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The McKenzie Break
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The McKenzie Break More at IMDbPro »

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20 out of 20 people found the following review useful:

Excellent, but sadly neglected WWII-gem

Author: Renaldo Matlin from Oslo, Norway
10 October 1999

An irish intelligence officer (Keith) has been given the unwanted task of figuring out what is going on in a british P.O.W. camp for german officers. He suspects the captives, under command of a submarine captain (Griem) are planning a major prison break, and during his investigation has several confrontations with his german counterpart. Brian Keith gives us one of his best performances opposite Helmut Griem (also memorable) in this suspenseful and highly original World War II drama. If you enjoy realistic war movies that doesn't deal with "guys on an impossible mission", you should love the underrated McKENZIE BREAK.

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24 out of 28 people found the following review useful:


Author: Karl Self from Yurp
21 October 2001

Whereas many supposedly modern films such as `Saving Private Ryan' play along a clear black - and - white scheme (us = good decent chaps, Germans inhuman war robots), `The McKenzie Break' goes down a different path; neither of the central characters is readily likeable or even understandable. Captain Jack Connor is an Irishman fighting on the side of the British Army, a maverick by his personality and origin and yet a representative of the status quo. His antagonist Kapitän Willi Schlüter is a fanatical Nazi, yet we unwillingly sympathize with him because, young and sharp - witted, he is a prisoner desperately trying to break free.

Because the film does not force a constructed morality on the viewer, it is truthful and keeps us in suspense; we are never able to predict the ending or even the next turn of events. `The McKenzie' break is truly a neglected gem, an honest, engaging and intelligent movie that stands out among its genre.

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15 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

Interesting and unusual

Author: ianvanarkadie from United Kingdom
12 November 2006

An interesting war film that differs from others in a number of ways. Firstly,the plot concerns German prisoners of war held in a POW camp in Scotland planning an escape. While many films have featured Allied POWs, it's quite rare to find one that focuses on Germans held in captivity (Hardy Kruger as "The one that got away" is another example). Secondly, the Germans actually speak in German as opposed to some studio manufactured pidgin English. This adds a welcome note of authenticity so often missing from big name war movies made around the same time. The cut that I've seen on British TV was certainly subtitled. I note that another reviewer had the misfortune to watch a non-subtitled version - he has my sympathy! Another interesting point is that - in a subplot - the film has a gay German POW being persecuted and subsequently murdered by his own compatriots. Whether this actually happened and how much of the film is based on fact I'm not sure. However, the Nazi persecution of homosexuals is well-documented, but not often seen on the screen. It must have been a fairly bold move for a film made in 1970 to address this. There are some loopholes, but it remains well-acted and intriguing.

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13 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

Break Into This Prison Camp

Author: ewarn-1 from United States
9 October 2006

Interesting and unusual story of a pack of German POWs plotting to break out of a prison camp in the UK and the new commanding officer's own plots to deal with them.

The British Army commander played by Brian Keith is hard-drinking, clever, Irish, cynical, shrewd, complex and street wise. The German Navy commander is fanatical, ruthless, confident, arrogant, intelligent and shrewd. Both of them spend some time trying to pull one over on the other, and they both know each other knows that, so they spend a little time playing a cat and mouse game while trying to gain the upper hand. Keith's captain drinks a little whiskey and plots with resolute calm. The German sings a few Nazi songs and plots with resolute calm. Then they both put their schemes into action.

I like all the acting here and the wet , cloudy , but bright green Irish landscapes. This is a fascinating World War II story that takes place neither on the battlefield or some goofy nostalgic homefront, but still contains plenty of action and thrilling suspense. When you watch it, emulate Brian Keith and drink a glass of whiskey.

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11 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

An allegory about the death of Empire, and a thrilling POW film in its own right.(possible spoilers)

Author: Alice Liddel ( from dublin, ireland
24 April 2001

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

'The McKenzie Break' is very much in the tradition of the POW movie that seemingly dominated British screens in the 1950s. There is the same elaborate tunnelling; the same stand-off between Brit and Nazi, prisoner and commandant; an introduction of a theatrical scene to emphasise the idea of role-playing to deceive one's enemy. There is the same pitting a maverick officer against his staid, by-the-book superior. There is the tense, suspenseful escape scene, and a rejection of easy, American-style heroics. Character is reduced to short-hand.

