind a bush in one of the Scottish Highlands training sequences is a post-war Land Rover, and the "German halftrack" is an Alvis Saracen. Land Rovers are seen in backgrounds of other scenes, such as when Grant is being driven from the airfield to be given the squadron's new assignment.
633 Squadron had its world premiere on 4 June 1964 at the Leicester Square Theatre in the West End of London. While critics derided the wooden acting and hackneyed plot, especially the miscast Mirisch Pictures contract star George Chakiris, the aerial scenes were considered spectacular and with Ron Goodwin's music remained the main attraction. Walter Mirisch recalled that the film earned nearly its entire cost of US$1.3 million out of Eady Levy receipts in the UK making the film practically cost free when Mirisch released the film throughout the world. The great success of the film worldwide led to Mirisch making a series of UK based Oakmont Productions World War II productions shot mostly in the UK
The film was re-released several times throughout the 1960s, sometimes on a double bill with other Mirisch features such as The Great Escape.
The extensive footage of the Mosquito was also of considerable interest to aviation enthusiasts. 633 Squadron appears on the list of "The 100 Greatest War Films" voted by the UK public and is featured in the 2005 documentary of the same name.
The film's climax shows the squadron flying through a deep fjord while being fired on by anti-aircraft guns. George Lucas stated that this sequence inspired the "trench run" sequence in Star Wars. Lucas intercut sequences into Star Wars during post production as a guide.
633 Squadron is well known in the UK for its regular appearances on television, and became almost a part of the Christmas schedule. The film had its network premiere on British television on 17 November 1970 on BBC1. It enjoyed the twelfth largest TV audience of the year. Although erroneously considered a sequel, the film Mosquito Squadron is similar to 633 Squadron and influenced by it, even using footage from the original.
Frederick Smith wrote several sequel novels about 633 Squadron's further exploits, but these were never adapted for the screen.
The musical score of 633 Squadron was written by the British composer Ron Goodwin and became very popular and well known to the public after the film's initial release. The theme was adapted for the computer game 1942. It was used for TV advertisements for an insurance company during the early 2000s.
- Mirisch 2008, p. 204.
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