Tuesday, September 1, 2009


“633 Squadron” producer Lewis J. Rachmil let “Girl Happy” director Boris Sagal recycle exciting aerial combat footage from “633 Squadron” for his generic World War II thriller “Mosquito Squadron,” (** out of ****) starring David McCallum and Charles Gray. This lackluster epic combines elements of 1964’s “633 Squadron,” principally the plywood built De Havilland Mosquito fighter-bombers, with 1954’s “The Dam Busters,” with a bouncing bomb designed to destroy a top secret German weapons facility. The Germans are developing the V-3 rocket, and British Intelligence has located the site in the French countryside at the Chateau de Charlon. Air Commodore Hufford (Charles Gray of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”) assigns Squadron Leader Quint Munro (David McCallum of “The Great Escape”) to bomb it with special ordinance. This low-budget melodrama set in England and France has very little to recommend it. Again, 90 percent of the shots of Mosquitoes winging their way over enemy country were appropriated from Walter E. Grauman’s classic “633 Squadron.” The prefabricated screenplay by Donald S. Sanford and Joyce Perry antes up one surprise, but everything else is formula served up without verve by Sagal.

Our British heroes are streaking toward their target, a V-2 rocket launching pad, on the French coast as “Mosquito Squadron” opens, using footage from Michael Anderson’s “Operation: Crossbow.” Incidentally, Anderson directed “The Dam Busters,” too. The British manage to destroy the missile launching ramp, but a flight of Messerschmidts jump them and blow Squadron Leader David 'Scotty' Scott (David Buck of “The Mummy’s Shroud”) out of the air. Quint Munro spots no parachute at the crash site and assumes ‘Scotty’ is kaput. Scotty’s death elevates Quint to Squadron Leader. Worse, our protagonist has lost a friend who was as close to him as a brother. Scotty and Quint grew up together because Quint’s parents died and Scotty’s parents raised him. Quint even handed off one of his former girlfriends, Beth (Suzanne Neve of “Bunny Lake Is Missing”), who wound up marrying Scotty. After a reasonable period of mourning, Beth and Quint take long bicycle rides in the country.

Air Commodore Hufford sends Quint off on a reconnaissance mission to photograph the Chateau de Charlon where the British insist that the Germans are working industriously to make a V-3. V-2 rockets are falling on London and wrecking havoc. Hufford shows Quint some film footage of a bomb that bounces on any terrain, no mean feat. In real life, the bomb was the genuine article and was called a ‘Highball’ and had been designed to use on battlewagons like the Tirpitz. Meanwhile, now that the Germans realize the British are interested in their installation at the Chateau, they drop a canister of film which shows that they have gathered British POWs as hostages against any bombing runs. The revelation that Scotty is among those prisoners comes as a quite a shock to Quint. Security prevents him from telling Beth about it. Initially, nobody wants to give the Germans a propaganda coup by killing their own men. Quint devises a way to kill two birds with one stone. Not only will they destroy the laboratory tucked into an underground facility with the ‘Highball’ bomb, but also they will breach the wall at the Chateau so the French Resistance can storm the Chateau. The closest thing to a villain in “Mosquito Squadron” is a German Lieutenant named Schack (Vladek Sheybal of “From Russia with Love”) who suspects that the Allies prisoners are plotting something when they all turn out for mass on a Sunday, especially when some of them aren’t Catholic. The suspicious Sheybal shows his villainy when shoots a Catholic priest with a machine gun. The POWs overpower their guards and fortify themselves in the chapel as the Mosquitoes appear to bomb the premises.

Quint and his Mosquito Squadron destroy the underground facility, but our hero has to crash his plane. Once on the ground, Quint runs into Scotty, but Scotty cannot remember his own identity, and he sacrifices his life heroically by blowing up a German tank with a bazooka after several others have tried and failed. A wounded Quint makes it back to England and reunites with Beth. As it turns out, Beth never learned that her late husband survived the crash only to die in France as a casualty of a combined British & French Resistance operation. There is a subplot about Beth’s younger brother who has to show the film that the Germans have dropped for the benefit of our heroes. When he threatens to spill the beans about Scotty, the authorities lock him up for the duration.

“Mosquito Squadron” qualifies as a hack attempt to cash in on “633 Squadron,” “Operation Cross-Bow,” and “The Dam Busters.” Boris Sagal made a couple of memorable movies and television shows, but “Mosquito Squadron” isn’t among them. Worse, “Mosquito Squadron” was cranked out by Oakmont Productions which ground out several cheapjack World War II thrillers, including another Sagal saga “The One-Thousand Plane Raid”, “The Last Escape,” “Hell Boats,” and “Submarine X-1.” These movies ranked as half-baked epics with neither a shred of atmosphere nor credibility. Sagal has to stage several shots on a studio set, principally the drive in the country that Quint and Beth take in his red roadster to see Scotty’s bereaved parents has our stars seated in an automobile mock-up with scenery back projected behind them. Sagal generates neither suspense nor sense of urgency. The cast walk through their roles like automatons delivering uninspired dialogue written by Sanford who went on to write the equally lackluster “Midway” and Joyce Perry who wrote teleplays for juvenile television shows like “Land of the Lost.” McCallum gets the best line in the movie when Hufford asks him about the odds of the mission succeeding: “About the same as spitting in an Air Commodore's eye from an express train, sir.” In “Mosquito Squadron,” Suzanne Neve and McCallum never generate any chemistry so it is difficult to believe that they love each other. Mind you, it is always a pleasure to watch David McCallum act, but “Mosquito Squadron” gives him very little to do.

No comments: