“I never make a war film without two things,” director Terence Young explained in 1967. “A clause in my contract guaranteeing that the producers won’t tamper with my ending – otherwise they are sure to muck it up – and a cross in a cemetery to show where the glory leads.”
He obviously forged a good relationship with his producer here, Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli, for Young went on to direct three of the producer’s James Bond movies (including the first two, Dr No and From Russia With Love, along with scriptwriter Richard Maibaum who went on to write most of the Bond films).
This, however, was a more personal film, following the wartime exploits of a parachute regiment through training and then behind enemy lines. Young served with the Guards Armoured Division during the war and was wounded twice, once when relieving British paratroopers after a drop at Nijmegen in Holland.
Alan Ladd stars as Canada, an ex-US army officer who’s come to England in 1940 to forget the death of his best friend, which he blames himself for. He volunteers for a parachute training school, along with recruits from many other different regiments.
Although he refuses to become an officer – despite pressure from his commanding officer, Major Shaw (Leo Genn) – Canada’s know-how proves vital to the group’s morale. He becomes friendly with a WAAF officer (Susan Stephen) and explains his past, in particular why he’s so happy to be just taking orders. On completion of their gruelling training course, the soldiers are given their red berets and assigned hazardous tasks in France and then North Africa. It’s only during a disastrous airfield raid in North Africa, when German soldiers outflank the Red Berets, that Canada finally assumes control.
Featuring well-shot battle scenes and avoiding many of the clichés of war films, The Red Beret is a stirring drama.
US Title: Paratrooper
Alan Ladd as Canada
Leo Genn as Major Snow
Susan Stephen as Penny Gardner
Harry Andrews as R.S.M.
Donald Houston as Taffy
Anthony Bushell as General Whiting
Patric Doonan as Flash
Stanley Baker as Breton
Lana Morris as Pinky
Tim Turner as Rupert
Michael Kelly as Dawes
Anton Diffring as The Pole
Thomas Heathcote as Alf
Carl Duering as Rossi
John Boxer as Flight Sgt. Box
Director: Terence Young
Writer: Richard Maibaum, Frank Nugent
Book: Hilary St George Saunders
Country: UK, USA
Network and Production Companies: Warwick – Columbia
Year of Release: 1953
Duration: 88 minutes