Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Weekend at Dunkirk (1964)

In this tough but thrilling 1964 World War II drama by Henri Verneuil, Jean-Paul Belmondo plays one of many young soldiers locked in retreat to the coastal town of Dunkirk. He wanders around the town and beach waiting for the arrival of a boat that will cross the Channel to England, an opportunity he's willing to take as it proves to be the only certain way of getting out of Dunkirk despite the high probability of the boat being attacked by German fighter planes.

Receiving top-billing with Belmondo but appearing in little more than thirty minutes of this epic film, Catherine Spaak plays a teenager whose family house remains relatively untouched in the midst of the war zone, stubbornly refusing to abandon the home and clinging to what little is left of the family she lost. Belmondo meets her briefly on two occasions in the first hour, then in the final act he tries to convince her to leave the home and Dunkirk with him. This leads to an intense final scene Spaak figures highly in.

A 1964 French/Italian co-production, "Weekend at Dunkirk" was released in America two years later by 20th Century Fox, billing it as another war epic in the tradition of "The Longest Day." The film, a modest hit in France, quickly disappeared into obscurity after this brief run in America, never receiving an English-friendly VHS or DVD release and at this late date is barely regarded as a footnote in Jean-Paul Belmondo's career. A shame, as it's one of the better films dealing with this painful and highly dramatic chapter of World War II.

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