Defeat of the Graf Spee was the first major naval victory for Britain in the last big war. Apart from the strategy involved, it was also an exercise in subterfuge and diplomacy. All these points are neatly and simply brought out in the Michael Powell-Emeric Pressburger filmization.
What they have failed to do is to achieve any degree of characterization for the three naval commanders who led the British cruisers to victory against the Germans’ more powerful pocket battleship. The only really sympathetic character emerging from the screenplay is the skipper of the enemy ship.
The battle sequences, in which the lightweight British cruisers close in on the Graf Spee and force the enemy to take shelter in Montevideo harbor, are powerful, exciting and technically impressive. Story is given a neat twist by the diplomatic exchanges which take place while the Graf Spee is sheltering. The atmosphere in Montevideo is heightened by a series of on-the-spot dramatic broadcasts to the US, a device which is most effective.
The players are mostly secondary to the ships themselves. John Gregson, as the skipper of the Exeter; Anthony Quayle, commodore on the Ajax; Ian Hunter, captain on the Ajax, and Jack Gwillim on the Achilles, give forthright portrayals. Peter Finch gets the plum role as the German captain, who emerges as a warm, sincere and kindly person.