Friday, May 21, 2021

#2,571. The Heroes of Telemark (1965) - The Films of Kirk Douglas


Anthony Mann directs this large-scale yet strangely lifeless war film, which is based on a true story.

The setting is Nazi-occupied Norway, 1942. Scientist Rolf Pedersen (Kirk Douglas) joins forces with resistance leader Knut Straud (Richard Harris) to sabotage a hydro plant in the small town of Rjukan, which is producing heavy water for the Nazis, a key component in the manufacturing of atomic bombs.

Aided by a small band of fighters, including Pedersen’s ex-wife Anna (Ulla Jacobsson) and her Uncle (Michael Redgrave), they put their plan into motion, knowing full well what it means to rest of the world if they fail.

Mann, who also directed The Fall of the Roman Empire and El-Cid, brings an epic sensibility to The Heroes of Telemark, and there are a handful of big moments scattered throughout the film. Hoping western scientists can shed some light on the Nazis intentions, Pederson, Straud, and a few others hijack a passenger ship and force it to sail to London, resulting in a few tense moments when their boat encounters some mines.

Once word arrives that the Germans do, indeed, intend to build atomic weapons, the decision is made to sabotage the plant, leading to another exciting sequence, while the film’s finale, set aboard a ferry, is positively nerve-racking.

Where The Heroes of Telemark falters is in its characterizations. Douglas and Harris do a fine job as the mismatched freedom fighters: Pedersen takes a more practical approach to the situation, realizing it might be necessary to sacrifice a few innocent civilians for the greater good, while Straud fights tooth and nail for a plan that will spare the lives of his friends and neighbors. Unfortunately, the two never click as a team (there was supposedly friction between Douglas and Harris throughout production, and it shows in their scenes together).

Worse still is the relationship between Pedersen and his ex-wife Anna, which is so woefully underdeveloped that it feels like an afterthought (making the scene where Pedersen crawls into bed with Anna more predatory than romantic).

It may seem a bit nit-picky to complain about poorly developed characters in an action-centric war film, and as I said, the movie boasts a fair number of exciting sequences. But in a story with so much on the line, you can’t completely ignore the human element, and the fact that The Heroes of Telemark comes up as short as it does in that department simply cannot be overlooked.
Rating: 5.5 out of 10

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