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Gift Horse, The (1952, Trevor Howard, Richard Attenborough)



Described by The News of the World as ‘a great and stirring British war film’, The Gift Horse follows a ship and her crew from the time they come together in 1940 until the climactic Combined Operations raid on St Nazaire on March 28 1942. The ship in question is the Ballantrae, one of 50 aged destroyers given to Britain in 1940 in return for the lease of naval and air bases.

Trevor Howard plays the role of the newly-appointed captain, back in service after having left the navy following a court martial. The Ballantrae is not only old but has a tendency to break down at crucial moments. At first, everything goes wrong for her and Howard earns the enmity of his crew for an apparent combination of incompetence in action and a ruthless demand for discipline – and a series of events brings him near to a second court martial.

But, as The Gift Horse follows the personal lives of the ship’s company, the situation gradually improves. The ship rams and sinks a U-boat and Howard’s relations with the men become friendlier. Then the destroyer is chosen to lead the dangerous raid on St Nazaire: laden with explosives, its mission to ram the dock gates and pave the way for a commando attack…

The mixture of comedy, drama, pathos and action is familiar enough from exposure to British war films but the quality of the writing, Compton Bennett’s direction and, particularly, the acting of the key players, brings the story up fresh. Howard, said the Sunday Express, ‘gives the film dignity, drama and authenticity’. Richard Attenborough, as a sea lawyer who finally knuckles under to discipline, gives ‘his best performance for years’, said The Sunday Times.

US Title: Glory At Sea

production details
UK | 95 minutes | 1952

Director: Compton Bennett
Writers: William Fairchild, Hugh Hastings, William Rose, Ben Roberts, Ivan Goff,

Bernard Lee as A.S. ‘Stripey’ Wood
Richard Attenborough as Dripper Daniels
Sid James as Ned Hardy, Landlord Golden Bull
Dora Bryan as Glad Flanagan
Patric Doonan as Petty Officer Martin
John Forrest as Appleby the Captain’s Steward
James Donald as Lt. Richard Jennings, No. 1
Meredith Edwards as Jones
Harold Siddons as Adm. Bartlett
Robin Bailey as Lt. Michael Grant, Pilot
Hugh Williams as Captain David G. Wilson
Sonny Tufts as Yank Flanagan
Trevor Howard as Lt. Cmdr Hugh Alginon Fraser