Despite the greater mobility and fluidity of the camerawork, making certain scenes very vivid, the film's violence belongs more to the 1950s than the blood-soaked era of Peckinpah and Penn; and there is absolutely no swearing, even in those more permissive times. The whole film has that admirably dour emphasis on the literal mechanics of plot - of getting the job done - which is unglamorous, but has an integrity that gives you an illusion of realism, and makes the lollipops of escape, suspense or action all the more satisfying.

So with the exception of colour, there is very little difference between 'Break' and all those 1950s films invariably starring John Mills and Richards Attenborough and Todd. It even begins with a time-honoured shot, a god's eye view of the camp from the surveilling post, emphasising the see-all power of the confining power. Of course, this surveillance has only access to the surface of things; the escape route is under ground.

This is also a metaphor for the game of wits, between the Germans and their respective captors, Major Parry and Captain Conner. Parry, like his sentry, can only see the surface of things, and hence his impasse, symptomatic, as he admits, of his general mediocrity. Conner's job is to look behind the surface: as a crime reporter he is used to infiltrating the underworld; now he must literally search under this world of the first shot. Conner's former job gives the film the air of a transposed policier, with the wily old Inspector trying to nab a fiendishly clever criminal. This point is brought out by the decoy use of police made by the prisoners in the escape.

There are a couple of incidental, non-structural changes to the old format that completely revolutionise it. The prisoners are German. Further, they are not sympathetic, non-Nazi Germans as in 'Das Boot', but the kind of glassy fanatics with no compunction in slitting an honourable colleague's neck. And yet they are subversive, attempting to overthrow an established order - the opening scene where they group like striking workers and tackle the soldiers regrouping like shielded police, that must have had an ironic frisson only two years after 1968.

In the 1950s POW movies, there was never any attempt to make the soldiers likable - they were tough professionals doing their job; the fact of their Britishness and the shared experience of the war gave the audience the involvement and emotion absent from the films themselves. Narrative logic suggests that we will be on the side of the prisoners, the people who are trying to provoke action - the essence of film - not contain it. And when they do break out there is a sense of excitement, a gush of fresh air (AND surrealism, a small army of disguised Nazis driving through a sleepy Scottish town). But these are Nazis. Rarely has personal morality and narrative demands clashed so disturbingly, in so downbeat a fashion.

Further, this typical British movie marginalises the British. The one major figure - played by England's most underrated supporting player, Ian Hendry - is decent enough, but practically useless. The film is a game of chess between a Nazi and an undisciplined Irishman with little gra for order, justice or the English, just a gambling man's love of impossible odds. Maybe it's some hidden patriotism on my part, but Brian Keith is a wonder, a drunken Irishman who seems to be the only one able to establish order, but actually (deliberately?) creates chaos.

Seeing as the Irish spent the war in inglorious neutrality, and the IRA supported the Germans, you wonder what exactly the very Irish (and not Anglo-Irish, despite the Trinity College interiors) Conner's motives are - as his German rival says, the Brits have been murdering his ancestors for centuries. It is surely no accident that it was Ireland and Germany who, through a long struggle for Independence, and two World Wars, effectively destroyed the British Empire, hence their superimposition at the end. England may have won the battle...This seems to me the true subject of this excellent film.

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6 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

" You may be following orders, but which ones make murder acceptable "

Author: thinker1691 from USA
30 August 2009

During the War years, many a soldier were given specific instructions concerning their duties. After the war, just as many came under the scrutiny of justice. The Nazis were grossly mistaken when those accused of atrocious war crimes against humanity sought the protection of obeying explicit or direct orders. In this film " The McKenzie Break " German navel officers in a P.O.W camp are given secret orders to help 28 submariners escape and return to duty. As such they begin causing an inordinate amount of trouble for the English guards, to the point that general Kerr (Jack Watson) is puzzled by their antics. Unable to fathom the reason, Captain Jack Connor, an intelligent officer (Brian Keith) {supurb acting} is given tactical command over the camp run by Major Perry (Ian Hendry) to ascertain the reason. While there, Connor engages in mind games with Captain Willy Schlueter (Helmut Griem) a German Submarine commander. Time is short as Schlueter must complete an underground tunnel, before Connors' amasses enough evidence to prosecute his adversary for murder or deciphers the secret codes in the letters he confiscated. When the escape is prematurely forced, both men struggle to complete their assignments. Although not on the caliber of The Great Escape, this movie nevertheless gives a stirring and dramatic performance to excite audiences and the cast renders a good account of themselves. A top notch film which has since become a military Classic. ****

