Their Finest Hour: 5 British WWII Classics (United Kingdom, 1942-1958, Film Movement, 5 Blu-rays, NR, 572 min.). The five films ate “Went the Day Well?,” “The Colditz Story,” “The Dam Busters,” “Dunkirk” and “Ice Cold in Alex,” presented on Blu-ray for the first time and remastered for this collection. There is not a bad film in the lot and a few border on being classics. The set also comes with more than five hours of extras, including a couple of excellent documentaries, and an informative 24-page booklet with an essay by film writer and curator Cullen Gallagher. Three of the films star John Milles (the recently reviewed “Tunes of Glory”). Each film is reviewed separately.

“Went the Day Well?” (1942, 93 min.) is based on a story by the great Graham Greene, whose work also was the basis for the films “The Third Man,” “The Quiet American, “Travels with My Aunt,” “The Comedians” and “The Power and the Glory.” It is the only film in the set made during the war and was a bit of propaganda with its chin-up-and-you-can-make-do story of an English village infiltrated by Nazis, disguised as British soldiers, on the eve of Adolf Hitler’s planned invasion of Great Britain. It also was a rare Ealing Studios war film, although still retaining the studio’s small village aesthetic. Alberto Cavalcanti (“Dead of Night,” “I Became a Criminal”) directed.

The date is May 23, 1942 and the village is Bramley End. The town has a five-member Home Guard, led by Oliver Wilsford (Leslie Banks of “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” “The Most Dangerous Game,” “Haunted Honeymoon”). Playing Tom Sturry, a sailor at home on leave is Frank Lawton (“The Skin Game,” “The Winslow Boy,” “A Night to Remember”). The quiet of the day and preparation for a wedding are suddenly interrupted by the arrival of the army’s Royal Engineers, led by a major (Basil Sydney of “The Devil’s Disciple”) who says he needs beds for 60 of his soldiers for three nights. Town officials are told the soldiers plan to jam radio signals of the anticipated Nazi invading forces.

However, it turns out that every member of these Royal Engineers are German soldiers who have parachuted into the country. When their ruse is discovered – Nora (Valerie Taylor of “Repulsion,” “Berkeley Square”) finds a bar of “chokolade” in the Major’s belongings – the Germans take everyone prisoner and lock them in the church. Clever attempts to sneak out messages are thwarted – a visiting cousins unknowingly wrecks two attempts by herself – and things turn deadly at one point. When the Germans announce they will kill five children the next morning due to a failed escape attempt, that is the final straw for the villagers who rise up to help defeat the enemy.

About the film’s only weakness is the less-than-convincing reactions during fights and especially when someone is shot. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 3.5 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

The Colditz Story (1955, 98 min.). The events of this prisoner-of-war film are all said to be true, but with all the names changed except for Pat Reid, whose memoir the film is based on. Reid is played by John Mills (“Ryan’s Daughter,” “Hobson’s Choice”).

Colditz was a castle in central Germany that the Nazis set up as a prisoner of war camp for Allied prisoners who already had tried to escape – many multiple times – from other POW camps. There were Dutch, Polish, French and British prisoners, who generally kept to their own groups, causing them often to be at odds in breakout attempts, due to the lack of communication. For example, a British tunnel effort is thwarted when Polish tunnelers above them dropped through the weakened earth. When Reid arrives, he is made the British liaison to an escape committee, created by Col. Richmond (Eric Portman of “A Canterbury Tale,” “49th Parallel”) to share escape information and coordinate efforts.

In some ways, the film is a comedy about failed escape attempts, and there are many. However, is also shows the resilience of the captured men, whose duty was to try to escape and to make the Germans uncomfortable. While Steve McQueen’s character raged in the similar “The Great Escape” years later, Reid here is a touch too gentlemanly. Nonetheless the film includes several memorable moments, including one prisoner being propelled over the barbwire fence by his compatriots.

The film was directed by Guy Hamilton, who went on to direct four James Bond films – “Goldfinger,” “Diamonds Are Forever,” “Live and Let Die” and “The Man with the Golden Gun.”

The film, which translates almost none of the German used, concludes by telling us there were 320 attempted escapes from Colditz, with five Polish prisoners, 15 Dutch, 22 French and 14 British, including Reid, successfully reaching their homelands after escaping (called a “home run”). The film comes with an excellent documentary, “Colditz Revealed” (2012, 53:34), which includes interviews with Reid’s son (Reid died in 1990) and two of the former British prisoners, one of whom spent a total of 415 days in isolation for his failed escape attempts. As it is pointed out here, putting all those who had previously attempted to escape from POW camps together at Colditz made it “an escape factory.” Grade: film and extra 3.25 stars

The Dam Busters (1955, 125 min.). Also based on a true story, this documentary-style film tells of British scientist Dr. Barnes Wallis (Michael Redgrave of “The Lady Vanishes,” “Mourning Becomes Electra,” “The Quiet American”), who developed a bouncing bomb to attempt to destroy three great dams that surrounded the German war industrial base in the Ruhr valley. These factories, many below ground, were building the V3 rockets.

