Monday, June 9, 2008

Please release me, No. 5

It's the hottest day of the year here in New York, and so I'd like to hunker down with a good movie about a nice cold place. My thoughts immediately drifted to the World War II action movie, The Heroes of Telemark, set largely in the winter in the middle of Norway.

It's based on a true story: the Nazis were, like the Americans, trying to build an atomic bomb, and one of the things they needed to moderate the hypothetical nuclear reactor that would ultimately produce their fissionable material was heavy water. It just so happened that there was a hydroelectric plant in the Telemark region of Norway where centrifuge experiments to produce heavy water were taking place. So, after the Nazis occupied Norway, they immediately looked at this plant as a vital military asset. The Allies did too, and did everything they could to sabotage the plant.

A British glider team attempted to land near the plant to sabotage it, but the attempt failed, leading to the decision to use members of the Norwegian resistance movement to carry out the sabotage. The leader of that movement, Knut Strand, is played by Richard Harris. At the beginning of the movie, he convinces a scientist, Rolf Pedersen (played by Kirk Douglas) to help him, since they need somebody who knows what they're looking to destroy. The two of them commandeer a Norwegian ferryboat to get them to Britain, where they train a group of paratroopers to go back into Norway to destroy the plant. They bomb the plant, but can only cause a temporary stoppage; in order to shut down the heavy water production completely, they're going to have to bomb a ferry which is carrying the plant's equipment on its way to Germany after the Nazis decide it's safer to do the experiments in Germany instead of an occupied country.

The Heroes of Telemark is a good action film, although some liberties are taken with history in order to make for a more dramatic picture. Harris and Douglas are presented as constantly bickering at each other, presumably so that there will be more tension. There's also a love interest added to the movie, in the form of a resistance leader's (Michael Redgrave) daughter (Ulla Jacobsen), which makes for more problems when Douglas and Harris try to bomb the ferry. It's also not the first telling of the story: a few years after World War II, a joint Norwegian-French prodcution called The Battle for the Heavy Water (Kampen om tungtvannet) was released, in which some of the actual resistance members who took part in the sabotage star. Another historical footnote is that a few years ago, a team of scientists was able to extract some of the barrels of heavy water from the lake bed; they determined that although the barrels did in fact contain heavy water, there wasn't much heavy water, and the Germans were nowhere near as far along in their atomic bomb program as was thought during the war.

The other sad thing is that The Heroes of Telemark is not available on DVD here in the States. Sure, the IMDb lists is as being on DVD, but the link reveals that in fact, it's a Region 2 DVD. If you don't have a region-free DVD here in the States, you won't be able to watch it. And even if you do have a region-free DVD, it's a pricey DVD. Considering the star power it has, and the fact that it's not a bad story, The Heroes of Telemark is a movie that really deserves an official DVD release in the States.

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