Predominantly set in a British RAF base of operations during World War II that sees the main characters continually fly sorties over German soil, and leaves us wondering who will make it back and also, due to the number of unlikely things going wrong together with certain lighting effects, who may be masquerading as someone they’re not. I decided to watch this when I realised the lead is played by Dirk Bogard and it occurred to me that I was not entirely certain I could immediately put his name to a face (he is pictured above, along with Dinah Sheridan – who actually just passed away only last year). The comedic ‘Doctor’ series immediately sprung to mind once it started of course (of which he starred in four of the seven films, with Leslie Phillips eventually replacing him) and he carries a definite kind of instant onscreen sympathy and likeability, certainly for his character here who has just achieved his 87th sortie – but will he make it to his final 90th?
The film is successful in putting us inside events on the ground, but less so when it introduces the female character, appropriately called Mrs Canyons, that two of the males will fight over, namely Bogarde’s Tim Mason and William Sylvester’s cocksure ‘Mac’ Baker (he comes across very much like an American 1950’s Clive Owen), and some of the tension in the aerial missions feels somewhat neutered with the way it’s been filmed. The title comes from a future appointment in the capital that some of the pilots hope to be alive to make it to – they do actually explain what the meeting is for, but sometimes I find when everyone is speaking with classic celluloid RAF accents they end up sounding a little like competing chipmunks, and The Red Dragon couldn’t quite make out the details… It doesn’t matter anyway as they all die.
That previous statement is inaccurate. A decent war drama that unfortunately had a few drawbacks preventing it from ever really entering into the hallowed halls of classic British war films, but definitely worth a look in for fans of the genre. Raiders in the Sky is the U.S. version of the title, and interestingly the character of Mason seems to have been based on the ‘Dambusters’ leader Guy Gibson whom co-screenwriter John Wooldridge had served under in the No. 106 Squadron RAF. Wooldridge himself not only successfully completed over ninety sorties, but also set a new record time for crossing the Atlantic, from Labrador to London, of circa 5hrs 46 mins in 1944. He also conducted and scored the music for this film as part of a successful career as a film composer, before tragically being killed in a car accident in 1958 when he was only thirty nine.