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The Heroes of Telemark (1965)

Approved | | Action, Drama, History | 26 November 1965 (UK)
Norwegian resistance tries to stop German efforts to produce an atomic bomb component during World War II.


Anthony Mann


Ivan Moffat (screenplay), Ben Barzman (screenplay)

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Kirk Douglas ... Rolf
Richard Harris ... Knut Strand
Ulla Jacobsson ... Anna
Michael Redgrave ... Uncle
David Weston ... Arne
Sebastian Breaks Sebastian Breaks ... Gunnar
John Golightly John Golightly ... Freddy
Alan Howard ... Oli
Patrick Jordan Patrick Jordan ... Henrik
William Marlowe ... Claus
Brook Williams ... Einar
Roy Dotrice ... Jensen
Anton Diffring ... Major Frick
Ralph Michael Ralph Michael ... Nilssen
Eric Porter ... Terboven


Set in German-occupied Norway, this is an embellished account of the remarkable efforts of the Norwegian resistance to sabotage the German development of the atomic bomb. Resistance fighter Knut Straud enlists the reluctant physicist Rolf Pedersen in an effort to destroy the German heavy water production plant near the village of Rjukan in rural Telemark. In the process, Pedersen discovers that his ex-wife Anna and her uncle have also joined the resistance. British commandos dispatched to destroy the plant are killed when their glider hits the mountainside at night. An improvised raid by the resistance ends in the partial destruction of the heavy water canisters, but the contingency plans of Reichskommissar Terboven enable the Germans to resume production quickly. Pedersen wants to recommend to London that the Allies bomb the plant. Straud opposes him because of the potential death toll on Norwegian civilians and a fight ensues. They send in separate recommendations, and the air raid ... Written by Peter Grosvenor

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Unarmed and outnumbered, they stunned the world with their incredible victory. (Movie poster) See more »


Action | Drama | History | War


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English | German | Norwegian

Release Date:

26 November 1965 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

Anthony Mann's The Heroes of Telemark See more »

Filming Locations:

Gausta, Telemark, Norway See more »


Box Office


$5,600,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Benton Film Productions See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Westrex Recording System)


Black and White (archive footage)| Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Kirk Douglas and Sir Richard Harris were considered miscast as Norwegians. See more »


During the ski chase they use cross-country skis but during the downhill shots the skis have become downhill skis which are wider and the heel is clipped in. See more »


Terboven: Winston Churchill is puffing an extra big cigar today. And we laugh at him. Why? Because all these containers, which the British did so much to destroy, have already been pre-fabricated in Berlin. They are already on their way here and will be installed by tomorrow.
Nilssen: That is... I must say that is fantastic efficiency!
Terboven: Don't you ever make the mistake of under-rating the Germans. By Easter we will have not merely 10000 pounds of heavy water, but 12000 pounds of heavy water.
See more »

Crazy Credits

Opening credits prologue: GERMAN-OCCUPIED NORWAY 1942 See more »


Version of Kampen om tungtvannet (1948) See more »


Norge i rodt, hvitt og blått
Music by Lars-Erik Larsson
Lyrics by Finn Bø
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

The Heroes Of Telemark
18 February 2012 | by victor-335See all my reviews

Throughout the 1960s, Hollywood invented what we now call 'infiltration commando films', a truly interesting sub-genre within war films, far from the brutal realism that would be introduced years later, but with enough adventure and romanticism to be regarded as a great spectacle. Until then, war films were characterized by a minimalist way of developing the theme, showing the audience small brush strokes of war. Although there were war scenes, directors focused more on directing the actors than on special effects and creating a spectacular story. Great films such as 'Objective, Burma!' (1945), 'Destination Tokyo' (1943) and 'The Bridge on the River Kwai' (1957) included no important action scenes. They started to appear later on thanks to the demythologization of war, and the will to recover a genre that had been more or less forgotten. 'The Guns of Navarone' (1961), 'The Dirty Dozen' (1967) and 'Where Eagles Dare' (1968) are good examples of this commando sub-genre. They were keen to show a more feasible type of war, slightly unreal and 'festive', but without losing their ensemble film quality.

