The Battle of the River Plate (Pursuit of the Graf Spee) (1956)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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Widely regarded as one of the best and most intelligent British war dramas of the 1950s, The Battle of River Plate is the story of Britain's first significant naval victory in WW2. John Gregson heads the cast as Captain Bell, skipper of the Exeter, one of several vessels engaged in pursuit of the "indestructable" Geman battleship Graf Spee. Taking refuge in the neutral harbor of Montevideo, the Graf Spee is covertly protected by the Uruguayan government. Eventually, however, German captain Langsdorff (Peter Finch) is faced with a difficult decision: either stand his ground and fight a losing battle against the Exeter and its sister ships, or scuttle the Graf Spee and save the lives of his crew. Battle of the River Plate was released in the US as Pursuit of the Graf Spee.
Action & Adventure , Classics , Drama
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
Arcturus Motion Pictures


John Gregson
as Capt. Bell
Peter Finch
as Capt. Langsdorff
Anthony Quayle
as Commodore Harwood
Ian Hunter
as Capt. Woodhouse
Jack Gwillim
as Capt. Parry
Bernard Lee
as Capt. Patrick Dove
Lionel Murton
as Mike Fowler
Anthony Bushell
as Mr. Millington-Drake
Peter Illing
as Dr. Guani
Michael Goodliffe
as Capt. McCall
Patrick Macnee
as Lt. Cmdr. Medley
John Chandos
as Dr. Langmann
Douglas Wilmer
as Mr. Desmoulins
William Squire
as Ray Martin
Roger Delgado
as Capt. Varela
Andrew Cruickshank
as Capt. Stubs
April Olrich
as Dolores
Nigel Stock
as Murphy
John Le Mesurier
as Rev. George Groves
David Farrar
as Narrator
Maria Mercedes
as Madame X
Brian Worth
as Radio Operator
John Schlesinger
as German Officer
Barry Foster
as Bill Roper
Show More Cast

Critic Reviews for The Battle of the River Plate (Pursuit of the Graf Spee)

All Critics (10) | Top Critics (4)

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.

Full Review… | March 25, 2009
Top Critic

Give the British filmmakers a good, rousing subject from their own naval history and they're almost certain to come up with a picture that proudly bespeaks the courage and audacity of a hero breed.

Full Review… | January 27, 2006
New York Times
Top Critic

Powell and Pressburger's final collaboration as The Archers was also, perhaps, their dullest.

Full Review… | January 25, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Though it's mostly a waiting game, the film is tense and involving, thanks to Powell's fluid shifting of the point of view.

Full Review… | December 31, 1999
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

The film is adroitly directed by Powell and Pressburger, though the concentration is on the vessels, rather than the men aboard them.

Full Review… | May 14, 2012
TV Guide

Not Powell and Emeric's greatest work, but still a cut above many '50s war movies.

Full Review… | May 14, 2012
Empire Magazine

Audience Reviews for The Battle of the River Plate (Pursuit of the Graf Spee)

