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Paul Wendkos is an average director at best, but has the ability to turn a potentially terrible movie into a satisfying action flick. "Attack on the Iron Coast" is yet another low-budget entry in a series from Oakmont Production, and although it presents nothing new, but holds attention so well that the clichés are easy to overlook.
John C. Champion's script is a fictional takeoff on a real WWII event, much like his earlier and much worse "Submarine X-1". This time, the story is based on Mountbatten's raid on the dry dock at St. Nazaire, in which a ship laden with explosives crashed into the repair dock and destroyed important German repair facilities.
Lloyd Bridges ("A Walk in the Sun") plays Major Wilson (a takeoff on Lord Mountbatten), who's first commando mission in France turns into a shambles. But he is given a second chance when he plans an even riskier operation to destroy the German repair dock at LeClair (Ste-Nazaire). The only problem is that Captain Franklin (Andrew Keir, "Lion of the Desert") is opposed to the mission from the start, and the two must cooperate as the mission is a joint Army-Navy operation.
This film is really a mixed bag. What's good is really, really good and what's bad is really, really bad. Lloyd Bridges gives a sincere performance as Major Wilson, but his character isn't developed as much as I would have liked. We're treated two a two-dimensional hero who doesn't have any weaknesses; he brings to mind John Wayne's Colonel Kirby of "The Green Berets". His conflict with Franklin is the core of the movie and provides enough tension that the German enemies aren't needed until the final act.
The German characters are disappointing. We're treated to some very shallow characterizations which bring to mind the worst excesses of "Hogan's Heroes". The officers sit and watch dirty movies and become sated on fine wine and liquor while their subordinates bring in urgent reports of an approaching enemy ship. This is very unfortunate, because both George Mikell and Walter Gotell are very capable German actors who have had very good roles in the past - chiefly, "The Guns of Navarone", where they acted together in 1961. This really let me down. It would have been wiser to exclude German characters altogether and dwell on the commandos some more.
The action sequences are withheld until the final 20 minutes or so of the film and range from well-crafted to laughable. Scenes of British commandos dashing about in alleyways and dockyards are excellently staged and well-shot, even if they're very generic. The scenes of British minesweeper in the bay, however, feature some of the worst miniature work of the period. It's obvious that this feature had a low budget, because they aren't many extras or realistic explosions in the entire film.
Wendkos manages to keep things interesting by moving his camera fluidly and often shooting from high or low angles, giving the audience a unique perspective on the dialogue or action. The sets are all-top notch and the exteriors are very well-decorated. The German dockyard is expansive and really has a fresh, authentic feel to it and the various British war offices are equally believable.
"Attack on the Iron Coast" is nothing more than a routine, satisfying 90-minute film. There is nothing fresh and unique about it, but some fair acting and fast pace keep it engaging.
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