When the crew of a downed British bomber escape from their Nazi captors with Top Secret intelligence, they make a desperate journey to get out of Germany alive.When the crew of a downed British bomber escape from their Nazi captors with Top Secret intelligence, they make a desperate journey to get out of Germany alive.When the crew of a downed British bomber escape from their Nazi captors with Top Secret intelligence, they make a desperate journey to get out of Germany alive.
Let's see. Dispensing with the crew members who die early on, there is a British flight sergeant whose role is to be the plucky but inexperienced youngster who is wounded and holds the others back, although he urges them to leave him behind and save themselves. Then there is Alan Hale as the comic old cook, more or less transposed from the USS Copperfin in "Destination Tokyo." Then there is Arthur Kennedy as the serious Canadian accountant who objects to the playful way the others make war on the Nazis. He mistakenly thinks war is a serious business, but he comes around in the end. There is Errol Flynn, the only officer, and an Australian, who organizes one adventure after another and speaks German. (Somebody has to speak German.) Ronald Reagan is the American from Jersey City. He is Flynn's sidekick.
The Germans aren't so well differentiated but they're just as stereotyped. Raymond Massy is the monocled Herr Major who pursues them for personal reasons across half of Europe. Sig Rumann provides the best comic interlude. As a railroad policeman he discovers our gang making themselves at home in Gorings private car. He sarcastically tells them in German that he's happy to see that they've made themselves at home in the Reichsmarshall's quarters and asks them if there is anything he can do for them -- "Do you think the cigarettes are good enough for you?" Alan Hale completely mistakes Rumann's sarcasm and comes back with a jolly, "Oh, ja, ja," until Rumann spits on Hale's outstretched hand and throws them all off the train.
Boy, this movie is packed with action. Badabing, badaboom! Trains, planes, and automobiles -- one chase after another. Flynn setting his cap firmly on his head before diving through a window. Most of the movie was shot on Warner's lot, but there is some nice location shooting too at what I take to be the flats around South San Francisco Bay. Prop up a few fake windmills on the horizon and you have Holland. (You can see the same flats substituting for the Japanese coast in "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo," or nearby ones on the Sacramento River posing as a ships' graveyard in "Blood Alley.")
The story isn't really worth going into. It isn't quite as focused as some other war movies in that there is no single mission to which the group must devote themselves. Instead they improvise a lot. But you can hardly notice it because the pace is so fast. Good old Raoul Walsh. Flynn got along a lot better with Walsh than he did with Michael Curtiz. Both were demanding directors but Walsh was more nearly human, stipulating only that Flynn's drinking wouldn't begin until five in the afternoon.
And Max Steiner, the composer, should get a medal. How can he possibly have ground out so many scores for so many different movies in so short a time? Did he ever sleep? He doesn't give this one a memorable theme as he did with "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," but still there's hardly a moment that the orchestra is not banging away behind the action. One thing you do when you're pressed for time is to incorporate traditional tunes into the score, substituting them for original music. I was able to catch snatches of "My Country 'Tis of Thee" (or, I guess, "God Save the King," in this context), "Du, Du, Liegst mir Im Herzen," "Deutschland Uber Alles" (or the hymn it comes from), "British Grenadiers," "Rule Brittania," and "Ich Hatt Einen Kameraden."
No comments on acting are required. If you're in the mood for being diverted, "Desperate Journey" ought to get the job done. It's unpretentious propagandistic fun.
- Jun 10, 2004