The Brylcreem Boys (1998)




Director:     Terence Ryan.

Starring:    Bill Campbell (Miles Keogh),  Chris 'Kit' Ryan (Colin Parker),  Jean Butler (Mattie Guerin),  Gabriel Byrne (Sean O'Brien),  Hal Fowler (Pilot Officer Bunnty Winthrop),  Anders Jillybo (Larsen),  Alistair McLeod (Marshall, Navigator),  Tim Hayes (Wallsh, Bombadier),  Joe McGann (Captain Deegan),  Anthony Madigan (Policeman),  Conor Breen (First Guard),  Angus Macfadyen (Count Rudolph von Stegenbek),  B.J. Hogg (Sean),  Trevor Nelson (Seamus),  John Gordon Sinclair (Richard Lewis).

in neutral Ireland, a British and a German pilot shoot each other down & are thrown in the same POW camp; the two become rivals for the affection of an Irish girl



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

A Canadian crew has to bail out of their airplane.  Before Cullen can jump out of the plane he is hit and killed by machine gun fire from a German plane. 

September, 1941.  Miles Keogh buries his parachute, checks on Cullen, who is definitely dead and then starts running.  He can hear people after him from the sounds of the whistles and the dogs.  Blood hounds have his trail and are not far behind him.  He stops to ask what he thinks is a Frenchman the way to the coast.  The "fellow" takes off his cap and reveals "himself" as a pretty red-headed girl.  Her name is Mattie Guerin.  A man named Sean O'Brien sees someone run into the bushes and he stops his car.  He asks who is it and Miles tells him in very broken French that he wants the directions to the coast.  Sean asks him if they could speak in English and Miles asks him, isn't this France?  No, this is Ireland. 

Sean drops Miles off at a hotel in town.  When Miles goes into the dining room he is met by his mates, who are very happy to see him.  As they talk Captain Deegan comes in with three Irish soldiers and he tells the Canadian that they are prisoners of war.  He puts the lads on the bus from the Kildare Bus Company.  A late comer arrives by car and is put aboard the bus.  This fellow is different.  He is German.  Miles studies his uniform and realizes that he is no Allied trooper, but rather a German. He opens the blanket around the man's uniform and sees one of those German crosses.  Captain Deegan pulls out his revolver and tells Miles not to even think of doing anything to the German.  The Canadian crew had shot the German plane down. 

The POWs arrive at B-Camp.  Miles starts a fight with the German and he gets knocked down. At this point the camp commander drives up in a car.  It's none other than Sean O'Brien who tells the boys that this will be their home for the duration of the war and if they try to escape, the guards have his permission to shoot them dead.  

Miles goes into headquarters, so to speak, and the officer there asks him ridiculous questions and Miles starts to protest, until the real company commander comes in.  He chases the young lad off and apologizes for the man, namely Sam Gunn, to Miles.  He says the guy thinks he's some kind of comedian. 

The newly arrived Count Rudolph von Stegenbek reports to his senior officer.  The commander says he will show von Stegenbek around the German part of the camp. 

Miles goes to Room F where he finds he will be bunking with the comedian.  Sam Gunn, thinks Miles is another Yank and he says it's good to hear American English again.  He pours an alcoholic drink for Miles and they clink glasses.  The room looks very nice for a POW's room. 

The Germans at times march around their camp in full uniform in a very stiff style.  A group of Allied soldiers march around their yard mimicking the stiffness of the Germans. They march over to the Germans at the wire fence, turn their backs to them and then lower their pants so they can "moon" the Germans. 

The German commander goes over to the Officer's Club.  He introduces the officers to their newest member:  Rudolph van Stegenbek.  He says now there are 153 Germans at the camp.  A naval commander explains to Rudolph that they are forbidden all escape attempts.  Germany don't want the Irish to be driven to be on the side of the British.  Rudolph says as a German airman he has to consider the possibility of escape. 

At night the camp lights get shorted out.  Miles grabs a large piece of garden fence and places it against the high fence and the barbed wire.  He scampers over and then thinks about how he will get over some more obstacles, but he is stopped by Captain Deegan firing a shot in the air.  He tells Miles that next time he will shoot him for sure.  Miles takes his time dropping down and then two German shepherds grab him by the right arm.  Miles is now locked up in a cell. 

Sean comes over to speak to Miles about his escape attempt.  He says that when he himself broke out of prison, he had all the necessary equipment and he had every move he would make timed.  Miles asks where he was held prisoner?  Sean tells him the British used this camp back in 1918 to house Irish prisoners of war.  Sean snuck out of this very prison. 

Sean takes Miles over to the local bar for the Allied prisoners.  Sam tells Miles they they get let out on day passes here.  So Miles doesn't have to break out.  Sean confirms this saying that as long as they promise to return to the camp, they can have a day pass.  He also tells Miles that if as an escapee he ever did make it to London, they would just send him back to the Irish Camp B.  The British do not want the Irish siding with the Germans.  If the Germans could use the Irish ports, it would be a disaster for Allied shipping.  The men in Camp-B get paid wages by their respective countries.  The new guys will get paid in about a month. 

Sam is a real cynic about the war, while Miles is very committed to fight for the Allies.  Miles asks Sam why did he sign up, if he does have any commitment to the cause?  Sam says he was an actor acting in American film about RAF flyers.  Then someone had what they thought was a great promotional idea for the movie.  They would have the American actors actually join the RAF.  One thing led to another and Sam is now here in Ireland. 

Sam and Miles take off to go into the village.  They go to the local Irish racing track to watch the races.  Some of the German POWs are also at the races.  Miles makes some bets on the horses, but drops one of his tickets.  Mattie Guerin bends down and picks it up for him.  She hands it to him saying that he better not lose this.  He may, after all, win.      

