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Saturday Night Cinema: The Heroes of Telemark

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Tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema classic is a British 1965 Eastman Color war film directed by Anthony Mann, Heroes of Telemark, staring the great Kirk Douglas, this time as a 20th Century Viking in a portrayal of the true story of the desperate efforts to prevent the Nazis from developing an Atomic bomb. It was all a close-run thing – captured German uranium was used to assemble the Nagasaki bomb. This tale of espionage and adventure set during World War II is inspired by a true story.

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Screen: ‘Heroes of Telemark’ Opens:Film of Norwegian War Feat Is Engrossing Neighborhoods Show Well Done Western
By Bosley Crowther, NY Times, March 10, 1966

SO long as we must have war films—and war films we evidently must have, so long as there is an audience that can be attracted to them —would they might all be as immaculate and scenically beautiful as “The Heroes of Telemark,” which opened in neighborhood theaters yesterday.

This partly historical telling of the story of a daring attack by Norwegian saboteurs and resistance fighters upon a Nazi heavy water plant (factory of fissionable material) tucked away in the mountains of Norway in World War II is more a pure tale of bold adventure than a glorification of warfare and death. It has some of the finest winter scenery and some of the most beautiful shots of skiing that we’ve seen in a fictional color film.

There are brilliant and breathtaking sequences of the gathering of the small attacking force in the empty snowfields of the jagged mountains, of its sneaking through forests and deep snows up to the plant (which bears a striking resemblance to the descriptions of the Norsk Hydro hydrogen electrolysis plant in Vemork, which was attacked), of assault and dynamiting and flight from the Nazis through the snow.

The skillfully used color cameras of Robert Krasker and Gil Woxholt, who shot the film, mainly on location in Norway, under the tight direction of Anthony Mann, give the whole thing a feeling not only of actuality but of the strange sort of poetic aura that surrounded so many of the marginal adventures in the war.

Such little details as a red light piercing the blue-gray haze of winter dusk as the men approach the guarded factory or a shot of a ferryboat on an inland fjord, veiled in mist, give the viewer much more of a sense of the incongruity and irony of war in an apparently peaceful occupied country than any amount of shooting and shedding of blood.

Fortunately there’s little of that in this picture. It is energized mainly by the tension of stealth and suspense, and just a wee bit of manly personal conflict between Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris as the joint leaders of the expedition, when they pull at odds for a time. Their character appear to be modeled fairly cloesly (and interwovenly) upon the real-life character of Claus Helberg and Knut Haugland, who were in that original attack on the plant at Vemork, and one of whom, Knut, later blew up the Lake Tinnsjo ferryboat

Others who participate convincingly as characters in a straight adventure yarn are Ulla Jacobsson as the ex-wife and underground assistant of the character Mr. Douglas plays; Michael Redgrave as her underground uncle, Roy Dotrice as a Quisling spy and David Weston as one of the most fervid and unfortunate of the saboteurs.

There is a bit, but not too much of the usual rah-rah and fakery of war films in this show. Its punch derives mainly from anxiety and from the visual excitement of the genuine out-of-doors.

THE HEROES OF TELEMARK, screenplay by Ivan Moffat and Ben Barzman; directed by Anthony Mann; produced by S. Benjamin Fisz. A Benton Films production presented by Columbia Pictures. At neighborhood theaters. Running time: 131 minutes.
Dr. Rolf Redersen . . . . . Kirk Douglas
Knut Straud . . . . . Richard Harris
Anna . . . . . Ulla Jacobsson
Uncle . . . . . Michael Redgrave
Arne . . . . . David Weston
Major Frick . . . . . Anton Diffring
Terboven . . . . . Eric Porter
Colonel Wilkinson . . . . . Mervyn Johns
Sigrid . . . . . Jennifer Hilary
Jensen (The Mysterious Stranger) . . . . . Roy Dotrice
Professor Logan . . . . . Barry Jones
Nilssen . . . . . Ralph Michael

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