The Malta Story (1954)
Director: Brian Desmond Hurst.
Starring: Alec Guinness (Flight Lt. Peter Ross), Jack Hawkins (Air CO Frank), Anthony Steel (Wing Cmdr Bartlett), Muriel Pavlow (Maria Gonzar), Renée Asherson (Joan Rivers), Hugh Burden (Eden, Security), Nigel Stock (Giuseppe Gonzar aka Ricardi), Reginald Tate (Vice Adm Payne), Ralph Truman (Vice Adm Willie Banks), Flora Robson (Melita Gonzar, Maria's Mum).
British Malta holds out against 3,000 air raids from June 1940 to December 1942
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Malta (locates southeast of Sicily) 1942. "Mr. Churchill in his speech in the House of Commons this afternoon said: 'For now nearly two years Malta has stood against the enemy. What a thorn it has been in their side. What a toll it has taken on their convoys. For the last six weeks over 450 German first-line strength in aircraft, and perhaps 200 Italian, have been venting their fury on Malta.'"
Two British service men, Peter Ross and Eden, are in an airplane headed to refueling at Malta from whence they will move on again. Flight Leader Peter Ross is on his way to Cairo, Egypt. He is in aerial reconnaissance.
The plane sets down on Malta. The passengers are told to get out as quick as they can. Our two travelers hide in a ditch. Their airplane is bombed and destroyed. They will not be going on to Cairo just now.
Vice Admiral Willie Banks comes in saying that he has two submarines that want to come into port. Air Commander Officer Franks tells Willy that he will have to wait for awhile, since there is no current space available.
Franks asks Eden of security how was the flight? He says the Hudson airplane has been destroyed on the ground. And they have a "lodger". The fellow is a pilot and he had done some aerial photography on his job. The fellow is an archaeologist. Eden thinks the guy is okay.
Ross walks around on Malta. School is held outdoors. Nuns and nurses carry children out from a bombed building. The air raid siren sounds again. Ross goes to one of the shelters. Axis airplanes start bombing. A dive bomber comes very low and drops a huge bomb on several buildings. The air rain siren sounds again and the people come out. The people return to search for more bodies buried under rubble. Ross comes looking to talk to Wing Commander Bartlett. He is told Bartlett is in the operations room. He finds Bartlett and the man says that the commanding officer wants to talk to Ross first.
Ross and Bartlett comes into Frank's office. Frank says he is happy to see Ross. Frank takes him over to a map. He says Malta is only 58 miles from the airport in Sicily. And to their south is Rommel working his way over to Egypt. Malta is very close to three possible convoy routes to re-supply Rommel. He wants Ross to go out and find the convoys so the pilots can sink them. As Ross goes out with Bartlett, Frank thanks Ross for volunteering to help the guys on Malta. Ross smiles and says that's the least he could do. Ross tells the guys that he specialized on aerial photography of marshaling yards for trains.
Willy tells Frank that the submarines won't be coming back for awhile because there are just too many bombings on Malta which puts the submarines in danger.
Bartlett tells Ross that he has a job for him right away. He is to take aerial photographs of the Brindisi (?) port and come back. Moreover, he is to maintain radio silence or else the enemy aircraft will be all over him.
Ross runs into anti-aircraft fire. He takes his pictures and then immediately turns around and gets the hell out of there. On the way back he sees a train below him. He takes a picture. When he gets back to base, Bartlett balls him out for taking pictures of the railway and thereby wasting fuel. Another air raid siren sends Ross back to one of the bomb shelters. There he runs into a pretty woman named Maria Gonzar. She is leaving the bomb shelter, but the priest tells her it's too dangerous to go out. Maria goes out anyway. Ross tells the priest he will go after her to make sure she gets where she is going. A bom drop near where Maria is walking. Ross runs over and starts looking for her, but he doesn't find her.