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6 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

WWII story about a plot by German POWs to escape from Scottish concentration camp

Author: ma-cortes
11 March 2011

Awesome , tense warlike movie with memorable images and outstanding acting by some well-known faces . This is a splendid film that succeeds largely because of particularly nice interpretations , it deals with a daring breakout from inescapable Scottish concentration camp carried out by Nazi officers incarnated by a good star cast and magnificently realized by Lamont Johnson . It's partially based on facts adapted by William Norton from a bestselling written by Sidney Shelley titled ¨The Bowmanville break¨ . The continuous escapes have caused the British staff ordered 'putting all the rotten eggs in one basket' as the officer prisoners are reunited into a special concentration camp called McKenzie , being commanded by a hard-drinking Major Perry (Ian Hendry) who efforts to stifle riots of the wily Nazis . Irish Intelligence captain named Connor (Brian Keith) , a special troubleshooter , is sent by General Kerr (Jack Watson ) to Scotland for resolving conflicts in the problematic camp . Connor suspects astute captain Schlueter (Helmut Griem) of being the mastermind behind the scheme about a mass escape and he is supposed to stop the action . It deals with hard preparatives of a diverse group formed by Doenitz's U-boat officers and Luffwaffe air officers and soldiers mounting a dangerous getaway from a barbed-wired and strongly controlled camp . The most part of the film concerns on the elaborated process of secretly digging an underground tunnel and the last one deals with spectacular breakout and effort the approx. twenty and some escaped prisoners throughout Scotland trying to make their bid to freedom .

This exciting story contains thrills, intrigue, tension, excitement galore, entertainment and lots of fun . Suspenseful WWII drama about a concentration camp from a German point of sight , it packs exceptional plethora of prestigious actors as British as German incarnating the motley group of POWs , all of them giving good acting and support , as Helmut Griem as U-boat Squadron leader who plans the massive breakout as Ian Hendry as serious Major and of course a sensational Brian Keith whose character , an arrogant Intelligence officer is sent to foil the getaway attempts . The picture belongs to a genre that has given classics as ¨The great escape¨, ¨Stalag 17¨, ¨Escape from Colditz¨, ¨Escape from Sorbibor¨ and many others . Colorful, atmospheric cinematography by Michael Reed , Hammer Production's usual ; it is shot in Ardmore Studios, Herbert Road, Bray, County Wicklow,Ireland ,Santa Monica, California, USA ,Turkey and photography being perfectly remastered . Excellent production design and art direction with evocative sets from concentration camp and barbwire . Rousing and lively soundtrack by Riz Ortalani . This well executed motion picture is well directed by Lamont Johnson . Rating : Two thumbs up , essential and indispensable watching , a real must see for its strong characterizations and interesting issues .

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9 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

The Good Escape

Author: Poseidon-3 from Cincinnati, OH
16 November 2004

Keith and Griem fight a battle of wits and wills in this intriguing, but ultimately unsatisfying prison escape drama. Set during WWII, Griem is a Nazi Captain being held prisoner along with 600 of his men in a Scottish POW camp. When the current camp commander (Hendry) is unable to maintain control of the prisoners, gruff Irish Captain Keith is called in to suppress the men and maintain control over the camp. Unfortunately for Keith, unrest in the camp is the least of his worries. It seems that Griem's men are burrowing a huge tunnel with plans to let two dozen prisoners escape to a rendezvous with a U-Boat. Keith realizes what's happening, but opts to let the plan progress so that he can score the bigger coup of not only stopping the escape, but of capturing the U-Boat as well! What could have been a gripping, involving suspense film is marred considerably by an inexplicable decision on the part of the film-makers. About one fourth of the dialogue in the film is presented in German, but without the benefit of subtitles! It is up to the viewer to figure out what is going on based on the not-too-demonstrative body language of the German actors. This cuts the plot line off at the knees and makes for very difficult viewing for those who didn't take German 101 in high school. Obviously, one can still follow the bulk of the action without the dialogue, but the motivations of the characters is muddled horribly. Animosity towards a homosexual inmate isn't explained fully enough and one character's traitorous actions are left with the meaning behind them up in the air. The ending also leaves a lot to be desired. That said, there are some memorable scenes of tension and conflict in the film. Keith gives a solid performance, thought his accent is pathetic and wavers greatly throughout. Griem (who seems born to play an icy Nazi) is a strong adversary. The dank, muddy atmosphere only adds to the bleakness of the situation. The film was shot in Ireland and, oddly, Turkey, though it isn't immediately visible which parts were done in Turkey (or why!) Credibility is strained in a couple of spots, such as how can all the dirt from the tunnel fit where they put it and how does a POW get a pair of women's shoes and make-up (for the little show they do?) There is entertainment value here. It's just compromised by the sad decision to leave a fourth of the dialogue inaccessible to those who don't speak German.

