Overlord (1975)


(director/writer: Stuart Cooper; screenwriter: Christopher Hudson; cinematographer: John Alcott; editor: Jonathan Gili; music: Paul Glass; cast: Brian Stirner (Tom Beddows), Davyd Harries (Jack), Nicholas Ball (Arthur), Julie Neesam (The Girl), Sam Sewell (The Trained Soldier), John Franklyn-Robbins (Dad), Stella Tanner (Mum), Harry Shacklock (Stationmaster), David Scheuer (Medical Officer), Ian Liston (Barrack Guard), Lorna Lewis (Prostitute), Stephen Riddle (Dead German Soldier), Jack Le White (Barman), Mark Penfold (Photographer), Micaela Minelli (Little Girl), Elsa Minelli (Little Girl’s Mother); Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: James Quinn; Criterion Collection; 1975-UK)
“A film that slipped through the cracks.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Overlord is the British code name for D-Day.

American expatriate Stuart Cooper (“A Test of Violence”/”The Disappearance”/”Kelly Country”) cowrites (with Christopher Hudson) and directs this unique and engrossing war film that’s half WWII newsreel footage and half fictional story of an ‘everyman’ decent dutiful type of Brit soldier, not a military man, who was called up for duty in early 1944 and is shown being indoctrinated through training in the war effort and then is thrown into combat. The 18-year-old recruit, Tom Beddows (Brian Stirner), is seen leaving home during the blitz, his induction into the army, his training period and meeting the mates he would befriend and go to war with, his liberty where the shy lad meets at a village dance a girl (Julie Neesam), and finally his death, which he had a premonition about, upon landing at Normandy’s beach during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944.

Pic has a remarkable feel for details of the period, and despite its not too exciting human interest story makes for a fantastic re-enactment of those scary war days. Kubrick’s favorite cinematographer John Alcott’s amazing grainy black-and-white photography (including footage of night raids, a plane’s recording of the strafing of a train, and exploding bombs over a German city and another of a German bombing of London’s East End during a blitz) adds to the realistic feeling of war, as those actual wartime shots play well off the film’s theme of the horrors of war. The Imperial War Museum co-produced it (and Cooper and crew culled through the 3,000 hours of footage that they provided), thereby the film received full cooperation from the war department.

I found it to be a fascinating watch and an essential war film, a film that slipped through the cracks but when featured in the 2004 documentary Z Channel it got the attention of the festival folks at Telluride and proved to be such a big hit with audiences that it finally got a deserved theater release in the States. It previously was co-winner of the Silver Bear in the 1975 Berlin Film Festival.