Five years after Kirk Douglas dropped Anthony Mann for Stanley Kubrick on SPARTACUS*, the two tried again with this by-the-numbers WWII ‘impossible mission’ story. Kirk plays a Doubting Thomas professor who’s roped into the resistance when Richard Harris shows him evidence of ‘heavy-water’ production at a mountainside factory. Shut it down or the Nazis get the atom bomb! But when the British commando squad goes kaput, it’s up to a handful of skiing Norwegian patriots to play saboteur, including Professor Kirk. It’s a good premise, there’s even a whiff of truth in the story, and the snowy locations are cool (no pun intended), but everything’s bent to accommodate Kirk’s inflated sense of himself. How much better if this scientist/professor, the ‘indispensable man,’ wasn’t mission-ready at all. Maybe even a bit of a klutz who had to be shown the ropes. Literally. (If nothing else, it’d give poor Michael Redgrave something to do.) And the script skimps on detail, so all we do is tag along. It’s not really a bad pic. Well, except for the ramped up finale which puts a gaggle of tow-headed tykes in harm’s way. But it’s sad to see Mann, on his last completed pic, running on auto-pilot. (Extra demerit points to composer Malcolm Arnold for ripping off his own score to THE BRIDGE OF THE RIVER KWAI/’57.)
*It was a friendly break due to ‘artistic differences.’ Honest! BTW - Co-star Peter Ustinov always insisted that everything good in that pic was shot while Mann was still helming.
DOUBLE-BILL: Why not try MAX MANUS/’08, a WWII Norwegian Resistance pic made by actual Norwegians. UPDATE: A 6-part Scandinavian series, KAMPEN OM TUNGTVANNET / THE HEAVY WATER WAR/15, though more dutiful than inspired, does nicely sticking to the facts of this story.