Monday, May 25, 2015


During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, shipyard manager Ralph Richardson is called in by the Gestapo and told by Nazi officer Esmond Knight to continue working on submarines which were being developed for the Dutch Navy which will now be repurposed for the Germans. Richardson is reluctant to do so, fearing he will be seen by his fellow citizens as a quisling, a traitorous collaborator, but then he realizes he could actually do some sabotage work from the inside, so he agrees to stay on and work on the subs. He takes on a secret identity using the name of Piet Heim, a 17th century Dutch naval hero who broke the Spanish "silver fleet" and spreads resistance messages using a "PH" symbol. His idea works, sparking an underground movement, but because he tells no one what he's doing on the sly, Richardson and his family become isolated in town, snubbed socially and having quisling "Q"s chalked on their front door. He masterminds a plan to have shipyard workers smuggle arms aboard one of the subs on its test run, and the men manage to take over the sub and sail it to England. In order to keep the trust of the Germans, he foils an attempt at shipyard sabotage, and then decides to risk his own life to take out a number of Nazi bigwigs when he gets the opportunity to travel on one of the submarine trials.

As WWII resistance movies go, this one, which has kept a low profile over the years, is quite good. It doesn't have many exciting action setpieces, like some of the better-known films (EDGE OF DARKNESS, THE NORTH STAR, COMMANDOS STRIKE AT DAWN) nor is there any sentimental scene of celebrated self-sacrifice (THIS LAND IS MINE, THE MOON IS DOWN), mostly because the hero remains anonymous to most of the townspeople. But the scenes of sabotage are, if not thrilling, at least tense and well staged, as is a scene later when a resistance member comes to Richardson's house while some Nazi officers gather there for dinner. Richardson is appropriately low-key, leaving Esmond Knight (pictured above to the left of Richardson) to steal most of his scenes as the belligerent Nazi. Googie Withers doesn’t get much to do as Richardson's wife, but the large supporting cast is fine, though no one really gets to shine. The takeover of the German sub is based on an actual incident, though the rest of the story seems to be fiction. I'm a sucker for these underground resistance movies, and this is definitely one of the best. [DVD]

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