In 1940, the British Royal Air Force fights a desperate battle vs. the Nazi Germany Air Force for control of British air space to prevent a Nazi invasion of Britain.
"Never, in the field of human conflict, was so much owed by so many to so few . . ." Churchill may have bagged the best lines, but in 1940 it was the RAF that grabbed the glory. The battle was over just 29 years when this film was released.
Now, 29 years later still, it begins to look like ancient history with stunning aerial sequences, filmed from the cockpits of droning Heinkel bombers and dogfighting Spitfires. Purists will note, most of the latter are late models and complain there are nowhere near enough Hurricanes, but the Luftwaffe hardware is there in strength, as it was until a bunch of under-trained, over-worked and outnumbered RAF and allies beat the odds and the threat of invasion with tally-ho heroism and much stiff upper lippery.
The planes took up most of Bond producer Harry Saltzman's budget but he also assembled such a large all-star cast that at times all of "the few" seem to pass before the camera. Indeed, there are so many familiar faces that even Michael Caine gets shot down, to the dismay of his faithful black dog. The hound is marginally more credible than the Susannah "Don't you yell at me, Mr. Warwick" York subplot and some of the music grates, but Olivier is on fine form as Air Chief Marshall Dowding outwitting Curt Jurgens' Baron Von Richter.
It's a long way from Top Gun, but it's still stirring stuff.