STANDING ON GUARD

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1939 Battle of Westerplatte

Release Year:         2013
Studio:         Entertainment One
Format:         Colour; NTSC; Widescreen; in Polish with English subtitles; English version
Rated:         Not Rated
# of Discs/Episodes:         1
Running Time:         118 minutes
DVD Release Date:         August 27, 2013
Screenwriter:         Pawel Chochelew
Director:         Pawel Chochenew
Actors:         Michal Zebrowski, Robert Zoledziewski, Jan Englert
DVD Features:        SDH subtitles
E:Top Picks Rating:         7.5/10

Entertainment One Write-up:   
On the morning of September 1, 1939, the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein fired on the Polish garrison stationed at the Westerplatte peninsula. Over the next seven days, fewer than two hundred soldiers stood in defiance against the relentless Nazi onslaught.

Amidst the bloodshed, two Polish commanders struggled with the decision to continue fighting or to surrender against the overwhelming odds. This is their story.

Jon Ted Wynne Review:   
The Battle of Westerplatte was the first battle of World War II during the Nazi invasion of Poland. Though doomed from the start, the 200 soldiers garrisoned at Westerplatte held out for seven days, thus serving to inspire a nation as a symbol of resistance. In the process of enduring a naval bombardment, assault troops and dive bombers, the defenders of Westerplatte kept well over 3,000 German troops busy, buying time for other parts of Poland to prepare their defenses. The fact they didn’t stand a chance only served to reinforce, in the eyes of Poland and the rest of the free world, how vital it was to stand up to Hitler.

It’s great subject matter for a film, and writer/director Pawel Chochelew has come up with a winner for the most part, even managing to inject some truly artful moments into what could easily have been just another World War II film. The problem is the special effects mostly, and the staging of the battle scenes, in part. Let’s face it, audiences are more sophisticated about CGI effects these days , so if you’re going to use them, they have to be well done. The above-mentioned dive bombers are a particularly good example of bad special effects.

In Poland, the title of the film is slightly different, translating as THE SECRET OF WESTERPLATTE. Apparently the secret is that the men defending Westerplatte were actually commanded by Second in Command Capt Dabrowski, and not by Major Sucharski. While this is of only passing interest to audiences simply looking for a good war movie, it does aid the human interaction during the siege.

Apparently Major Sucharski had some sort of mental breakdown during the battle, which paved the way for Capt Dabrowski’s taking over command. The scenes depicting Sucharski’s breakdown (here interpreted as epilepsy) are very well done and the director manages to find a way to bring something fresh to the war movie genre. Interesting as this is, the poor special effects and sometimes ineptly shot battle scenes (the German soldiers’ frontal beach assault looks ridiculous) undermine these efforts at originality.

In the end, one’s enjoyment of 1939 BATTLE OF WESTERPLATTE will be determined by what is more valued: interesting human interaction or battle scenes.

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