Gripping Second World War drama They Who Dare (based on a true event) is elevated from the stock-in-trade, stiff-upper-lip heroism by immaculate characterisations from Dirk Bogarde and Denholm Elliott. They head a crack, ten-man squad into enemy territory to destroy a pair of Nazi airfields on Rhodes. All Quiet on the Western Front director Lewis Milestone piles on the suspense in an intense, semi-documentary celebration of Allied backbone.
Nervy, green Lieutenant Graham (Bogarde) of the Special Boat Service has picked the short straw – to head up a suicide mission onto the German/ Italian occupied Greek island accompanied by Lieutenant Poole (Russell Enoch), Sergeants Corcoran (Elliott) and Evans (David Peel), and Marines Barrett (Peter Burton) and Boyd (Sam Kydd). Their mission – to destroy two airfields.
To fulfil their operation the men must surmount seemingly impossible obstacles. The island is heaving with the enemy’s military presence, the rocky terrain they must traverse is punishing, and sustenance is scarce. But, as the SAS motto goes, Who Dares Wins and, showing extreme courage, the men, having split into two groups, manage to blow up the airfields. But at a terrible price. When the submarine comes to collect them, only two have made it to the rendezvous.
Most of the male cast had seen active service, their experience adding to the film’s desired realism, indeed Milestone’s film is weighty, “almost unrelieved in its tension” as Variety put it. The action is supplemented by an intriguing central relationship examining men under the sometimes intolerable stress of warfare. Lieutenant Graham, as played by Bogarde, is a complicated beast; a lack of confidence in his own abilities makes him irascible, indecisive. And yet his courage at times leaves him liable to take risks just for the hell of it. He’s a mile away from the stolid, poetry-reading fortitude of his sergeant, Corcoran (Elliott), and the difference causes considerable friction, the psychology of which the film explores with rare perception.
UK / British Lion – Mayflower / 107 minutes / 1953 Made in Technicolor
Writer: Robert Westerby / Music: Robert Gill / Cinematography: Wilkie Cooper / Director: Lewis Milestone
Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Denhom Elliott, Akim Tamiroff, Gerard Oury, Eric Pohlmann, Alec Mango, Kay Callard, Russell Enoch, Lisa Gastoni, Sam Kydd, Peter Burton, David Peel, Michael Mellinger, Anthea Leigh, Eileen Way