Time was, any new war epic inevitably claimed to be "The Last Great Untold Story of WWII!!!" Affable, peculiar, and a bit contrived, THE BRYLCREEM BOYS could well live up to that billing.
September, 1941. A dogfight ends with both Royal Air Force squadron leader Myles Keogh (Bill Campbell) and German pilot Rudolph von Stegenbeck (Angus MacFadyen) parachuting into the Republic of Ireland. The Irish government maintains its diplomatic neutrality by imprisoning any soldier, Allied or
Axis, who arrives uninvited, and so both are sent to the same compound and held with other stranded British and German soldiers and sailors. Irish Commandant O'Brien (Gabriel Byrne) runs the place humanely and with a sense of irony, having once been held here as a prisoner of the British during
Ireland's struggle for independence.
During the day the prisoners, nicknamed "the Brylcreem Boys" for their slicked-back hairstyles, can leave the camp on an honors system. Both Keogh and von Stegenbeck want to escape and rejoin the war, but their respective governments have ordered all POWs to remain where they are, hoping to curry
favor with the Irish government. Myles' discontent is fueled when he becomes the lover of local lass Mattie Guerin (Jean Butler), who is also seeing von Stegenbeck. Keogh's cocky American roommate Sam Gunn (William McNamara), escapes to London. When he is returned, his bitter account of London
under siege by the Nazis stirs a riot between the Allied and German factions. Energized, the British decide to escape en masse on New Year's Eve. During the breakout, however, Keogh chances to rescue von Stegenbeck from a murder plot by some fellow Germans, and the commotion alerts the Irish
guards. But their guns are loaded only with blanks. O'Brien lets Keogh, von Stegenbeck, and the others get away, knowing most will be rounded up in the next few days. An exception is Keogh, who rejoins the RAF and is killed in action months later. Von Stegenbeck is recaptured, spends the remainder
of the war at the Irish camp, and later marries Mattie Guerin, becoming stepfather to her child--by Keogh.
Even though it turns into a sort of vest-pocket edition of THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963) in the end, THE BRYLCREEM BOYS is less a rousing action spectacle than a look at a very real time, place, and political stance that turns the standard celluloid POW yarn on its head. Unlike post-Vietnam era war
films that emphasize the gruesome carnage, THE BRYLCREEM BOYS coasts along on Ireland's eccentric, self-serving (and, in flashes, marvelously enlightened and sensible) nonpartisan role in WWII. Director/co-writer Terence Ryan seems to downplay the potential for overt humor that, say, classic
British Ealing comedies would have brought out nicely (the image of His Majesty's military under the Irish boot would surely be verboten for the English cinema of yesteryear).
The script fall back on too many stolid, cliched characters, like von Stegenbeck--the standard "good German," an honor-bound, aristocratic Prussian who listens aghast to news of the Nazi atrocities. Then there's token Yankee Sam Gunn, a small-time Hollywood actor who only enlisted in the RAF
(before America's entry in the war) as a publicity stunt. By comparison the love story with fiery colleen Mattie goes down rather easily. Actress/dancer Jean Butler came to prominence in the phenomenally popular stage show "Riverdance," and here both performs and choreographs an energetic pub jig.
(Violence, adult situations, sexual situations, profanity.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1997
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Time was, any new war epic inevitably claimed to be "The Last Great Untold Story of WWII!!!" Affable, peculiar, and a bit contrived, THE BRYLCREEM BOYS could well live up to that billing. September, 1941. A dogfight ends with both Royal Air Force squadron… (more)