Director: Josė Ferrer
Script: Bryan Forbes & Richard Maibeum
Cast: Trevor Howard, Josė Ferrer, Dora Bryan, Victor Madden, Anthony Newley, David Lodge, Peter Arne, Percey Herbert, Christopher Lee
Running time: 98 minutes
During the Second World War fast enemy merchant ships were operating out of Bordeaux and were either bypassing British blockades or endangering British ships. The Royal Marines were therefore sent in, on a covert mission, to destroy said merchant ships while there were harboured in France. This is their story…
Josė Ferrer, who also directs, plays the part of Major Stringer, who’s seconded to the Royal Marines after having a unique idea of sending in a specially-trained team of commandos behind enemy lines, in collapsible canoes, to blow up the German ships with limpet mines. This, of course, will be made tougher by the team having to paddle seventy miles upriver, against strong currents, and mostly at night, all the while being hunted by nasty Nazis.
Unfortunately, things don’t get off to a flying start when Stringer, a maverick of sorts, rubs the current commanding officer, Captain Thompson (Trevor Howard), up the wrong way with his unusual handling of the men and his off-the-wall training methods. For example, he endangers the volunteer recruits by sending them on a mock mission, whereby they are parachuted into the North of England, dressed as Germans, and have to find their way back to barracks in the South without getting killed or stopped by the authorities. This is actually quite an amusing sequence with the various trainees having to use their guile to make it to safety, although three get caught by the home guard, six were unaccounted for, three were shot, and one even got married!
When a trial run up the Thames Estuary goes seriously awry, Stringer asks for Thompson’s help and the two form an uneasy alliance; with Thompson eventually joining the team on the mission when one of the group is knocked unconscious during an attack on the submarine they’re initially travelling in.
The Cockleshell Heroes is a solid war movie, but is probably less well-known than many of its brethren due to the fact that it’s quite uneven in pacing, and it takes the best part of an hour (of a 98 min film) for them to actually start the mission proper. That said there are some excellent performances on display here, with the central two protagonists being deftly handled by two top thespians, although I did feel that, at times, the movie felt like a bit of a vanity project for Ferrer.
There is good use of locations, peppered with some impressive underwater scenes, throughout the film, that add a real authenticity to it all, which obviously adds further gravitas to the piece. Unfortunately, some tension is lost later on by the music (by John Addison), which, for me at least, didn’t really fit with the action and was a bit too loud and brash for the later moments of stealthy high tension.
The film is definitely worth a watch and will be a nostalgic trip for some, like me, who remember it being regularly aired during Christmas holidays on TV back in the day. This Eureka Classics disc is nicely done and this is the film’s first time the film has been available on Blu-ray.
Eureka! Entertainment is distributing The Cockleshell Heroes on Blu-ray. Surprisingly there’s only one extra on the disc:
Interview with Sheldon Hall (30 mins) – A solid interview with actor Sheldon Hall, who seems to know a lot about the history of the film and the studio, Warwick Film Productions, who made it. Sheldon actually confirms my suspicions about Ferrer being a bit of an egomaniac, this according to writer Brian Forbes. We also learn that there were a lot of re-writes of the script and the film was sot partly at Shepperton Studios and partly in Portugal.