Frank calls Ross in and balls him out for wasting petrol taking photos of trains. Ross apologizes, but Frank just wants him to follow his order faithfully. After saying that, Frank tells Ross he wants him to go take more photos of the trains. He thinks that the trains are carrying glider planes for a probable air landing on Malta. Ross goes to the operations room and there he see Maria at work. He goes to her and she has a nice smile for him. He suggest that she let him accompany her or her trips to work and back. Maria says okay and tells him to be back before 10 p.m.
Walking with Maria Ross learns that she lost her father last year in one of the air raids. She invites him up to her place and he says yes. Maria introduces Ross to her mother and then mother introduces Ross to her son Paolo, his wife Carmella and their son. Another air siren goes off. She asks Ross if they are going to be invaded, but he can't answer that question. Mom has another son, Giuseppe, but he was imprisoned when Italy declared war. She tells Ross that all these air raids are building up to something and that something will be an invasion she thinks. 300 bombers attack Valetta Citadal on Malta.
Bartlett takes Joan Rivers on a bus and get out to take a walk with her. He talks to Joan about possibly leaving Malta. Joan jokes that she is too important to operations to leave Malta. All of a sudden they have to dive onto the side of the road as an airplane strafes the walkway. Then Joan notices that the bus has been hit. They run toward the bus.
The defensive capabilities on Malta become less and less with each bombing run. They have no bombers to strike at the glider crates because they now have all been destroyed. And they are not going to use fighter planes to go after the gliders. That would mean they would have virtually no defense against the Axis bombings of their island.
Ross wants to go out with Maria again, but she tells him to get some very needed sleep and then they will see what they can do together.
Frank is now completely convinced that an invasion of Malta is imminent. A high priority for the military is to keep the airfield in service. Army fellows are used to fill in bomb craters on the airfield. They have to throw big stones into the bomb craters. Another air raid puts more craters in the airfield. After the all clear signal the men go back to work filling the holes. Frank gets the news that all three airfields on Malta are ready to receive the spitfires headed their way. Frank is afraid that the spitfires are going to catch hell from all the Axis air raids.
The spitfires starts arriving. And here comes another Axis air raid. The spitfires are still coming in as the airfield gets bombed again. The Brits lose 20 of their 47 spitfires. The news in the newspaper is that the king sets his seal on living history. Malta is awarded the George Cross. That's nice but the people on Malta are now facing virtual starvation. Food is heavily rationed and the people don't get much.
Good news. Two ships have come in and more are on their way. Over the loud speak the governor or the island says that what they are facing is a long siege. And the other expected ships can't make it to Malta.
Ross and Maria go for a walk among the old ruins on the island. Maria is very scared that if the Germans invade Malta the two of them will be separated. Ross gets Maria to say that she believes that the Germans will not take Malta. Ross and Maria kiss.
Frank learns that in three days 60 spitfires from the American carrier Wasp are headed for Malta. In addition, a ship will come with petrol and food. And Willy is to be replaced. Frank is upset that he is going to lose his friend Willy.
The spitfires are about to arrive. A new system of air control is worked out for greater efficiency of movement of plane taking off and landing.
Bartlett and Ross will be leading an air attack on the Luca area. They lead the old spitfires out of Malta as the new spitfires arrive.
And now here comes the forty plus German and Italian planes are approaching Malta. Thirty-one spitfires are ready to go up after them. The bombers have no fighter escort and one after another the Axis planes fall onto Malta.
The newspaper carries the headline "63 Axis raiders destroyed or damaged in past 24 hours."
Vice Admiral Banks leaves Malta. His replacement is Vice Admiral Payne.
Bartlett wants to marry Joan Rivers, but back in England. Ross goes in to ask the mother to marry her daughter. Mom says Maria is a woman now and she can make her own decision. The mother is just worried about what the couple will do as the war continues. She asks Ross to wait for just a little while. Ross doesn't like it but he decides it would be easier on Maria this way.
A large convoy is on its way to Malta. Two air craft carriers will be with the convoy. Meanwhile, security officer Eden interrogates a prisoner who reports intelligence back to the Axis powers. It's not going to be easy getting the information from the man. The Axis air force attacks the convoy. At least four ships are hit.
