American commandos, led by Captain Murphy (Guy Madison), parachute into occupied Normandy, where Lt. Strobel (Peter Lee Lawrence), a German spy, helps them penetrate a flamethrower installations which threatens the landings on Omaha Beach. Murphy is skeptical of his mission's practicality, but Strobel is fanatically dedicated to destroying the base, and the two butt heads several times before the film's bullet-ridden climax.
This was an Italian-French co-production, and was quite possibly shot in France this is noticeable in the first few shots. For once, an Italian war films opens with the landscape actually looking like the country it represents. I can't count the times I've seen semi-arid climates and rock quarries passed off for "southern France", so Brescia's choice of shooting locations earns him major points in my book. The movie looks just as real throughout uniforms, weapons, vehicles and sets all look very authentic. Many Italian directors, such as Leon Klimovsky and Umberto Lenzi, disregarded accuracy in favor of action, and that damaged their credibility. Here, one can respect the time and money Brescia puts into making his film look credible.
This was Guy Madison's first Italian war movie, and he hasn't grown comfortable yet in a part which he would eventually own in the genre he's starred in several similarly-themed films, each helmed by a different director. Man, does this guy get around! That said, he seems a bit unsure of himself as Captain Murphy, quite possibly because the role has its limitations. Murphy is cynical and critical of the way his mission was planned by superiors and how he's been ordered to execute it, but that's about all he gets to say and he says it so many times that his dialog gets old and worn out very fast.
In direct contrast, Peter Lee Lawrence seems to be enjoying himself as Lt. Strobel, and has plenty of good dialog as well as some physically active scenes to be involved in. From the moment we meet him, Strobel is obsessed with the success of his mission, even if it means killing anyone who gets in his way. But he also has a tender side, demonstrated in his love for the French partisan girl Denise (Erika Blanc), a relationship which never gets the full development it deserves.
Brescia then loads his supporting cast with familiar names and faces, most notably, Max Tarilli ("Hornet's Nest"), an always under-used and under-appreciated actor. Here, Tarilli is a vicious German Corporal who is hot on the trail of Murphy's commandos, and never ceases in his search. It's refreshing to see what talent Tarilli has, and he never appears less than fully convincing as the vicious-Nazi-type. Massimo Carocci, Pierre Richard, Giuseppe Castellano, Luciano Catenacci, Gianni Pulone, and Giovanni Ivan Scratuglia all have small parts, too, which give a necessary boost.
When stacked up against similar films, such as "Where Eagles Dare", "Attack and Retreat" or "Tobruk", this little action story doesn't hold up as well. But Brescia takes his craft seriously, and earnestly tries to make everything look and sound as good as possible given the circumstances. "Hell in Normandy" is a well-meaning war film with a good premise and enough good acting, suspense and violent action to keep it entertaining, even if it is all clichéd.
SGT. SLAUGHTER'S RATING: 3 Bullets