Together with the three mentioned above, one of the most popular films is 'The Heroes of Telemark', directed by the brilliant Anthony Mann, a great director of western and ensemble films, who lived in Europe back then and worked in Samuel Bronston's blockbusters. Using his savor-fare in 'The Heroes of Telemark' he adapted a true story that took place during Germany's invasion of Norway. He worked together with screenwriters Ivan Moffat, Knut Haukelid and Ben Barzman (with the support of novelist John Drummond) and the magnetism of Kirk Douglas, Richard Harris, Ulla Jacobsson and Sir Michael Redgrave. We must not forget the excellent photography of Robert Krasker, which transports us to Telemark (Norway) in the comfort of our seats, and also the elegant score by Malcolm Arnold (who also composed the music for 'The Bridge on the River Kwai'). Curiously enough, Kirk Douglas worked with Anthony Mann again when he started to direct 'Spartacus' (1960), before he was replaced by Stanley Kubrick.

The film is set in the region of Telemark (Norway) in 1942, when the allies found a document that irrefutably proved that German scientists were making progress in the search for atomic fission at the Vemork heavy water plant, situated next to the small town of Rjukan, and were in the middle of making an atomic bomb that would change the course of the war. 'Heavy water' is a chemical compound with a molecular formula equivalent to water, in which hydrogen atoms are replaced with deuterium, a heavy hydrogen isotope.

Back then, Norway had built up its own resistance, made up of civilians and former soldiers. One of the members, Knut Haukelid (1911-1994), twin brother of actress Sigrid Gurie, became a national hero after being part of the real commando that appears in the film. The Norwegian resistance and the British army work against the clock to prevent Hitler from achieving his long-awaited bomb: Together they draw up an ambitious plan to destroy the Vemork factory. Once they rule out the possibility of bombarding, Operation Freshman is launched – British paratroopers are deployed over Telemark and are supposed to join the resistance, led by the Norwegian soldier Knut Straud (Richard Harris), who does not hesitate to seek the help of physicist Rolf Pedersen (Kirk Douglas). To make it all even more dramatic, Pedersen discovers that his ex-wife (Ulla Jacobsson) and uncle (Sir Michael Redgrave) have joined the resistance. This is dangerous for him personally because one's feelings can often cloud one's reasoning in times of war. The human reactions that take place in the film help to establish a stronger connection between the audience and the protagonists.

Operation Freshman proves to be unsuccessful because the Horsa Glidier gliders crash and part of the crew die in the accident, and the rest are shot by the enemy. A great part of the true story emerges in the film, although the name of Major Knut Haukelid is changed to Knut Straud (Richard Harris), in order to allow certain liberties in the development of the film. After the first mission fails, the Norwegian commando that is waiting, made up of 15 volunteers (in the film there are only 9), launches Operation Gunnerside. They enter the factory and destroy the tanks where the 'heavy water' is stored. The facility remains inactive for two months but the Germans manage to rebuild the tanks and increase production. The saboteurs ski all the way to Sweden to avoid being captured by the Germans, while the Norwegian and British soldiers continue to rack their brains to find a way to stop the production of 'heavy water'. These events pick up speed in the film and shortly after the first attempt to sabotage the factory, Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris (after a thrilling persecution on skis) come into action again and plan to blow up the factory which is about to transport the 'heavy water', even if they have to risk their lives and those of their loved ones to complete the mission.

For just over two hours, and thanks to the rhythm and elegance that Anthony Mann stamps in every shot, the audience will travel alongside the protagonists, in their adventures and mishaps, and will discover a truly interesting series of historical events. The filming locations were Vemork, Rjukan, Tinnsjo and Gausta, in the region of Telemark, in Norway, and also Oslo, because Anthony Mann wanted to make the most of the beautiful landscape. While he was there, he shot magnificent skiing scenes, in the manner of the best German Bergfilms. We must not forget that the region of Telemark is the cradle of skiing, as it is known today.

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