Sunday, November 30, 2014


I watched GUNS AT BATASI (1964) for the first time the other day and enjoyed it. Although the DVD copy I have is from the 20th Century Fox "War Movies" collection, it's hard to classify this film as an actual "war" movie. It does involve military forces and armed conflict but it's not set during any actual historical "war".

The story takes place in an unnamed African country during the then present day (1964). The country has recently been granted its' independence from Great Britain. There's a provisional government in place and British troops are still in country, training the natives to serve in what will eventually become their own national military.

But the situation is fraught with tension. A revolutionary group stages a coup against the brand new government. There are supporters of this group within the military and they soon seize control of the military base at Batasi. They order the British soldiers there to surrender their weapons and stand down. And that's when things take a turn for the worse.

A British Sergeant Major (superbly played by Richard Attenborough) refuses to back down. He's been posted to British colonies and military bases around the globe over the course of his military career but he's never been in a combat situation. He sees the current situation as a chance to uphold his military training and loyalty to the crown and, just possibly, to cloak himself in the glory of battle.

Attenborough and his men (a small handful of other officers) use their officer's club as a fortress against the rebels who eventually issue an ultimatum: surrender their weapons or be killed. To show that they mean business, the rebels bring in two giant cannons and point them at the building. Against a ticking clock, Attenborough and one of his men sneak out and blow up the guns only to find out that everything has been resolved between the new, revolutionary government and the British foreign office. Peace is restored but Attenborough is transferred back to England due to his insubordination.

GUNS AT BATASI is an intelligent, well written (Leo Marks, Marshall Pugh and C.M. Pennington-Richards adapted the novel Siege of Battersea by Robert Holles) drama. Director John Guillermin keeps things moving and slowly ratchets up the tension between the British officers and the rebel soldiers. He gets good performances out of a solid cast which includes Jack Hawkins, Flora Robson and Mia Farrow. Although set in Africa, GUNS AT BATASI was filmed entirely in England. A great deal of the "action" takes place indoors with scenes in the embattled officers' club having an air of claustrophobic unease and dread. A minor film but a good one. Thumbs up.

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