British director Michael Anderson died on ANZAC Day. Anderson had an inconsistent career but one not without its high points. In 1956, he directed over half the stars in Hollywood in possibly the least deserving Best Picture winner ever: Around the World in Eighty Days, a breezy adaptation of the Jules Verne novel. Two decades later, he helmed Logan’s Run (1976), a minor classic of 1970s science fiction. Anderson also gave us Orca (1977), the tale of a hungry killer whale, a very poor man’s Jaws (1975) in which a pre-sex symbol Bo Derek has her shapely leg bitten off by the title character.
The director’s real claim to fame is The Dam Busters (1955), one of the great British WWII films, a still potent example of cinematic mythmaking. If you look at the facts of the raid on the Ruhr Valley dams the operation was a costly failure, having a negligible effect on the Nazi war machine and resulting in the deaths of over 700 Allied prisoners of war. No matter, the myth says it was a triumph and in wartime—and beyond—perception can be more important than reality.
I can claim a very slight post-release connection to The Dam Busters. In the early days of Auteur House, one of our semi-regular customers was a local orchestra conductor. This gentleman was planning a concert comprised of popular movie themes and the famous Dam Busters music was central to the programme. He approached us, wondering if we would like to provide images to complement the stirring sound.
In some ways, the experience was a disaster. We were acutely conscious of the copyright issues involved, believing that if we used images from films themselves, we would be liable for prosecution. With The Dam Busters though, the solution was easy: there were plenty of photographs of the men and machines involved in the actual raid.
One of those men was still alive. Les Munro was his name, and he was once the mayor of Te Kuiti. He was still in relatively good health. I suggested to my conductor friend that we invite Munro to the Hamilton concert. He could take a bow after the Dam Busters theme had played.
The plan worked brilliantly. A genuine World War II hero, a rarity even a decade ago, rose from his seat and basked in the applause at Founders Theatre.