Appointment With Venus

APPOINTMENT WITH VENUS—thank you, World War Two, for giving us so many “daring mission” movies, from epic hits like The Guns Of Navarone and The Dirty Dozen to neglected, below-the-radar volunteers like this 1951 entry from England, serviced by dependable personnel and based on an actual, oddball assignment.

1940. As Hitler’s armies conquer most of Europe and commence bombing Britain, they occupy  England’s Channel Islands off the French coast. Urged by the Ministry of Agriculture in London, a scheme is hatched to rescue ‘Venus’, a pregnant cow, key to maintaining the bloodline of her prized breed (the islands produced the Guernsey and Jersey varieties, and the now extinct Alderney, the plot’s calf-carrier being one of the latter). The team sent in to the island of ‘Armorel’ includes ‘Major Valentine Morland’ (David Niven) and former resident ‘Nicola Fallaize’ (Glynis Johns), sister to the islands hereditary ruler. Once there, they seek aid from her pacifist cousin ‘Lionel’ (Kenneth More), an artist determined to stay aloof from the conflict. Complicating trying to extradite a hefty heifer is that affable ‘Captain Weiss’ (George Coulouris), the German commandant, was a cattle breeder as a civilian, and takes a shine to the bovine.

Well, it’s against my principles, but my instincts seemed to enjoy it rather.

After the excellent chase thriller The Clouded Yellow, this second project of director Ralph  Thomas and producer Betty Box works a script by Nicholas Phipps (he also acts a small role),  done off the bestseller novel by Jerrard Tickell, in turn purportedly based on a WW2 evacuation of cattle from one Channel Island, Alderney, to another, Guernsey. Filming (an early credit for cinematographer Ernest Steward) was done on the island of Sark, serving as the fictitious Armorel.

The seemingly preposterous idea has some gentle humor built in, but the underlying thrust is sober and the pleasing cast sells it. The little action that occurs is on the mild side and the expected romantic angle between the two leads is kept at the speculative. Niven is calmly efficient, Johns quietly charming (extra busy that year with Encore, The Magic Box, Flesh and Blood, No Highway In The Sky), and the scenario is aided by making the German officer, well etched by Coulouris, humane instead of the standard brute (that stuff goes to the blunt sergeant played by Martin Boddey). The little-seen locales are intriguing, and the final shot—a boy, his cow and the Union Jack—is a keeper, guaranteed to coax a merry chuckle.

Blandly retitled and thrown away as Island Rescue for its negligible US release. With Barry Jones, Bernard Lee, Noel Purcell, Richard Wattis, John Horsley, Anton Diffring, Theodore Bikel. Music by Benjamin Frankel.




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