Regardless of the differences, I continue to regard the film as one of my most favourites.
Night Ambush (1957)
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Regardless of the differences, I continue to regard the film as one of my most favourites.
On one night last week I decided to sit down and watch two films that I had taped both by the legendary Powell and Pressburger (the other being The Canterbury Tale). I sat down to Ill with reasonable expectations as it was to have been their final film together and I had hoped that they would have gone out on a bang by giving the overworked (at the time) genre of war movies a real boost. Based on a real mission (from Captain Moss' memoirs) this film is a good example of the genre but, other than that, there isn't a great deal to recommend it for. The plot is interesting even if they have stripped away a great deal of detail from the story and replaced it with some humour and some stiff upper lips but it has nothing extraordinary about it that would make it stand out from the crowd. The film has a couple of laughs in it but mostly it is a rather serious film in a way this is not a bad thing as it avoids the usual flag waving quite well and focuses on being a solid story as opposed to a morale booster.
Other reviews have commented on the beauty of Crete's landscapes as filmed here but as far as I am aware the film was made in parts of mainland Europe but I take the point the film, mostly external shots, looks great throughout. Aside from the landscapes though there is nothing that really makes it stand out as a Powell & Pressburger film in fact perhaps the extraordinary thing about the film is how unextraordinary it was; if I hadn't known that it was from the Archers then I would never have guessed. The cast match their material with a fairly ordinary series of performances.
Bogarde seems very relaxed in the lead and he is enjoyable even if it would not even register on the radar of his best performances. Oxley is not as good as he has a straighter role to allow Bogarde to carry himself with more of a swagger without off-balancing the film; he is a bit flat at times but mostly he does well. Goring plays it very well and he is an enjoyable sportsman in contrast to the feeble Nazi's that the genre would throw up during the war. The Greek support cast are not as heroic as I think their real lives deserved but they are used well for comic effect.
Overall this is a solid entry into the genre that tells it straight with some humour and a good steady pace nothing special but it avoids the flag waving that the genre often falls into. However, when you are talking about a Powell and Pressburger film then, although I enjoyed it, one has to feel a bit of regret that such famous names ended their famous partnership with a film that is regularly called 'ordinary'.
(1) The band of adventurers genuinely like each other.
(2) Their mission is not to blow anything up. Rather, they plan to kidnap a German general and take him to Cairo. It's a publicity stunt. But it soon ceases to be a MERE publicity stunt: demonstrating German vulnerability may be as important as creating it.
(3) We get a good look at Crete - and NOT just because of spectacular scenic photography. We really feel at home on Cretan soil. Michael Powell, who had a talent for finding out-of-the-way composers (he also introduced Ralph Vaughan Williams and Brian Easdale to the cinema) has this time found Mikis Theodorakis, whose score is strongly flavoured but friendly to the ear.
With all this, `Ill Met by Moonlight' is an unusual venture by Powell and Pressburger, in that it isn't unusual: it's another World War II mission story, and there have been dozens. It IS more civilised than most. It tells its simple story neatly and cleanly; it's sweet, unpretentious, and disappointing only in that, since it was Powell and Pressburger's last official collaboration, it would have been nice to go out with a bigger bang.
The title is a line from `A Midsummer Night's Dream'. Its relevance is not obvious, at any rate not to me. Am I missing something?
This is because when the operation occurred, the British operators went under the codenames of Oberon, Titania and Ariel for the radio traffic back to Cairo. See Xan Fielding's memoirs as well as Lawrence Durrell's recollections of Paddy Leigh Fermor in Bitter Lemons, his reminiscences of the British campaign against EOKA in Cyprus in the late 50s.
It's not that bad a movie as it absolutely avoids the mawkishness of a propaganda piece and has a semi-documentary feel to it. You must remember there was an entire SS division on the island against which the 5 Britons and about 800 partisans were ranged. It is not so much derring-do as in the vein of The Password is Courage, another excellent true - life drama of Bogarde's.
It's a World War II film, based on real-life events in Crete, about the British army and members of the Crete resistance who kidnap a German officer (Marius Goring) in order to send him to Egypt.
The British are headed up by Dirk Bogarde.
It's a slow moving film, without a tremendous amount of suspense, but I have to say I enjoyed it. It's rich in humor and examples of camaraderie among the soldiers and resistance workers. The photography is excellent, though it's no Black Narcissus.
