It is 1942 and Norway is under the thumb of the Nazis. In a Norwegian factory, Nazis are producing "heavy water," an essential element in the production of atomic weapons. Harris, leader of the Norwegian underground, is enlisted by British intelligence to aid in destroying the factory.
Harris and Douglas, a scientist, are first instructed to infiltrate the factory and await an invasion of British commandos. The raid is aborted, however, and Harris and Douglas destroy the room where the "heavy water" machinery is kept. Douglas is wounded and captured, but escapes, joining Harris
and learning that the sabotage only causes a minor delay for the Nazis. A British attempt to destroy the factory from the air fails, and the Nazis decide to move the "heavy water" to Germany. Douglas and Harris discover the route and manage to sink the ferry and its cargo.
After directing some of the best westerns ever made (WINCHESTER '73, 1950; THE NAKED SPUR, 1953; THE MAN FROM LARAMIE, 1955), Mann moved to Europe and started making big-budget epics such as EL CID (1961) and THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (1964) with spotty results. THE HEROES OF TELEMARK was
Mann's last completed film before his death (he died in 1967 during the production of A DANDY IN ASPIC). Shot on location in Norway, Mann used the impressive landscape to its full advantage, just as he had done in his many rugged westerns. Aided by former members of the Norwegian underground who
served as technical advisors during the production, the film has an air of authenticity that would have been difficult to create otherwise. In addition to the former freedom-fighters, Mann also had the assistance of Olympic ski coach Helge Stoylen and his pupils, who helped create some of the
stunning sequences in the film (Stoylen held a camera between his legs and shot some impressive footage as he zoomed down the slopes). Even the problems worked to Mann's advantage. His stars, Douglas and Harris, detested each other during the shooting and the set was frequently tense. Luckily, the
script called for their characters to be at odds through much of the film, so the real tension between the men was effectively translated on screen. Despite all these advantages, the film suffers from obvious trimming some underdeveloped supporting characters (especially Redgrave). Fortunately,
these problems are minor and THE HEROES OF TELEMARK remains a solid, exciting war film.
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