Friday 12 June 2020

Movie Review: The Heroes Of Telemark (1965)

A World War Two action film based on real events, The Heroes Of Telemark depicts attempts by Norwegian resistance fighters to disrupt Germany's atomic bomb development.

It's 1942, and Norway is occupied by Nazi Germany. In the Telemark region, Norwegian scientist Nilssen (Ralph Michael) runs an industrial facility producing heavy water. The Nazis press him to ramp up production to support the manufacturing of an atomic bomb. Nilssen smuggles information to local resistance leader Knut Straud (Richard Harris), who connects with physics professor Dr. Rolf Pedersen (Kirk Douglas). 

Initially reluctant to get involved, Pedersen eventually agrees to help and reunites with his ex-wife Anna (Ulla Jacobsson) and her Uncle (Michael Redgrave), who are already helping the resistance. With assistance from Allied leadership in London a plan is hatched for 50 British commandos to storm and destroy the facility. When this operation goes wrong Straud and Pedersen attempt a dangerous raid with just a few men, but knocking out the heavily guarded facility will prove exceptionally difficult.

A worthy addition to the cannon of World War Two mission movies, The Heroes Of Telemark is a British production based on books by Knut Haukelid and John Drummond. With filming locations in England and Norway, the plot outline is based on historical events, but the usual moviedom liberties are applied for cinematic spicing purposes. 

Director Anthony Mann, delivering his penultimate film, extends the script by Ben Barzman and Ivan Moffat to 130 minute. The engrossing material is sufficient to justify the length, but Mann, perhaps chilled by the often frigic Nordic surroundings, is cold and calculating rather than intense. Many chase and infiltration sequences, although never less than well-executed in snowy terrain and often dark conditions, go on for longer than necessary.

Three distinct centrepiece action scenes occupy the core of the film, and Mann opts for silence as a powerful weapon. Driven by the imperative of stopping the Germans from winning the race to develop a devastating weapon, a commando-style assault, an air-raid, and finally an attack on a ferry are all meticulously constructed with cohesive editing and minimal talk, the unfolding action speaking louder than any words.

Less successful are the interpersonal relationships. The cold-and-hot antics between divorced couple Rolf and Anna Pedersen represent a classic romantic subplot insertion where none was needed. The drama between Knut and Rolf is also clunky, both Richard Harris and Kirk Douglas more detached than usual and standing outside their characters. Douglas' portrayal of Rolf Pedersen has to survive a lack of exposition on how a professor transitions to a fearless all-action hero complete with knowledge of weaponry and explosives.

But The Heroes Of Telemark ski jumps over some flaws to deliver a rousing salute to wartime heroism in a picturesque but otherwise little known corner of Europe, where the world's destiny may well have been decided.

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