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COCKLESHELL HEROES, THE(director: Jose Ferrer; screenwriters: Bryan Forbes/Richard Malbaum/based on The Reader’s Digest story by George Kent; cinematographers: Ted Moore/John Wilcox; editor: Alan Obiston; music: John Addison; cast: Jose Ferrer (Major Stringer), Trevor Howard (Captain Thompson), Dora Bryan (Myrtie), Victor Madden (Sgt. Craig), Anthony Newley (Marine Clarke), David Lodge (Marine Ruddock), Peter Arne (Marine Stevens), Percy Herbert (Marine Lomas), Graham Stewart (Booth), John Fabian (Cooney), John Van Eyssen (Bradley), Rosbert Desmond (Todd); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Irving Allen/Albert R. Broccoli; Columbia; 1955-UK)

“It’s so predictable one might easily tune out well before the action begins.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jingoistic flag-waving World War II drama about ten stiff upper lip hero Brit soldiers on a voluntary suicide mission to travel by canoe from Portsmouth, England, and take out with limpet mines a valued German shipyard in Bordeaux–part of occupied France (it was filmed in Portugal). José Ferrer (“The Great Man”/”I Accuse!”/”The High Cost of Loving”) stars and he directs by shooting it in a semi-documentary style. The film builds in tension to the exciting climax, but it’s so predictable one might easily tune out well before the action begins. Screenwriters Bryan Forbes and Richard Malbaum base it on The Reader’s Digest story by George Kent. This marks the first appearance by Trevor Howard in an American film, and the bad-tempered Royal Marine officer he plays steals the pic and helps one keep their mind off all the clichés and the familiar ground covered. Naturally this crowd-pleaser was a big box-office success. Albert R. Broccoli, one of the producers of the James Bond film series, is coproducer with Irving Allen.

In March 1942, at the Royal Marines base in Portsmouth, England, Capt. Hugh Thompson (Trevor Howard), a hard-nosed career officer has been assigned to be under the command of an acting major named Stringer (Jose Ferrer). The major has sold the brass on his risky unconventional sneak attack plan. The by-the-book Thompson and the undisciplined Stringer clash over practice methods, with Thompson miffed at his superior’s lax ways. Sgt. Craig (Victor Madden), a clone of Thompson, begins to close-order drill the men the tough old-fashioned way, as the two officers argue over training methods.

Most of the film is occupied with the choosing of the eight volunteers from the 44 and training the men to make the grade for the job. The odd-lot of men chosen are: Clarke (Anthony Newley), Ruddock (David Lodge), Stevens (Peter Arne), Lomas (Percy Herbert), Booth (Graham Stewart), Cooney (John Fabian), Bradley (John Van Eyssen) and Todd (Rosbert Desmond). What they all have in common is the ability to show initiative and think for themselves. Along with the two officers, they go on five tiny kayaks to complete their mission to take out German shipping.

In actuality, only two of the ten men survived the historical operation (which is also the same in the film). The clash between the gung-ho career military man Howard and the nonmilitary approach of the humanitarian temporary officer Ferrer was pure fiction and seemed uninspired nonsense that only helped make the film more tedious than it should have been. It was all too obvious that by the final act the two opposites would unite in a gesture of patriotism.

It’s routine fare, that is well-made, has the look of authenticity thanks to the cooperation of the Royal Navy, and the spirited performances portray the deserving heroes in a good light.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”