John Sturges’ entertaining adaptation of the Jack Higgins novel starts from a similar premise to that of Alberto Cavalcanti‘s Went the Day Well?
Michael Caine (pictured at right) is Colonel Kurt Steiner, a rebellious German paratrooper imprisoned and awaiting sentence for striking a fellow Officer (while defending a Polish woman prisoner against brutal treatment from an SS guard), when Nazi colonel Max Radl (Robert Duvall) of the Abwehr (Military Intelligence) offers him the chance to save both his own life and that of his men.
Steiner is offered the opportunity to lead his men on what appears to be a daring, yet suicidal mission to go to England and kidnap Winston Churchill. If it becomes impossible to abduct the British leader, their orders are equally explicit – they must kill him.
They are parachuted into a small East Anglia village dressed as Polish soldiers, misleading the locals into believing they are Allies on military exercises.
While the commandos await the arrival of the Prime Minister at a nearby country house in Norfolk, one of Steiner’s men rescues a young boy who has fallen in the river and is headed for the wheel of a water mill.
The young boy is rescued but the soldier is killed on the water-wheel and his German uniform (concealed under his Polish uniform) revealed to the watching villagers.
Steiner and his men decide to retreat to the safety of the village church and await the arrival of both Churchill and the now informed local allied forces. The first to arrive on the scene is the amateurish Colonel Pitts (Larry Hagman drawling out his one-liners, sounding as if he has just wandered off the set of Dallas), but it isn’t long before a more experienced officer appears to contest Steiner’s men’s resistance.
Shot entirely on location, this is a boys-own adventure story, full of war-movie clichés, but there are plenty of colourful character turns. Donald Pleasence is a gimlet-eyed, psychotic Heinrich Himmler, Donald Sutherland is the shifty Brit-hating IRA man, Liam Devlin.
Colonel Kurt Steiner
Colonel Max Radl