Wallis, who got the idea from skipping pebbles on a pond, is first shown trying to hit a target in his backyard, helped by his children. After multiple failures and refiguring, Wallis, who also invented more aerodynamic airplanes, finally gets the right combination of bomb size and height and speed at which it needs to be dropped. The idea is the bouncing bomb will hit the dam, drop below the water line right next to the dam wall, and then use the force of the water being held by the dame to cause a breech after the explosion.

As Wallis works, the Royal Air Force puts together a new 617 squadron, to be headed by Wing Cmdr. Guy Gibson (Richard Todd of “Walt Disney’s The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men,” “The Battle of the Villa Fiorita,” “The Longest Day,” “Operation Crossbow”). (Note that the restorers opted not to change the unfortunate choice of name for Gibson’s dog, a name we now consider offensive and racist.) Gibson’s first task, when even he does not know what the targets will be, is to acclimate the pilots to flying at only 150 feet – later that would become 60 feet.

It takes until the 87-minute mark for the actual mission to begin, and from then on, the film excels. The cinematography is by Gil Taylor, who would go one to bring a similar sense of flying style to “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.” Taylor also worked on “Flash Gordon,” “The Omen” and “Repulsion.” The director was Michael Anderson (“Logan’s Run,” “Around the World in Eighty Days,” “The Shoes of the Fisherman,” and TV’s “Captain Courageous,” “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and “The Martian Chronicles” miniseries). The film was based on Gibson’s own memoir and “The Dame Busters” by Paul Brickhill, who also wrote the book “The Great Escape,” which also became a film. The screenplay was by R.C. Sherriff, who also wrote “The Invisible Man” and “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.”

The film comes with numerous extras, including a very good, new documentary on its making (39:33), which gives such details as the filmmakers had to alter the shape of the bombs attached to the planes as that detail was still a top secret, and while there were 19 Lancaster planes used in the raid, there were only four available to the filmmakers. It points out that several future stars had small roles in the film, including the debut of Robert Shaw (“Jaws,” “A Man for All Seasons,” “The Sting”) and Patrick McGoohan (TV’s “The Prisoner,” “Braveheart”).

There also is a 1972 documentary/interview with Barnes Wallis on his career, including his designs of rigid airships and the Swallow swing wing airplane (28:47); remembrances of five squadron members, who say the men guessed they would be going after battleships or U-boat pens (56:29); bomb test run footage (6:38); and a newsreel of the film’s Royal premiere (3:129). In the piece with the five survivors of the raid, it is pointed out that 53 of the 133 men involved were killed and three were captured. Since the Germans rebuilt the two destroyed dams within months, it made the raid more effective as a morale booster for Great Britain and its warriors than an effective means of limiting Germany’s war production. Grade: film 3 stars; extras 3.75 stars

Dunkirk (1958, 135 min.). This is much less glossy than Christopher Nolan’s 2017 film on the same subject. Both tell the story of the British forces’ retreat from the Continent after being hemmed in by German forces on three sides. The only escape was from the beach at Dunkirk, but German warplanes constantly bombed the huddled masses of British troops on the beach – some 200,000, plus French fighters – as well as naval ships sent to evacuate them.

Leading up to the action at the beach are two side stories. One concerns two boat owners whose boats would eventually be used in the mass small-boat rescue of the soldiers. The are journalist Charles Foreman (Bernard Lee, who would go on to star as “M” in the first 11 James Bond films), who is behind the war effort, and businessman John Holden (Richard Attenborough of “The Great Escape,” the “Jurassic Park” films), who feels it is “a phony war.” When Holden’s boat is taken by the Navy, his young worker Freddie (Sean Barrett of “Labyrinth,” “The Dark Crystal,” “War and Peace”) is at the helm.

The second story is that of Corporal “Tubby” Binns, who suddenly finds himself in charge of four men when separated from their unit behind enemy lines in Belgium. Binns is played by John Mills (see “The Colditz Story above and “Ice Cold in Alex” below). The footage of Binns and his men is among the film’s most interesting and includes a German plane raid on a convoy of walking refugees and an attack on an artillery battery. The small group also comes across a potentially abandoned farm, a scene echoed in the recent Oscar-winning “1917,” about the other World War.