The problem with it is that it isn't up to the usual standards of Powell and Pressburger and not representative of them. I do love Dirk Bogarde, though, in everything.
The script by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger is fairly good but there are a few structural problems. It was a mistake for the kidnapping to occur comparatively early in the film as the planning stages could have been much more interesting and it sometimes feels as if it has nowhere to go after that. The depiction of the kidnapping itself was apparently accurate but it was not depicted in a very exciting manner. After that, there is not much of a sense of suspense or tension as the two British officers and the Cretans evade the Nazi patrols comparatively easily. However, I did like the fact that there was a sense of mutual respect and admiration between the British and German forces, something which Powell and Pressburger explored in more depth in "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp". While the writing is not up to their usual high standard, the duo's direction is as deft as ever. The film looks beautiful and it makes great use of the beautiful scenery of the south of France. Unfortunately, this was the final film that they made together under their production company, the Archers, but they later collaborated on "They're a Weird Mob" in 1966 and "The Boy Who Turned Yellow" in 1972.
The film stars Dirk Bogarde in a characteristically excellent performance as Leigh Fermor, a colourful gentleman adventurer and scholar soldier of the old mould. Known as "Philedem" to the Greeks, he played a major role in helping to organise the Cretan resistance during the war. Bogarde brings all of the considerable charm and charisma at his disposal but Leigh Fermor was seemingly a larger than life figure and there are, at best, only a few hints of that in the script. Powell and Pressburger regular Marius Goring is very good as the honourable General Kriepe but I would have still preferred if their original choice Curd Jürgens had been cast instead. That said, Bogarde and Goring have good chemistry. Plus, their slight resemblance makes it easier to buy that Leigh Farmer could be mistaken for Kriepe in the dark than it would have been if the far larger Jürgens had been cast. David Oxley, probably best known for playing the small role of Sir Hugo Baskerville in "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (1959), is fairly dull and forgettable as Moss. In contrast to Bogarde, he is mostly charisma free. Cyril Cusack is great as Captain Sandy Rendel, who was not washed for six months and has the pungent smell to prove it. Wolfe Morris, Michael Gough and Laurence Payne are very good as Leigh Farmer and Moss' Cretan allies George, Manoli and Andoni Zoidakis respectively, even though Gough's Greek accent is practically non-existent. The film also features nice small appearances from former SOE operative Christopher Lee and Richard Marner (both of whom got to make use of their fluent German), George Pravda and an uncredited David McCallum in his film debut.
Overall, this is a fun film belonging to the "men on a mission" World War II subgenre but I would have liked it if the Archers had bowed out on a stronger film.
A far more memorable war romance than most Powell-Pressburger aficianados apparently think it.
That network included a thousand or more Greek soldiers, 500 British soldiers, and hundreds of Cretan civilians. The military were men who couldn't be evacuated in time, and who weren't among those captured as the Allies were overrun by the Germans in 1941. The Cretan people hid these men in mountain hamlets and villages around the island. With the Cretan resistance fighters, this lot formed a loosely organized underground. The movie doesn't show it but alludes to the formidable hindrance the network was to the Germans. By clandestine radio, it kept in touch with British command in Egypt.
All of this makes for a most interesting wartime drama. It's not one of combat action, or even much resistance fighting. The killing that takes place is off screen and only alluded to. This is a movie about a calculated and well carried out ambush, kidnapping and flight from the enemy. The flight is aided by the natural mountainous terrain of Crete, and the collaboration with and support from people of the local villages and hamlets.
Some reviewers take exception to the almost cavalier attitude or persona of the lead characters, especially Dirk Bogarde, as Major Patrick Fermor. He is known to the local Cretans, and the Nazi secret police, as Philedem. Most of the British leaders have that sort of carefree air about them as well. They seem to mirror the easy-going, carefree demeanor and attitudes of the Cretans themselves. As this movie shows, they could move about quite easily without German detection. They knew their land and its rugged terrain that the enemy did not know. So, who is to say that it wasn't something like that? With advisers for the film and the source material, it's likely that life was like that for those people then and there.
The story is about a true event, based on a book, "Ill Met by Moonlight." That was a wartime diary of W. Stanley Moss's service in Crete. The original film title is the same as that of the book. It was renamed "Night Ambush" on release in America, and the film was cut by more than 10 minutes. I saw the original 104-minute British version.
