THE HEROES OF TELEMARK—–ask a movie buff “What was the 1965 WW2 movie with Kirk Douglas?” (go on, ask) and they’ll likely come up with In Harm’s Way, where The Dimple and The Duke fought Japan for Otto Preminger. Overlooked is this expensive ($5,600,000), location-shot (Norway), fact-based Daring Mission suspenser, the last completed project from director Anthony Mann.
Based (with expected liberties) on the 1942 attempts by Norwegian resistance fighters to sabotage the Nazi ‘heavy water’ project *, it always at least looks great as Mann and cinematographer Robert Krasker make the most of their staging and set-ups, and the story (keep Hitler from getting atomic power) has a built-in Importance Factor. Douglas and co-star Richard Harris appear fit (they didn’t like each other and battled throughout production–hardly the first fracas for either difficult personality) and handle the fairly tense action scenes well, but the needless subplot with Kirk’s ex- wife (Ulla Jacobsson **) goes nowhere, and at 131 minutes things drag out.
Douglas’ quick transformation from playboy physics professor to handy cold-blooded saboteur strains credulity, while the German officers played by Eric Porter and the ubiquitous Anton Diffring are so cliché-vile they seem lifted straight from war films made during the conflict: the only thing missing is someone hissing “We haff vays of making you tokk.” Too many loose ends in the script. Michael Redgrave’s talent is wasted in a tacked-on supporting role; he fared much better that same year in The Hill and Young Cassidy. Also a paste-job is Malcolm Arnold’s score, recycled from The Inn Of The Sixth Happiness.
Some of the actual participants in the true-life missions acted as advisers and even as stunt-skiers in the film. It features one of the first pre-Bond ski-chase action scenes (not the first: old couch-based Nazi foilers may recall Errol Flynn’s 1943 Northern Pursuit ),which helps break up the back & forth arguing about how many lives are worth expending. Sound effects are excellent, and the production didn’t stint on props, with plenty of period vehicles and hardware and scores of extras paraded around.
A hit in Norway (duh) and successful in Britain, it flopped in the States, earning less than $2,000,000. Like the years other blow-up-the-base saga, Operation Crossbow (also a failure), this tries to scoop some of the excitement generated from The Guns Of Navarone.
With familiar Brit stalwarts in backup: Roy Dortrice, Barry Jones, Geoffrey Keen.
* Actually, Germany’s equally desperate and nefarious ally Japan was farther along on the A-bomb race (wonder how concerned they would have been with using it?: get real.) The 3rd Reich’s brutal occupation of Norway ultimately backfired as it tied up nearly 600,000 badly-needed troops. The Allies best weapon against Hitler was Hitler himself. Best movie (by leagues) about Norway’s shin-kicking of the goose-steppers is the superb Max Manus: Man Of War, from 2008.
** Notable for work with Ingmar Bergman, and most familiar as the lone woman in Zulu, Ms. Jacobsson never looked prettier than here, at 36. She was only 53 when she passed away from bone cancer in 1982.