They Who Dare (1954)

They Who Dare (1954)

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We're terribly British.
We’re terribly British.

Twitter Plot Summary: A small group of plucky Brit commandoes attack a couple of Luftwaffe airbases on the Greek island of Rhodes.

Genre: Drama/History/War

Director: Lewis Milestone

Key Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Denholm Elliott, Eric Pohlmann, Akim Tamiroff.

Five Point Summary:

1. I think it would’ve worked better if made in black and white.

2. I say old bean! Who dares wins is our motto don’t you know!

3. Day for night! DAY FOR NIGHT!

4.  Flipping flippers and ruddy stuff – nobody swears in 1950s cinema.
5. Miniatures blowing up! BOOM!

They’re all so delightfully British. That’s all I could think while watching They Who Dare, the 1954 film about a British commando raid on 2 Luftwaffe airfields in the Greek islands. Well, except for the Greek chaps of course. And the Germans. But the British – sooo very British. It’s this that carries the film as they go up against the odds and attack important German airfields during WW2. It’s probably a propaganda piece designed specifically to raise morale and prove why we fought the war in those tough, post-1945 years of austerity. It does feel like a black and white film regraded to colour, and so it’s occasionally tough to watch, a bit like viewing the untold damage they inflicted on the Laurel and Hardy catalogue in the 80s. Thanks, Ted Turner.

Unfortunately the film suffers because very little actually happens for a good portion of the run time. The majority of the story is spent with Dirk Bogarde and his commando squad hiding in mountain caves approaching the airfields and planning their attack. In essence this is a good thing because by the time the action kicks in you’re hoping for something epic. That’s not the case. Some of the planes look good, but the model shots look cheap even by the standards of the day. The Dam Busters did a better job and that was released the same year. In black and white.
With all of that in mind, it still looks a bazillion times better than a lot of the CGI nonsense we get nowadays. I will keep saying it, but model shots look far more realistic than computer generated fakery. Yes, fine, CGI is often cheaper and you can do a lot more with it, but there’s a certain charm to using a humble scale miniature.
Bogarde is consistently good, and I was incredibly perturbed at the sight of a much younger Denholm Elliott. Yes, he did do a few films before appearing in the Indiana Jones franchise.

That was a waste of good wine! Nudge nudge, say no more!
That was a waste of good wine! Nudge nudge, say no more!

Then, just as quickly as the action happens, we’re done and it’s back to the commandoes hiding and getting philosophical, at least for a short while. The scenes following the explosion and the getaway of Dirk Bogarde and crew are possibly the best part of the film. A platoon of German soldiers sweeping the island looks visually impressive and adds a little, if not much, tension to proceedings. If I were to write this script now, I’d be inclined to give the German forces a strong commander who doggedly pursues the commandoes back to their rendezvous point. I’d also be inclined to trim the first 60 minutes of build-up down to 40 minutes or so and spend more time with the commandoes playing cat and mouse with the German forces. But then what do I know?

Given its proximity to the end of the war you’d think there would be a bit more tension to, well, pretty much everything. As it stands it’s more of a damp squib to the face rather than a daring commando raid behind enemy lines.

Favourite scene: Where everything finally goes boom.

Quote: “That was a waste of good wine!”

Silly Moment:  Dirk Bogarde breaking the 4th wall.

Score: 2.5/5

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