David Oxley plays Moss. Major Fermor requested his assignment for the 1944 mission to kidnap Major General Kreipe (played by Marius Goring). Kreipe commands 30,000 Germans on the island. That includes a paratrooper division that was the main assault force for the Germans in taking the island. So, the Brits now want to kidnap the Kreipe to humiliate the Germans and boost Allied morale. The operation was planned by British intelligence and carried out by the mixed underground.
This may be one of those instances when it was more difficult to shoot a movie in a place than to carry out a war there. In 1957, the roadway system in Crete probably did not yet lend itself to the movement of huge film crews and equipment to mountainous areas for filming. So, this film was shot instead in similar terrain that was more easily accessible. The mountain scenes were shot in the Maritime Alps of Italy and France. The coastal scenes were shot along uninhabited and rugged spots that could still be found in 1957 along the French Riviera.
This is an excellent movie. It's a deserved testimonial to the Cretan people. And, it's a nice story of a little-known highly successful Allied coup during WW II. It should be in any serious World War II film collection.
For those interested in history, here's a little more that the film doesn't cover. The German invasion of Crete was called "Operation Mercury." It was the first large airborne assault in history. It was also the first time German troops met with mass resistance from a civilian population. The German parachute had only one riser, so it couldn't be controlled. And, the German jumped without their rifles which were dropped separately in bundles. Before many could get to their weapons, they were met by the Allied underground and the civilians. The latter were armed mostly with pitchforks, sledgehammers and other crude weapons. But they exacted a huge toll on the Germans. As a result, Hitler forbad future paratrooper assaults in the war. The Americans and British had far superior chutes, and they jumped with their weapons. So, the Allies had many successful airborne assaults during the war.
After capturing Crete, the Germans carried out widespread reprisals against the civilians. Between June 2, 1941, and August of 1944, more than 1,000 Cretans were killed in large shootings by firing squads. Homes were looted and villages were destroyed. German generals Bruno Brauer and Friedrich-Wilhelm Muller ("The Butcher of Crete") were the commanders who ordered most of these reprisals. After the war, both were tried for war crimes and executed.
First watch: 2018 / How many: 1 / Source: DVD-R / Rating: 7
For a war film there is an almost complete lack of action, which is probably true to life, but makes for very boring viewing.
There were also a number of continuity defects (appearing and disappearing mist, car going round the same corner twice) which might have gone unnoticed in a more gripping film, but were glaringly obvious here.
To sum up, one of Dirk Bogarde's worst films.
There are three categories of groups involved:
The British, who have great plans to capture a German general and really believe they can drive through 22 German checkpoints with the General having a fit on the floor of the car without being stopped. They have no real plan, no communication system and seem to think the whole thing is "jolly good fun."
Then we have the Greeks, who don't really understand that the whole thing is probably going to cause the SS troops to wipe out a few mountain villages in retaliation. They have nothing better to do than run around laughing and shouting, shaking hands and kissing everybody in sight. So instead of informing the group that about 500 German soldiers are just coming round the corner, it's better to greet long lost friends, before passing on the information. Top gag is of course having a drunken party in a house in the village in the night with a British officer in uniform eating a sheep's head at a table in the middle of the room. The place is filled with singing and dancing, the door isn't locked, they have no sentry .... Really makes the Greeks look completely incompetent and stupid. To say nothing of the British.
And last but not least we have the Germans, who don't even bother to stop the General's car, filled with strange bearded men not in German uniform, as it goes through one checkpoint after another. Really made the Germans look completely incompetent as well. Which they certainly weren't.
If you like this type of film, it can be watched as a relic of the past, but don't expect anything like logic or a real-life story; I had expected much more drama and far less incompetence combined with unintended ridiculous comedy.
I decided to watch this film because I love the acting of Dirk Bogarde--plus, it being a Powell/Pressberger film didn't hurt. However, my overall impression was pretty unexceptional. Now I am not saying it's a bad film. The acting is fine and the direction seemed good as well. The problem, however, is that the story just never seemed all that interesting--even though it is based on the actual kidnapping of a German general by partisans during WWII. Competent but not enough to merit its being seen as anything more than a moderately interesting time-passer.