Ross tells Maria that he is going to be so busy with the convoy coming in that he will not be able to see her for awhile. She says okay. She will track his movements on the operations map.
Eden interviews Maria's mother about the letters she receives from Italy from her son Giuseppe. He shows the mother a picture of his prisoner. She identifies the man as her son. Now Eden tells her that he is in a Maltese prison. He was put ashore by an Italian submarine. Her son is a spy. Mom wonders if they will kill her son for spying. Eden says he will try to get permission for Mrs. Gonzar to see her son.
Eden now gets the information he wanted from Giuseppe. If the oil tanker got through, it was to be Giuseppe's job to tells the enemy the location of the fuel tanks where the petrol was taken. He justifies his actions by saying that the British have no right to be on Malta.
Axis planes inflict more damage on the Allied convoy. Two cruisers, one destroyer and five merchant ships have been sunk. In addition, four ships of the escort guard have been taken out, including one of the aircraft carriers. More plane attacks on the convoy take place at night. The next day there are more raids on the convoy. Spitfires from Malta now attack the Axis planes. They knock out many of the enemy planes and return to Malta. Only four supply ships get through to Malta.
Giuseppe and his mother talk. He tries to explain to her why he chose to become a spy. He says he is a dead man now.
Frank learns that the oil tanker was saved and lashed to a destroyer. It's coming in now. Franks says: "Thank God for the navy." The dead are brought off the oil tanker.
Now Frank can go on the offensive. They are going to destroy German and Italian convoy ships headed to re-supply Rommel. Right now the British are around El Alamein. He says to the men: "A lot of you have been used to taking it. Well, now we're going to dish it out."
Torpedoes are attached to many of the planes. British airplanes attack a German convoy. A British submarine sinks an Axis ship. The headline in the paper is: "Malta hitting back and hitting hard."
Peter is back with Maria sitting on some rocks looking out over the Mediterranean Sea. He talks with Maria about going with him back to England and then maybe to Palestine or wherever the archaeological ruins are found. Maria is ready to go elsewhere.
One of the biggest enemy convoys can't be found because of the terrible weather. The weather gets a bit better and Ross is sent out to find the convoy. Once he finds it, he must radio back so the Malta planes can get in the air and destroy it. This scares Peter a bit because his radio message may alert the enemy to his location.
Peter calls in. He has found an enemy destroyer. Bright sunshine here, he says. Now he sights the whole convoy. Six enemy planes are head toward Ross. He is order to get his picture and get out of there. His is in a mess of heavy anti-aircraft. He is ordered back to base. Peter now sees the six enemy airplanes. They start shooting at him and knock out his radio. He himself has been hit and down his airplane goes. Radio contact is lost. Maria holds her emotions in. She takes Peter's plane off the operational map.
The Malta airplanes attack the convoy. And the 8th Army holds off Rommel. A little later news arrives of the Allied victory at El Alamein over Rommel. The people on Malta are elated. Maria goes and sits by the the rock overlooking the sea.
"We have seen hardship and we have seen triumph. We shall see more of both. If history remembers us, let it say that we stood fast in faith, giving freely what little we had and what little we were, never doubting that we spent ourselves for the general good."
Spoiler Warning. That's quite a story. It's a bit like a Rocky Balboa movie about an underdog being kicked around and yet still hanging on. And in hanging on, he gains strength and starts to rise. Malta was taking a beating at the hands of Axis aircraft. The island was under siege with most new supplies denied to them. They were running out of food and water, as well as petrol. The Axis was planning an attack on Malta using glider planes. The situation was really bad for Malta and its people. But they held on and got a few supplies from British ships. That was the beginning of the arrival of more and more help. The forces of Malta become built up to the point where they actually can take the offensive against Axis shipping and aircraft. It's quite an inspiring story.
With a happy ending we also have to take a little sadness in the area of the love stories.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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