A German plot to kidnap Sir Winston Churchill unfolds at the height of World War II.A German plot to kidnap Sir Winston Churchill unfolds at the height of World War II.A German plot to kidnap Sir Winston Churchill unfolds at the height of World War II.
This film has been a personal favourite of mine since I first saw it on its TV premiere around 1979, aged 12. It is of course the screen adaptation of Jack Higgins bestseller. I must admit to never having read the book, so I can't testify how closely the film follows it. Produced by ITC in 1976, it boasts an impressive cast in Michael Caine, Donald Sutherland, Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasance and a pre-JR Larry Hagman. Veteran Hollywood Director John Sturges was at the helm - the man responsible for 'Bad Day At Black Rock', 'The Magnificent Seven' and 'The Great Escape' to name just three. The production values and technical credits are uniformally good.
As to the film itself, it remains an entertaining romp. Your interest is held throughout, and you find yourself half wanting the Germans to get away with it, as Michael Caine and his men are such decent chaps. Donald Sutherland is full of Irish charm as Devlin, Larry Hagman is intentionally funny as the incompetent Col.Clarence T.Pitts, Robert Duvall is convincing and sympathetic as Radl, and Donald Pleasance quite chilling as Himmler. Good though the film is, it might have been better. In his autobiography, Michael Caine talks about the fact that after shooting had wrapped, Sturges headed back to California and never returned for any of the editing or post production. Caine felt let down by this, for as he correctly states, a Director can do some of his most important work at this stage. However, he also remembers the shooting of the film as a very pleasurable experience. At that time he lived at Windsor, and much of the filming was done nearby on the beautiful Mapledurham Estate, during the longest, hottest summer that most of us remember.
I paid a visit to Mapledurham recently, during the fine summer that we've just enjoyed. It's instantly recognisible - the watermill, the church, the manor house, Joanna Grey's cottage - all as they appear in the film and well worth a visit. It always amuses me that the events are supposed to take place in November - a truly miserable month here - and yet its clearly mid-summer on screen.
I have one major gripe. Not with the film itself, but its availability on DVD. The UK version is to be avoided like the plague. Cursed with being distributed here by Carlton, its in 1.33:1 and worse is missing some 12 minutes of footage. The US version is at least in 2.35:1, but is still missing 3 to 4 minutes of the film. Thank heavens that I still have my complete version recorded from the BBC some 12 years ago, before they decided to cut some brief moments of violence. Its really annoying when a good film that did reasonable business at the box office gets such shoddy treatment on DVD. There really is no excuse for it.
When all is said and done, this is a good entertaining yarn and an intriguing idea (even if it does have echoes of 'Went The Day Well'). Maybe not a classic, but always good fun, professionally mounted and with some lovely locations. Give it a try if you haven't already seen it, just avoid that Region 2 DVD!
- Sep 20, 2003