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Hollywood Heroism Under Fire

It's no secret that Hollywood has been known to tweak the facts of a story to make a movie more entertaining.

But to hear the British tell it, the makers of the popular American World War II film, U-571 utterly torpedoed the facts. And the smoke still has not cleared from the barrage of criticism the movie received when it opened recently in British theaters, reports CBS News Correspondent Mark Phillips.

The action-adventure film starring Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton and Harvey Keitel, shows American sailors attacking a Nazi submarine and capturing the vital Enigma cypher machine that would enable the allies to break the secret German codes.

Since it opened in the U.S. several weeks ago, the Universal Studios film has been at the top of the box office; it currently ranks number nine, according to Hollywood.com. So far it has grossed $71, 113, 720.

Most viewers agree that the Hollywood film, U-571 details a crucial turning point in the war fairly accurately. Except for one thing.

It was David Balme of the British Royal Navy - not the U.S. Navy -- who captured the first Enigma machine - and he's got the U-boat captain's hat as a souvenir to prove it.

"I kept my crew on deck because I thought if the boat's going to sink, there's no point in everyone getting sunk," Balme, now retired, says with a chuckle.

The 79-year-old Balme was a 20-year-old sub lieutenant aboard the H.M.S. Bulldog when it attacked and blew U-110 to the surface in 1941 - before the U.S. was even in the war.

Balme boarded the sub, despite fears it was rigged to self-destruct and that's when he discovered the invaluable Enigma.

"We had to go up three vertical ladders and along a slippery desk with waves breaking over," he recalls, "so thank heavens it wasn't dropped overboard!"

But director Jonathan Mostow and writers Sam Montgomery and David Ayer deemed that American heroism was more likely to attract American audiences.

The heroic truth, the British say, has been torpedoed in the interest of profit. The rage has even surfaced in parliament.

In the House of Commons, the movie was called "an affront to the memories of the British sailors," a description that Prime Minister Tony Blair says is warranted. There was even a motion deploring the movie.

"If suddenly Iwo Jima was the British Royal Marines raising the flag after a fight with the Japanese, there would be an outcry," says Lindsay Hoyle, a member of Parliament.

But Balme is not bit bitter. Ironically, the controversy over a film about make-believe heroism has brought more attention to the real hero. The film honors his exploits - and he even visited the set.

"I think it's a terrific film, one of the few films I stayed awake throughout," says the jovial Balme who in the end has the last laugh.

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