This film, directed by Leslie Norman (TV’s “The Saint,” “The Avengers,” “The Persuaders”), gives less of a sense of the mass of small boats that were involved in the rescue than does Nolan’s film. Bonus features include a newsreel on Operation Dynamo, as the rescue was called (3:56); the Ealing Studios short “Young Veteran” about the youthful soldiers (1940, 22:24); an interview with Barrett, who was 17 when he played Frankie (22:17); and some of Mills’ home movie footage (10 min.; no sound). Grade: film 3.75 stars; extras 3 stars

Ice Cold in Alex (1958, 130 min.). The title refers to Capt. Anson’s goal of having his favorite ice-cold beer at his favorite bar in Alexandria, Egypt. Anson (John Mills) is an alcoholic and on the verge of a nervous breakdown, having been captured by the Germans in Northern Africa. While he escaped, he had to walk two days through the desert and he has not had a furlough since. Now Anson has to transport two nurses to safety, as the Germans are about to lay siege to Tobruk. He is given a not-too-well-off ambulance and the assistance of driver Warrant Officer Tom Pugh (Harry Andrews of “Superman,” “Man of La Mancha”).

His charges are Sister Diana Murdoch (Sylvia Syms of “Amazons of Rome,” “The Queen,” “Operation Crossbow”) and Sister Denise Norton (Diane Clare). (Note that “sister” is a title in the Royal Army Nursing Corps. and is not meant in the religious sense, which is something I found confusing while watching the film.) As a bridge is blown up to stall German access, Anson and party cannot reach the ocean and thus must travel through the desert, aiming eventually for Alexandria.

The film is filled with suspense, including a slow travel through a mine field that involves sifting sand by hand; two encounters with German patrols, including a firefight; an encounter with some quicksand; and pushing the two-ton ambulance up a high sand dune in reverse and by cranking the engine. After the mine field, they encounter Capt. Van der Poel of the South African army, who requests and is given a ride, although later both Diana and Tom come to think he might be a German spy. Van der Poel is played by Anthony Quayle of “Lawrence of Arabia,” “The Eagle Has Landed” and “The Guns of Navarone,” the latter was directed by J. Lee Thompson, who also directed this film, as well as “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.”

The film is very much a character study. Extras include a 1999 excerpt from “A Very British War Movie” documentary about the film that includes interviews with Mills, Thompson and Syms (12:59; Syms says Mills got a bit tipsy when asked to drink a full glass of beer eight times for different takes); more of Mills’ soundless home movies (15:02); British cinema professor Steve Chibnall on Thompson’s career, which was influenced by his work with David Lean and Alfred Hitchcock (12:37); and an interview with university reader Melanie Williams on war films (15:39). Williams points out that while the film was based on a novel, the novel was based on a true story.

There also is a wonderful interview with Syms on the making of the film and working with Mills and Thompson (21:51). Syms’ answers are given as if she were acting a role. She recalls how her hair and clothes were sprayed with DDT so she would bot be bothered by flies as they were filming in the Syrian desert. Several times in the film, one can see flies “attacking” Mills’ face. She also discusses her trimmed love scene, trimmed because apparently too much of her breasts were showing as her shirt had a button undone. The drawn poster image for the film emphasizes what the filmgoers did not get to see. Grade: film 4 stars; extras 3.75 stars

Beau Brummell (1954, Warner Archive Collection, Blue-ray, NR, 113 min.). Here, the character of the title shrugs off going to war against Napoleon to become a dandy and clothes maven, even though he was dirt poor most of the time. Brummell lived on credit. Brummell was a real person and at many points, the film, directed by Curtis Bernhardt (“Possessed,” “Payment on Demand”) from a screenplay by Karl Tunberg, based on Clyde Fitch’s play, touches on many real moments in Brummell’s life, while straying at other times.

What is true is that Brummell (Stewart Granger of “King Solomon’s Mines,” “Scaramouche”) lost his army commission when he criticized the uniforms as too fancy during a review by the Prince of Wales (a wonderful Peter Ustinov as the future King George IV of England), uniforms that the Prince had designed himself. Improbably, Brummell and the Prince would become friends – in fact, at one point the Prince calls Brummell his only true friend. With the Prince’s support, and that of Lord Byron (Noel Willman of “Doctor Zhivago,” “The Man Who Knew Too Much”), Brummell is able to move amidst high society.

Early on, Brummell is attracted to Lady Patricia Belham (Elizabeth Taylor of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” “Cleopatra,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “National Velvet”), despite her being about to be engaged to Lord Edwin Mercer (James Donald of “The Great Escape,” “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “Lust For Life”). I did not buy their off-and-on romance at all. Much better is the shifting relationship between Brummell and the Prince. (Ustinov also excelled in “Spartacus,” “Death on the Nile,” “Billy Budd.”) There also is the Prince’s relationship with his deranged father, King George III, aka he who lost the American colonies. George III is played by Robert Morley (“The African Queen,” TV’s “Great Expectations”). Brummell’s enemy at court is William Pitt (Paul Rogers of “Our Man in Havana”), who manipulates the Prince to retain power.

At times the film reminds one of a less bawdy “Tom Jones,” and it does feature a large fox hunt. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 3.5 stars