New from Studiocanal’s Vintage Classics range is a Blu-ray release of the 1954 British Second War Film They Who Dare. Director Lewis Milestone was a reasonably prolific filmmaker, probably best known for 1930’s All Quiet on the Western Front, though he also directed the 1960 Rat Pack-starring Ocean’s 11, later remade by Steven Soderbergh, as well as 1962’s Mutiny on the Bounty. That the middle of those three films was a caper movie, featuring as a it did a series of casino robberies, came to mind when watching this feature.
In They Who Dare, Dirk Bogarde is Lieutenant Graham, who is tasked with assembling a team of SBS officers, Greek army officers and a couple of locals to function as guides, in order to destroy two German Luftwaffe bases situated on this Island of Rhodes, as the existence of these facilities is thought to be a threat to Egypt. Dropped off in enemy territory, they have to split up to find a way to destroy both places at the same time. They have four days to complete the mission, and will need the cooperation – or, at least, to avoid any sabotage – from various locals. The team includes Sergeant Corcoran (Denholm Elliott), Akim Tamiroff and Gérard Oury as the two Greek officers known as ‘George One’ and ‘George Two’ given they have same first name, and Lieutenant Poole (Russell Enoch) who begins the film in a bar having a romantic interest taken from him by Graham.
This speaks to the film’s first problem: its lead. Bogarde – normally an affable enough presence – appears to be miscast, given that his character is a wildly uninspiring leader. He starts the film in the selfish mode described above, and then inspires his men during the mission by whining about being doomed and feeling sorry for what he feels are his tactical errors. This leaves the film unbalanced because, as selfish has he was at the start of this story, it at least had a playfulness that carries through much of the time taken to travel to their mission. So the film feels like a caper, then feels like some kind of watered-down survival horror. Added to this, the supporting cast (except the two Georges) are insipid. Elliott’s Corcoran character makes no impression until late in the film when he berates Graham, letting him know exactly what he thinks of him – something with which many viewers may sympathise. Poole’s tendency to draw little cartoon-like caricatures of people he meets is perhaps the only interesting character wrinkle.
This leaves the story as the main selling point of this film. It is based on the real Operation Anglo from WWII, with Graham based on David Sutherland, an officer from that mission. It is a story worth investigation, but this is probably not the best vehicle for it, as its close proximity in time to the events portrayed mean that this is not the objectivity that comes with time, and the attitudes of the film have dated poorly, with none of the Greek characters being portrayed by natives of that country, and the characters from the island being portrayed in a simplistic and often unthinking way. The visuals on the disc are good, however, with a clean and vibrant transfer. Less successful is the sound, as it seems to have preserved in an analogue format and has warped somewhat, with music slowly and speeding just slightly enough to be wince inducing.
Extras are slight. There is a short stills gallery, but the main bonus is an interview with military Historian Saul David, author of SBS – Silent Warriors: The Authorised Wartime History. Running to around 24 minutes, it is a talking head, inter-cut with shots from the film and is very typical of the type of feature found on these legacy releases. What is elevating this is a little are the man’s credentials. He is able to talk about the film versus the true story, but also contextualise the type of British war film produced at this time, pointing out that although direct propaganda may have seemed redundant by then, there was still a feeling that there was a need to demonstrate both that there was a lot of suffering for our soldiers, but also that the suffering was worth it. It should be remembered that the last item to be de-rationed in the UK was meat – and that was the same year this film was released. The country was still struggling in the conflict’s aftermath, and films such as this must be taken with that in mind.
Fans of the film should seek out this release, as it will be the first time a home release of the work has arrived with a decent transfer. For those looking to build their collections or simply learn more this era’s movies, the work just does not stand-up today; weak character work and an inconsistent tone, all leading to underwhelming action means that it really is not easy to recommend.
They Who Dare is out on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital on 5th September from Studiocanal.