Director: Anthony Mann
Starring: Kirk Douglas. Richard Harris, Ulla Jacobson, Michael Redgrave, David Weston, Roy Dotrice, Anton Diffring
Written by: Ivan Moffat and Ben Barzman
Running Time: 124 mins
Original UK Cert: A
Original UK Release: 23rd November 1965
The Heroes of Telemark is based on a mission during World War II that went horribly wrong, leading to thirty members of the British Services Operations Executives in Norway being captured, tortured and killed by the Gestapo. This, obviously, wouldn’t make for an exciting, boys own adventure that this attempted to be. Although I think it would have made for a more interesting tale than Anthony Mann’s vision.
Norway, and the German army have established themselves in the village of Telemark, where they have set up a plant to make heavy water for an atomic bomb. Resistance agent Knut Straud enlists the help of physicist Rolf Pedersen to be part of the mission to destroy the plant. Caught up in the resistance are Pedersen’s ex-wife, Anna and his uncle. Persuading him, he teams up with British soldiers but the mission goes badly wrong and with British soldiers dead, the plant destroyed but replaced almost over night, Pedersen and Straud must take on the might of the German army alone to complete their aim.
This came out at the height of the action war film, with the success of the likes of The Guns Of Navarone and The Train, yet while the middle section has those qualities, it takes a very long time to get going, with so much explanation and back plot interfering with the bulk of the mission.
Then something very curious happens, the final half of the film slows down once again, so the whole film becomes a trudge more than a jaunt. Director Mann. who was famous for making epics like El Cid and The Fall of the Roman Empire, doesn’t seem to have control over the pacing, leaving the tension slightly shabby.
The sequence in which our leads have to infiltrate the plant is the film’s high point. Done in virtual silence, without any musical score to interfere with the action, this is how the rest of the film should have been: exciting, gripping and lifts the film out of the dull period of the first half. Mann controls this section with expertise. Then he lets the film go once the explosions have occurred and the plant is replaced. It takes another half hour before we get back into the action again.
The unusual casting of Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris as the mismatched team works well and they bounce off each other well, although this turns into a Douglas film more than a Harris and while their scenes together are sometimes quite explosive, there are moments where they have been directed quite badly (Harris, for example, goes into a corner for no apparent reason whatsoever).
This is looked upon as a minor classic of the genre but when you compare it to, say, Where Eagles Dare, which came out two years later, it lacks the real gripping action and excitement that is needed and while the mission was tragic, we needed to feel that and we don’t. Not a total disaster but a film that could have been so much more interesting.
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