The Siege of Malta
When it comes to war movies especially WWII movies I tend to like those which have a substantial storyline, it comes from my lack of historical knowledge. Rather ironically I like "Malta Story" because the manufactured storyline is quite weak but the documentary style storyline of the siege of Malta is far more interesting. Credit where it is due and director Brian Desmond Hurst and his team have done a fabulous job of interweaving archive war footage with film to deliver this fascinating re-enactment of what life was like on Malta to deliver some powerful scenes whilst also getting across the struggle for the Maltese people caught in the middle of this war. Unfortunately the acting is surprisingly weak which is a surprise when the movie is lead by Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins although this may be down to the slim, manufactured storyline.
On his way to Cairo, aerial photographer Flight Lt. Peter Ross (Alec Guinness - The Card) finds himself on Malta when the plane he is on is bombed during refuelling. Spotting his usefulness Air CO Frank (Jack Hawkins - The Cruel Sea) arranges for Peter to be seconded to his unit to do reconnaissance flights over Italy and the German air force bases. And whilst on the island Peter meets the attractive local Maria (Muriel Pavlow - Reach for the Sky) who works in the operations room, starting a romance which is complicated by war and the feelings of her family who being proud Maltese do not like their country being stuck in the midst of war and hardship.
So from a storyline point of view "Malta Story" is surprisingly underwhelming with this story of Peter falling for local Maria. It is a surprisingly dull romantic plot made all the duller by Alec Guinness who looks incredibly uncomfortable with his romantic role. That is in many ways the movies biggest problem because whilst this relationship paves the way for an interest twist, a powerful ending and also wartime complications when Maria's mother is reluctant for Peter and Maria to marry the fact that Guinness comes across as stiff does not work especially with Muriel Pavlow being passionate as Maria.
But whilst this romantic storyline is dull and frankly problematic "Malta Story" works brilliantly as a look at the siege of Malta from various different angles. There is the look from the Maltese viewpoint as they struggle with rationing as supply ships fail to get in and issues of loyalty as they find themselves in the middle of the war between Britain and Germany. We also see a view from the military point of view, the constant battle to repair the airfields which no sooner have they have been levelled then they are bombed again. All of which is delivered by this stunning mix of archive WW2 footage with film to bring the plight of the Maltese people to life with some powerful scenes from seeing the island bombed to walking through the ruins. It is the movies strength that it becomes fascinating as an almost documentary look at the siege on Malta.
Now I have already mentioned Alec Guinness who is surprisingly off form as Peter and seems poorly cast in this romantic role. There is also Jack Hawkins who as Air CO Frank delivers the routine commander performance he delivered in many WW2 movies, solid but unremarkable whilst Anthony Steel is pretty anonymous as Wing Cmdr Bartlett. In fact at times "Malta Story" becomes more entertaining when you spot various actors in minor roles such as Gordon Jackson and Victor Maddern. But whilst there is a second romantic subplot featuring RenÃ©e Asherson it is Muriel Pavlow as Maria and Flora Robson who plays her mother who deliver the more convincing and interesting performances, bringing to life the difficulty for the Maltese women.
What this all boils down to is that "Malta Story" is not the most entertaining WW2 movie but thanks to the well worked mixed of film and archive footage is a fascinating look at the siege of Malta.