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This is the true story of Oberleutnant Franz von Werra, the only German prisoner of war to escape from imprisonment in Britain during the Second World War. Written by
Patrick Dominick <email@example.com>
Hardy Krüger was only cast after a couple of British A list actors had passed. See more »
Whilst being driven to Station HQ at Hucknall he passes two aircraft on the flight line. The first is a DHC-1 Chipmunk which first flew in 1949, nine years after the film is set and four years after the end of WW2. See more »
Franz von Werra:
Hello, RAF intelligence? Hello, RAF. I'm looking for the microphone hidden near the window of my room. This is Oberluetnant Von Werra calling the RAF, are you recieving me? Werra calling and testing.
See more »
Closing Credits: Despite the efforts of the Canadian Government to obtain his return, and of the United States Authorities to hold him Von Werra crossed the border in to Mexico. Travelling by way of Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and Spain he reached Berlin on 18th April. 1941. On October 25th of the same year, while on patrol, his plane was seen to dive into the sea. NO trace of Von Werra was found. See more »
After the Cold War broke out, it was necessary to reconcile the newly democratic, Nazi-free West Germany to its former enemies. Hollywood did its bit with a sympathetic account of Erwin Rommel in "The Desert Fox". After "Frieda", the British movie business followed a spate of PoW escape films with one about a Luftwaffe pilot who had been as hard to hold as the heroes of "Albert RN" and "The Wooden Horse".
Early in the Second World War most Germans captured while bombing Britain did not try to escape: they thought the Wehrmacht would soon arrive to free them. "Baron" Franz von Werra was an exception. No Nazi, he was a Swiss boy who had been brought up by aristocratic German relations and felt he owed his adopted country his services; he was also a show-off who idolised von Richthofen and relished the glamour of being a flying ace.
Roy Baker (thus billed on screen) said he wished to get away from "beer-swilling krauts or homosexual Prussians". He saw von Werra as a maverick, and shot him moving from right to left across the screen whenever possible because typically film characters move in the other direction.
The film is pretty faithful to his story, as was established years later by a documentary called "Von Werra" (Werner Schweizer, 2002) which his impersonator, Hardy Kruger, presented. Kruger's own past was more Nazi than Franz's: he was at Sonthofen, the Party's "order castle" school for the future elite, and his blond good looks are said to have been admired by Dr Goebbels, fuhrer of the German film business.
Pitted against a string of barely differentiated British officer-class character actors, Kruger has a whale of a time in what is virtually a one-man show. It lets him display charm, cunning and endurance in buckets. First he outwits his interrogators, then he twice goes on the run in England (the second time almost taking off in a stolen Hurricane) and finally he flees from a Canadian train in below-zero temperatures. He zigzags 30 miles to the St Lawrence River and paddles through floes in pitch darkness into the neutral USA, arriving with badly frostbitten ears.
Concentrating on his time in captivity, the script neither pleads for sympathy for an enemy nor arraigns him, It does not give us any background on the man, and his second epic escape-- from the US extradition authorities, via Central and South America, the Atlantic and Italy back to the Reich-- is not covered either. True to his gentlemanly self-image, von Werra used his brief fame to compare conditions for the British in German camps unfavourably with those he had experienced-- even the primitive Grizedale Hall-- and got them improved. (The Canadian camp he avoided was luxurious.) He flew on the Eastern Front in the early days of 'Barbarossa', downing obsolete Soviet aircraft, but disappeared on a routine flight later in 1941.
Baker would soon make 'A Night to Remember', the film all true 'Titanic' buffs prefer to James Cameron's version. Here too the virtues of understatement are evident-- crisp monochrome photography, short scenes which always drive the story on, thrifty but credible art direction. Von Werra's ordeals in the rain-soaked Lake District and the icy Canada/USA border are gruelling, and the doughtiest British spectator will not begrudge him his cheeky postcard after completing his home run. Baker used a documentary cameraman, Eric Cross, and shot the St Lawrence scenes in Sweden.
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