A Royal Marine Reserve Major must work with a veteran Captain and a group of incorrigible recruits to attempt what is generally regarded as a suicide mission: the covert destruction of an entire German shipyard in occupied France.Written by
Anthony Hughes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The Fifties were Jose Ferrer's peak years as an actor and he was getting acclaim for all kinds of roles he was trying out. Ferrer has never been thought of as an action hero, but in a film in which he directed himself The Cockleshell Heroes, Ferrer is outstanding in a part that someone like Clint Eastwood would have been more identified with.
This was one impossible mission given to the Royal Marines. I'm sure rowing crew at Oxford would have gotten one a starring birth on this squad. The idea here is to demolish German ships in the port of Bordeaux and render the harbor useless. The problem is that Bordeaux ain't on the coast, it's up the Gironde River.
In an amphibious operation the idea is for a picked bunch of Royal Marines to row kayak like canoes up the river after having been landed by submarine at the coast under cover of darkness. The canoes are there to insure silence so that no unaccounted for motors are heard on the river. Then the Marines are to attach mines to the various ships and hopefully they will blow up and the Marines would escape inland with the help of the French Resistance.
Sounds absolutely impossible, but it really did happen. The film takes us through the training and the mission and most of the Marines are killed.
This was typical back in the day, get a known American star for a British production to insure international distribution. In Ferrer's case having one of the great speaking voices ever in film, he could be acceptably British for the audience.
Ferrer the director got some great performances out of Ferrer the actor and the rest of his cast, particularly Trevor Howard as his second in command and administrative officer. Howard was the best in the cast, a tough man with a deep secret, he failed under fire just as World War I was ending and has a black mark on him. He gets a second chance 25 years later in another war.
Also to be noted is David Lodge the young Royal Marine who goes AWOL to settle some trouble back home with an unfaithful wife in Beatrice Campbell.
The film bears some resemblance to The Dirty Dozen and The Devil's Brigade, American productions from the next decade. But these Royal Marines weren't misfits made into a fighting force. They were some of the best of that generation who went on a mission impossible knowing that they most likely would not come back.
And it's to them and the rest of the Royal Marines that this American dedicates this review to.
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