Saturday, 24 September 2016

They Who Dare (1954)

All Quiet on the Western Front's Lewis Milestone returned to the folly of war with this 1954 adventure film based on the real life mission Operation Anglo.

Anglo was a somewhat ill fated Special Boat Service raid on the island of Rhodes that occurred in 1942. Carried out by eight SBS commandos and four Greeks, the mission's aim was to take out two Luftwaffe airfields on the island to scupper the enemy bombers attacks on Royal Navy convoys. Whilst the infiltration and attack on the airfields were a success, the unit's return to the rendezvous point to get off the island was besieged by bad luck - only two men made it off Rhodes, with the other members of the raiding party captured or killed. In the aftermath of Anglo, the depleted SBS was merged with the SAS (Special Air Service) and They Who Dare takes its title from that Regiment's motto 'Who Dares Wins'.

As a film, They Who Dare explores the heroism and professionalism of soldiers but also questions the limits of such courageous qualities and intentions in a suitably cynical manner in light of the grim coda of the mission it seeks to recount. As a result, it's a curious mixture of the traditional gung-ho 'men on a mission' wartime biopics that came out in the immediate postwar period, and the more pessimistic, gritty approach of a more mature anti-war feature. This mix isn't exactly successful alas, but the contradiction is perhaps best exemplified by Dirk Bogarde's starring role as the group leader, Lt Graham.

Being habitually somewhat effete in his performances and of the matinee idol mould, Bogarde was never what you'd call the archetype man of action or professional warrior, yet his CV contains some respectable instances of starring roles playing just that in everything from The Password is Courage to A Bridge Too Far, and that's not to mention is own impressive career in army intelligence, where he attained the rank of major and received a total of seven medals. Watching They Who Dare knowing of his own personal experiences in the war, you're left wondering if his service had any bearing on his portrayal of Lt Graham, a leader racked with self doubt, yet possessing an almost sadomasochistic desire to take risks and push things too far simply for 'kicks'. There's a strong character study to be had here on just what kind of man led such daring raids that went on to form the genetic make-up of a regiment that is still employed and world renowned to this day, but They Who Dare isn't that film unfortunately, despite the promise of what might be in Bogarde's performance. 

Indeed outside of Bogarde, They Who Dare is something of a weak film. The intensity and dimension inherent in his character is not shared with any of the supporting cast, made up of cardboard cutout stereotypes of the jovial partisan foreigner - all big beards and bigger back slapping laughs - and the inimitable Sam Kydd playing his usual cheery working class squaddie, this time with an annoying habit of replying to everyone with a song he had just made up that always has the line 'Confucius says' - yeah that gets old quick. Bogarde's fellow officers include William Russell (credited here as Russell Enoch) is Bogarde's faithful second whose sole characteristic seems to be that he draws caricatures, Denholm Elliott fares a little better with a thoughtful depiction of an academic type finding his talents required for behind enemy lines operations, but it's just one of those films where you can all too easily guess who makes it to the end credits, and who doesn't.

Whilst the change of tone isn't necessarily muffed, it is hampered by these stereotypes, some dreadful dialogue and an alarming tendency towards histrionics, whilst the special effects look to have been done on the cheap even by 1954 standards. If they had perhaps concerned themselves more with character and less with spectacle they may have had a minor classic on their hands here.

1 comment:

  1. I was confusing this with ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT, another Dirk wartime drama, set in Crete, by Michael Powell, in 1957. I like how Dirk went from playing spivs (THE BLUE LAMP, BOYS IN BROWN, HUNTED etc) to those stiff upper lip war heroes (THE SEA SHALL NOT HAVE THEM, APPOINTMENT IN LONDON etc) before finding his niche in those DOCTOR films and became "The Idol of the Odeons" before he turned arty in the 60s and 70s. Richard Todd, Kenneth More, Jack Hawkins, Stanley Baker, Michael Craig, John Gregson, Peter Finch, Michael Redgrave and of course dear Johhny Mills kept the flags flying too.