The Heroes of Telemark (1965)

The Heroes of Telemark (1965)

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"I swear, say one more thing about my chin and I'll punch you."
“I swear, say one more thing about my chin and I’ll punch you.”

Twitter Plot Summary: The daring raid on a heavy water plant in Norway, as depicted by Richard Harris, Kirk Douglas and his chin dimple.

It’s a little peculiar watching the likes of Richard Harris and Kirk Douglas acting in their youth. Not because they are odd or peculiar in any way, but because of the incredibly striking similarities between them and their sons, Jared Harris and Michael Douglas respectively, who would later join the profession. In any case, what we have here is Richard Harris, Kirk Douglas and Kirk Douglas’s chin all starring in The Heroes of Telemark, based on the true story where during World War 2 a small Allied force destroyed the heavy water plant in Rjukan, Norway. Success would derail the Nazi plans for building an atomic bomb and potentially swing the direction of the war in the Allies’ favour. So not much pressure then.

But that is a separate point to what is on the whole a thoroughly enjoyable World War 2 action romp. We’ll ignore the fact that we have Brits, Americans et al playing Norwegians using their normal accents rather than attempting to simulate the Norwegian way of speaking, mostly because it’s a good thing they haven’t pandered to the accent brigade. My viewing of this came shortly after watching the rather good drama The Saboteurs which looked at the same daring raid. There are obvious differences between the two versions, most notably Kirk Douglas’s epic chin almost deserving its own trailer on the set. This is a big budget, Hollywood interpretation of the facts so there are liberties taken with the original tale in the name of entertainment. The recent television series is a much more appropriate and accurate version of events, but in any case it’s interesting to see the differences played out between the two and considering the trends and entertainment requirements of both eras. Back then it was all about providing a big, epic adventure rather than adhering strictly to reality. Whilst it shows, that’s not to say it isn’t a thoroughly enjoyable romp.

Richard Harris. Debonaire. Effervescent. Irish.
Richard Harris. Debonaire. Effervescent. Irish.

There are a number of factual inaccuracies littered through the story, but it pays decent homage to the efforts of the small team who took out the heavy water factory whilst offering a mostly rip-roaring action adventure at the same time. It doesn’t quite hit the high marks of tension and surprise as the likes of Where Eagles Dare, but that should not act as a disservice to what The Heroes of Telemark provides on its own merits. It’s respectful without oversimplifying the difficult situation faced by both sides at this point in the war, but it doesn’t go so far as to make the Nazis out to be the comic book stereotypes that is the norm for this sort of thing. Meanwhile, both Douglas and Harris engage in acts of heroic derring do, constantly trying to stay ahead of the Nazis whilst also doing their level best to avoid ripping each other’s heads off.

Sadly, and very much indicative of the era, there is an attempt to shoehorn a female presence into the story in the form of Ulla Jacobsson as Anna – who ends up romantically entwined with Douglas and/or his chin (it’s hard to tell sometimes where the chin ends and Douglas begins). She doesn’t get any strong characterisation which I’m pleased to say was rectified in the more recent television series.

If I could change anything it would be the budget version of the film that we have on DVD. It might not be the most well known war film from that era, but it’s deserving of a far better transfer than the one provided by ITV’s DVD department. Otherwise, provided you can see beyond the factual inaccuracies, this is a solid and enjoyable 60s war film.

Score: 3.5/5

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