The Sitting Duck
As I sat watching the "Yangtse Incident" I was thinking about what I was going to write in this movie review and to be honest it wasn't looking good. You see the first half of "Yangtse Incident" feels like a movie made for war historians, a dry dramatization of the H.M.S. Amethyst getting fired upon and grounded in the Yangste river during April 1949. There is nothing wrong with that and those who have an interest with war time events especially those which are lesser known will find this interesting. But there is a second half of the movie and a half which appeals more to my enjoyment of war movies as we have what is basically the escape plan.
On the 19th April 1949 the H.M.S. Amethyst whilst lawfully sailing along the Yangtse river to Nanking comes under fire from the People's Liberation Army forcing the peaceful vessel to return fire. But that is just the start of the problems as suffering damage and injuries the Amethyst ends up grounded on mud banks and attempts by H.M.S. Consort to tow Amethyst off fail as the Consort comes under the same heavy gun fire. With the Amethyst's Captain killed during the attack Lieutenant Commander John Kerans (Richard Todd - The Dam Busters) is brought aboard to take command and come up with a way to get the Amethyst and the remaining crew up the river to Nanking.
So as already mentioned "Yangtse Incident" is basically a movie of two halves, two very different halves with the first half being dry whilst the second half exciting. Now the first half feels like it is all about authenticism and feels very much a half made for war historians with an interest in what happened rather than war time excitement. In fairness it does a good job of establishing how the H.M.S. Amethyst came to be stuck in the Yangtse and how they not only got the injured off to the opposite bank but also the attacks when the H.M.S. Consort attempted to help. But it is a very dry, almost factual first half which for fans of exciting war movies makes it a bit laborious.
The good news is that if like me you enjoy war movies with a touch of excitement the second half of "Yangtse Incident" delivers as under Kerans guidance they come up with a cunning plan to continue up the Yangste. Maybe the sudden burst of excitement was a relief after a slow first half but the second half is first rate with great tension and great action. Talking of which whilst director Michael Anderson deserves credit for creating a tense atmosphere during the escape attempt the special effects guys deliver the works throughout with great use of pyrotechnics and smoke to make it feel and look like we are in the midst of the trouble.
Now whilst I found the first half slow it is not a weakness as it delivers what some people like from their war movies but when it comes to the characters we do have a weakness. Now I say characters rather than acting because Richard Todd, William Hartnell, Ray Jackson and Donald Houston all play solid characters and it is nice when you spot Bernard Cribbins making his movie debut in a small role. But these characters they play feel like war movie stereotypes rather than individuals and in the end they sadly end up forgettable because of being generic.
What this all boils down to is that "Yangtse Incident" starts of slow but delivers a brilliant tense second half which makes it worth while. It isn't the greatest war movie you will ever watch but a solid dramatization of an incident between the British Navy and the People's Liberation Army which happened in 1949.