The Heroes Of Telemark


If you want a good, old fashioned war flick, that’s set away from the grime and gore of the trenches, there’s a few ingredients that usually guarantee an adventure-fueled rip-roaring outing. First, stick some sort of Nazi installation in a breathtakingly photogenic spot that’s also ridiculously impossible to infiltrate; then install a nail biting deadline that involves the Nazis on the verge of a breakthrough that’ll no doubt score them the dumbing win if left unchecked. Finally, for seasoning, add a couple of notoriously stern actors to snarl at each other as they try and pool their opposing ideals to end the threat in the most explosive way possible.
One such film that follows that resipie to the letter is 1965’s The Heroes Of Telemark, a man on a mission flick loosely based on true events, however, as the movie sees its heroes try and stop the Nazi’s getting the atomic bomb, it largely forgets to add arguably the most important ingredient of all… tension.


In the county of Telemark, Norway, the Nazi’s are using the Vemork Norsk Hydro plant to make heavy water, which, when shipped out, will be used in the manufacture of an atomic bomb.
Insanely determined local resistance leader Knut Straud attempts to recruit Norwegian physics professor, Rolf Pedersen, despite being angered by his playboy attitude and his desire to simply wait out the war – however after they vent their disdain at each other’s faults (Nazi’s have been executing random townsfolk everytime Knut succeeds in a mission), they both form an uneasy partnership once Rilf realises the horrible ramifications.
Sneaking out of Norway to brief the British, the two are parachuted back in in order to sabotage the plant with the aid of 50 British commandos, but when their plane full of backup is shot down into a fiery tangle of wreckage, Knut, his men and a very reluctant Rolf endeavor to continue on the mission despite only having eight men to pull it off with. However, pull it off they do and with the equipment destroyed by a well planted bomb, it seems the world has been spared from Germany becoming a nuclear power.
But wait a minute – what with Germans being as efficient as they are, manufactured parts have already been made and will be sent out, meaning that the Nazis have only been set back by a day or two.
Narrowly evading capture by the Germans, both Rolf and Knut know that a second attempt on the installation would be as futile as melting a glacier with an unplugged electric blanket, they have to figure out an alternate plan in order to halt the heavy water being delivered to where it can cause the most damage.


Despite it’s appealing stakes and the fact it’s based on actual happenings, there’s no ignoring the fact that The Heroes Of Telemark frequently moves so slow, it might as well have been called Heroes Of Telemarketing. Sure, I’ll concede that, for a story that changes its mission parameters so much within in a single sitting, a deliberate pace is probably necessary to keep the audience up to speed as to what is happening. But as the movie shifts from salty recruitment, to a slog across the snow, to a questionable stranger on the ice, to the actual mission to everything that occurs after it, it never actually thinks to change gears to accommodate all the twists and turns – instead content to trudge dutifully through the story at the rate the characters painfully wade through the snow. It’s noticably strange considering the movie was directed by Anthony Mann who previously tackled huge historical epics in the form of El Cid and yet doesn’t really take advantage of the snowy wastes of Norway the way you’d hope. Compre it to the way On Her Majesty’s Secret Service shoots the sking sequences in the Swizz Alps only four years later and you’ll see that a massive opportunity has been missed to fully integrate the frigid surrounding with the plot apart from having the leads look noticably chilly.
Speaking of the leads, you’d think that a double act made up of the tulmutous on-screen tempers of both Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris step upon each other like a couple of volatile pitbulls, but while there is room from raised voices, verbal fireworks and enraged appealing to each other’s better nature, the two men don’t seem to have much actually chemistry beyind both looking appropriately tough in white fatigues and barely (and probably wisely) even trying to scratch the surface of a Norwegian accent.


However, while both Douglas and Harris disappointingly fail to be the Nazi-thwarting tag team their reputations would have you hoping for, they do bark and snarl their lines with maximum grit as the angrily debate how much collateral damage their willing to be responsible for as their mission keeps shifting into something else.
However, most of the time the missions are treated in a fairly pedestrian manner as the good guys abseil down mountains, infiltrate the plant and bomb the place without breaking much of sweat. Similarly, Karl’s subsequent arrest by the Nazis is also tackled in a weirdly flat manner, never really explaining how a physics professor can out draw a bunch of trained soldiers and escape a fusilade of machine gun fire without any noticable train whatsoever (being played by Kirk Douglas works wonders for the cardio, I guess). And yet, the movie finally realises that it better had inject some drama into proceedings and gives us some of that tension we’ve all been eager waiting for as our heroes realise that if they’re really going to halt the delivery of the heavy water, they’re going to have to intercept it on its journey, targeting it as it’s loaded onto a civilian ferry. However, even though the explosives are met with the typical minimal resistance (there is a war going on, right?), the real battle is with Rolf’s conscience at the ferry is loaded with innocent children as well as scowling enemy troops. The scenes where our hero boards the wired-up ferry with the clock ticking in order to get the kids ready for the explosion under the very noses of the Nazis finally has you edging to the edge of your seat as the movie belatedly realises the stakes involved.


Not badly made exactly, but surely a disappointment considering the tale it has at its disposal and the actors it has in its stable and if you’re a fan, I totally understand. But explain to me this, how can a film that includes a scene where its lead dangles from a rope off the side of a ship as he uses a pole to shove mines away from the hull be so frustratingly bland?
An intriguing story that fails to make its (Tele)mark.


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