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Compelling POW Narrative...

Author: L P from North America
11 December 2013

The Mckenzie Break' ('TMB' 1970)--a somewhat overlooked film in the WWII POW genre--is a dynamic & well paced production that has been digitally transferred (DVD; currently lacks Blu-ray/HD, as of 12/13) in remarkably good condition. 'TMB' is recommended for only the die-hard fans of the POW genre & perhaps the curious WWII genre viewer. Another alternative film in the mold of 'TMB', as well as, 'Stalag 17' (1963), 'The Great Escape'(1963), 'Hart's War' (2002), 'Empire of the Sun' (1987), 'The Hill' (1965), 'Blood Oath' (or 'Prisoners of the Sun', 1990), 'The Bridge on the River Kwai' (1957), 'King Rat' (1965), & 'Victory' (1981), is 'The Good War' (2004) with Roy Scheider & Luca Zingaretti, and written & directed by Giorgio Serafini, pales slightly in comparison, but offers another view of an Axis POW camp in the US (Texas). For similar themes also consider: 'The Colditz Story' (1955); 'Escape to Athena' (1979); 'So weit die Fusse tragen' (TV 1959); 'Paradise Road' (1997). Also consider: 'What Did You Do During the War Daddy' (1966); 'Empire of the Sun' (1987); 'Ivan, Marie og verdenshistorien' (1992); 'Victory' (1981); 'Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence' (1983); 'POW' (TV, 2003); 'As Far As My Feet Will Carry Me' (2003); 'The Secret of Blood Island' (1964); 'The Great Raid' (2005); 'Von Ryan's Express' (1965); & 'Andersonville' (1996).

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Nobody Wins.

Author: Robert J. Maxwell ( from Deming, New Mexico, USA
17 July 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Basically the story of a duel of wits between a German submarine captain (Helmut Griem), ranking officer in a Scottish POW camp, and an Irish captain in the British army (Brian Keith) who is sent to administer the camp and investigate the reasons for the POWs riotous behavior. It develops that Griem is organizing the escape of 28 submariners because Germany needs experienced crewmen. The escape is successful. It leaves poor Brian Keith behind. Until the very end, that is, when the escapees are discovered boarding a U-boat off the Scottish coast and, alerted by Keith, a British patrol boat interferes with the escape. The U-boat submerges with most of the escapees aboard already, but it leaves Griem and a few others behind in their rubber boats. Keith, watching the events from atop a cliff, is given the last words. "Well, Willi, it looks like both you and I are in the ****house." Interesting film in which nobody really wins. One or two dozen German sailors manage to get away, but to what? Another U-boat patrol? After May, 1943, those patrols were suicide missions. And it's unusual to see Brian Keith, as a genial, quiet, thoughtful Irishman outwitted by a ruthless German like Griem. And he IS ruthless. Unnecessarily ruthless. One of those dedicated Nazis who kills his comrades without compunction in order to ensure the success of his mission. The role is really pretty retrograde, harking back as it does to the Gestapo spies of the 1940s. Other than his tendency to humiliate and kill such skanks as homosexuals, Griem, with his handsomeness and overall Aryan quality, exudes a good deal of charm. He and Keith listen to a recording of Beethoven's third symphony. "Toscanini?" asks Griem. Keith nods and comments with a smile, "Furtwangler did it better." (Furtwangler was not only a German conductor, but a German conductor who played footsies with the Nazis.) The thrust and parry extends to prison yard scenes as well. There's quite a bit of action.

It must have been filmed in Scotland. I don't blame Griem and the rest for wanting to escape from there. Whew. What dreary weather -- clouds, rain, constant dampness and chill. Not to blame the DP. The atmosphere is perfectly captured in the photography.

Anyway, is this story "based on fact," as they say? If so, it leaves a couple of questions unanswered that wouldn't otherwise be necessary to ask. Eg., where did they get the truck for hauling "explosives"?

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