A below rate sea battle, the first hour or so is even less satisfactory. This is the start of WWII and the Germans are shown quite hospitable, even to the point of a Christmas celebration with the British prisoners held captive. Tough to understand the dialect of the crews. [img][/img] British seamen prisoners in their stocking feet One important fact: The U.S.S. Salem was used to be the German ship, but the U.S. Navy would not permit anything German on board, not even German helmets or the Swastika. So when you see the introductory scenes on board ship, those helmets are American which had to be weird to audiences! [img][/img] Note the headline lower left While inspired by a book of a seaman prisoner, the movie does portray the British side of things but also the human side of capture. The acting by the many extras is not too great and the interior shots just shout out STUDIO compared to the ocean going, exterior shot filming seems stock footage. [img][/img] Powell/Pressburger films are often thought of as being stylized to the point of near-whimsy. SEE the entire film here, shot in widescreen its a pleasure for youtube viewers: REVIEWS by those like us: 90% This film is dripping in classic a list starts, It tells the true story of In the ensuing battle, Exeter was severely damaged and forced to retire; Aj... More 50% Watchable, But Nothing Special. Movie was a bit flat & slow in places. NOTES: 1. The Battle of the River Plate only hints at one aspect of the story: the death of Captain Hans Langsdorff, who committed suicide a few days after he scuttled his ship. Langsdorff is shown as subdued and depressed afterwards. 2 The film devotes nearly twenty minutes to the battle, which actually lasted a little more than an hour before becoming a chase into Montevideo (South America). [img][/img] [img][/img] Scenes like these appear so studio it's rediculous, these guys are on dry land for sure Cast John Gregson as Captain Frederick "Hookie" Bell, HMS Exeter Anthony Quayle as Commodore Henry Harwood, HMS Ajax Ian Hunter as Captain Charles Woodhouse, HMS Ajax Jack Gwillim as Captain Edward Parry, HMS Achilles Bernard Lee as Captain Patrick Dove, MS Africa Shell Peter Finch as Captain Hans Langsdorff, Admiral Graf Spee Lionel Murton as Mike Fowler, American radio reporter in Montevideo Anthony Bushell as Eugen Millington-Drake, the British Minister in Uruguay Peter Illing as Dr Alberto Guani, Uruguayan Foreign Minister Michael Goodliffe as Captain Henry McCall, British Naval Attaché in Buenos Aires Patrick Macnee as Lieutenant Commander Ralph Medley, HMS Ajax John Chandos as Dr Otto Langmann, the German Minister in Uruguay Douglas Wilmer as M. Desmoulins, the French Minister in Uruguay William Squire as Ray Martin, British SIS agent in Montevideo Roger Delgado as Captain Varela, Uruguayan Navy Andrew Cruickshank as Captain William Stubbs, SS Doric Star John Le Mesurier as the Chaplain of HMS Exeter Christopher Lee as Manolo, bar owner in Montevideo harbour Edward Atienza as Pop, Mike Fowler's gaucho assistant April Olrich as Dolores (singing voice by Muriel Smith) Peter Dyneley as Captain John Robison, SS Newton Beech (uncredited) [img][/img] A more humane portrayl of a German officer Directed by Michael Powell Emeric Pressburger Produced by Michael Powell Emeric Pressburger Written by Michael Powell Emeric Pressburger Narrated by David Farrar [img][/img] Starring John Gregson Anthony Quayle Peter Finch Music by Brian Easdale Cinematography Christopher Challis Editing by Reginald Mills Distributed by Rank Film Distributors Ltd. Release dates 30 November 1956 (UK) Running time 119 minutes Country United Kingdom Language English [img][/img]

monsieur rick
monsieur rick

During the early days of World War II, the Nazis tried to starve Great Britain by targeting its merchant fleet. One of Germany's deadliest weapons was the pocket battleship Graf Spee, where Captain Langsdorff(Peter Finch) welcomes aboard Captain Dove(Bernard Lee) after sinking his ship, the Africa Spell, in disputed waters off Portugese East Africa. Langsdorff soon fulfills his promise that Dove will have company, but not before one of the survivors gets off a radio message before his ship is sunk. So, now Commodore Harwood(Anthony Quayle) has a pretty good idea where the Graf Spee will be, as he waits with the destroyers Ajax, Achilles and Exeter. Written, directed and produced by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, "The Battle of the River Plate" gets off to a slow start, with minimal cuts, that serves its purpose in setting the stage for the taut action that is to follow. As such, the movie aims to give a realistic portrayl of naval warfare during World War II with the navies in full seek and destroy mode, armed with equal measures of skill and luck. Surprisingly, the characters are rather fond of rules, which get quoted a lot. Instead of dragging the movie down, this actually helps with adding suspense, especially with the ironic ending. As the story is told mostly from the British side, I do wish more time had been given over to Langsdorff as he does seem interesting in an old school sort of way and therefore something of an anomaly.

Walter M.
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

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Misty Castaneda
Misty Castaneda

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