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Average, but perfectly watchable
on 24 December 2012
When you find out that the director of the film (Jose Ferrer, also the star) walked out on it part-way through, it probably says something about the film. Ferrer had the original script re-written, and left when the studio had the re-write revised, apparently because there weren't enough comic moments. Not every film can be a Great Escape, River Kwai, Cruel Sea, or even a Dam Busters. Nevertheless, whilst this is distinctly of the second-rate, that's in the old naval terms (which went down to sixth-rate). It's a perfectly enjoyable film, albeit one you'll probably only be inclined to pull off the shelf every few years, rather than more frequently.
One point very strongly in its favour is that it cleaves very close to reality. Without wanting to give much away about plot, a few examples should show how determined the script was to stick to the source; a feature few Hollywood directors appear to give a fig about. The one major dramatic liberty taken is the role of Trevor Howard. In Operation Frankton, on which the film is based, the second-in-command was a Lieutenant, not a Captain, but more to the point, he certainly doesn't join the mission in the fashion shown. However, this is still only a cosmetic change; it doesn't materially affect the plot. If the film ignores the 6th canoe entirely (damaged unloading from the submarine, the crew left behind on the sub), it would hardly have made for thrilling viewing. On the other hand, such minor points as who returns & who doesn't, and what happened to the 5 canoes is entirely true to life.
The cast is a solid enough one - any casual afficionado of films of the period will instantly recognise names & faces; Percy Herbert, David Lodge, Victor Maddern, never mind Trevor Howard & Jose Ferrer. The performances are all workmanlike; the result, a decent enough film, typical of its period, when the story mattered far more than the star names or the special effects. As I've suggested above, it's not a film I watch that often, but it's not one I regret buying either!