HEROES OF TELEMARK, THE (director: Anthony Mann; screenwriters: Ivan Moffat/Ben Barzman; cinematographer: Robert Krasker; editor: Bert Bates; music: Malcolm Arnold; cast: Kirk Douglas (Dr. Rolf Pedersen), Richard Harris (Knut Straud), Ulla Jacobsson (Anna), Michael Redgrave (Anna’s Uncle), David Weston (Arne), Anton Diffring (Major Frick), Eric Porter (Terboven), Ralph Michael (Nilssen), Roy Dotrice (Spy); Runtime: 131; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: S. Benjamin Fisz; Columbia Pictures; 1965)
“The snowcovered Norwegian fjords and mountains overwhelm the characters and the flat story.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Director Anthony Mann’s (“El Cid”/”The Fall of the Roman Empire”) last film is far from his best, but it still has some pop due to a few big action sequences. But it’s sluggish in spots, poorly paced, overlong and the characters are not developed. The snowcovered Norwegian fjords and mountains overwhelm the characters and the flat story (the film was shot on location, including at the historical sites of the Norsky Hydro Vermork factory and the Lake Tinnsjo railway ferry). It’s a WWII heroic espionage tale inspired by a true story, but tooled with Hollywood invention. It fails to deliver Mann’s usual dark side to his characters or any psychological meaning, giving it an empty blockbuster look. It features a lot of fantastic shots accomplished with a skiing camera (taken by the Norwegian Olympic coach Helge Stoyrlen), but overall serves merely as commercial film entertainment (not necessarily a bad thing, but the film though solidly crafted failed to stir the imagination). Of note, halfway through the filming of Spartacus, producer/star Douglas had replaced Mann with Kubrick. Evidently that didn’t stop them from working together on this war film.
It’s set in 1942 in Nazi-occupied Norway. Reports are smuggled out by the Resistance from a Norsk hydro plant insider in Telemark that the Nazis are using “heavy water” (a necessary fissionable component in the making of an atomic bomb). This weapon would be in advance of the allies and therefore a decision is made by British Intelligence to destroy the plant rather than chance losing the war. The risks are great, since the evil Nazis take hostages and eliminate them after every incident as a warning.
Oslo University scientist Dr. Rolf Pedersen (Kirk Douglas) is recruited after a great deal of reluctance to join the Resistance and he teams up with tough Resistance leader Knut Straud (Richard Harris), and the group of nine Resistance fighters go by ski on a commando raid to blow up the hydro factory. They succeed with only one casualty, and Rolf escapes capture after he was betrayed by a jealous spy (Roy Dotrice). Rolf discovers his pretty ex-wife Anna (Ulla Jacobsson, a Bergman actress with a minor part here) is connected with the underground and they renew their relationship as she assists his efforts. Speaking about minor parts, the excellent Brit actor Michael Redgrave plays Anna’s uncle who is also part of the underground and helps in an effete way the sabotage effort. Since the efficient Nazis replace the containers immediately and within two weeks are ready to begin again, the Resistance plans another attack. This time they stop the shipment that’s coming by railroad from Germany and guarded by a thousand Nazi soldiers at its most vulnerable point–a ferry crossing, which is blown up.
The film never had the raw power of Fritz Lang’s Hangmen Also Die, which covers the same theme. Though Douglas is efficient as the action hero, he’s not impressive or memorable. The formulaic required romance between Douglas and Jacobsson seemed artificial and unnecessary, and just weighed the film down.
REVIEWED ON 11/30/2006 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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