And they're off to the races.  One jockey falls from his horse.  Sam loses.  Miles wins.  The Germans at the races keep deliberately knocking into s man named Lewis.  So Lewis starts to mock the Germans and the way they march.  Captain Deegan bowls Lewis over with an elbow to his head. Miles wants to go after Deegan, but Sam holds him back.  Miles stares at Deegan.  He tells Sam:  "Christ that Deegan is a bastard."  Miles tells Sam he is going to go for a walk.  He sees and then hears Mattie complaining about the trainers using a red hot poker to help heal a horse's leg.  Mattie wants the horse to heal naturally on its own.  While she shouts at the men, Miles comes in and walks out with the horse.  Mattie now sees Miles purchase the horse from the main trainer. 

Mattie drives the jaunting carriage, while she talks with Miles.  They are following behind the truck and horse carrier headed up to her farm.  Mattie takes Miles into the kitchen and introduces him to Nonie as a friend of hers.  Mattie tells Miles that half the Irish men are off fighting for Britain.  Her brother is with the 8th Army in North Africa. 

Mattie's father walks into the kitchen with Herr Rudolph.  Matties introduces Miles and dad introduces Rudolph.  Miles, of course, is not too happy to see him.  Rudolph tells Miles that this could be a very awkward situation, but only if one of them makes it so.  Rudolph is willing to sit and behave himself, but Miles says he just can't have tea with the German.  He leaves the kitchen.  Nonie also leaves the kitchen.  Mattie apologizes to her guest Rudolph. 

Miles takes his aggression out on a home made boxing bag.  Everyone takes off for mail call in both camps.  One of the German fellows reads that his whole family has been killed.  He goes a bit crazy and tries to cross over the barbed wire fence to get at the Allied troops.  A couple of men start to pull him down from the wire, but that really scratches up the man.  Rudolph rushes over and pulls one of the men off the crazy man.  He then asks his friends for help and they gingerly bring the man down slowly off the fence. 

Lewis shows Miles a motorcycle he picked up along the way.  He has been working on it, but tells Miles he doesn't even know how to start the damn thing.  He says that he and Miles are going to escape on this baby.  Miles says he has an old Harley back in Canada and he knows how to ride.  He starts the motorcycle right up, gets Lewis to jump on the back and around and around they go in the semi-empty barn. 

Mattie comes to the camp.  Miles comes out to her and she tells him that she may have found someone to buy the horse from Miles.  And it's none other than Rudolph, who now shows up.  Mattie has an extra horse with her.  Rudolph gets on the horse and they go riding together.  Miles is angry.  Out riding on the horses Miles suddenly shows up out of nowhere on the motorcycle and scares the hell out of the horses.  Rudolph chases after the motorcyclist, but can't catch him. 

Miles returns to the barracks.  Sam tells him that he is going to be a father.  He then asks Miles if he should marry the girl Alice?  The Londoner is six months pregnant.    Miles says Sam should marry her.

The naval commander argues with Rudolph over what Rudolph did for the young man whose whole family was wiped out.  Rudolph tells the man that he has no compassion and the fellow only says that compassion is for the weak, not the strong.  The navy man now tells Rudolph that if he challenges his authority over Schmidt, he will live to regret it.  They both to into Schmidt's room.  The young sailor has hung himself.  Rudolph now grabs the commander and slugs him in the face, knocking him to the floor. 

Mattie is out riding when she sees the goggled man racing along the beach.  She comes down to the beach and rides over to the motorcyclist, who takes off his helmet.  It's none other than Lewis.  Mattie starts to shout at him that it was a dangerous thing he did the other day.  Miles comes over and tells Lewis that he is getting the hang of riding a motorcycle.  Now Mattie turns her wrath on Miles.  She says she will never speak to Miles again.  Miles takes off on the motorcycle.  Miles crashes because he has to turn too quick to avoid hitting a Jack Russell terrier who has been out walking with his little boy master.  Mattie quickly goes to see what happened and the boy tells her it was all his fault. 

Mattie walks Miles over to a little cabin which has a nice fireplace.  She bandages Miles's badly scrapped left elbow.  Miles puts his face close to her and they kiss.  She then pull her undershirt off. 

Sam gets picked up for the day in an automobile.  He gives Miles a telegram he wants Miles to send. 

There's a dance in the town tavern.  Lewis and Miles go to it.  Lewis asks where is Sam?  That reminds Miles that he forgot to mail Sam's telegram.  The telegram from Sam is to his girl and asks her if she will marry him tomorrow?  Sam signed himself out of the camp, but then said he forgot something, signed himself back in.  Then he quickly turned around and got into the cab there for him and left.  So,, at least for awhile, no one will be looking for Sam.  Lewis and Miles have a good laugh at the cleverness of Sam.

Mattie bursts out onto the middle of the dance area and does a great Irish dance.  After she is done, Rudolph congratulates her on her wonderful performance.  They go sit together and have a beer.  Miles can't contain his anger and he goes over to her and tells her that he agrees with her that whoever she sleeps with is none of his business.  This really angers Mattie and she slaps him hard.  Soon the two guys are fighting with each other.  Mattie finally breaks it up when she throws a bucket of water on the two men.  Captain Deegan comes over and tells the two fellows that they don't want their war over here in Ireland.  The two fellows are thrown into jail.  In jail Rudolph calls Miles a fool because Mattie is not Rudolph's girl.

Miles returns for roll-call in the morning.  Deegan calls out the name of Sam Gunn, but there is no answer.  So a meeting is held with representatives of both sections of the camp.  They argue about what should happen or will happen  to Gunn. Sean says that he will have no more brawling between the two groups of men. 

Miles goes over to see Mattie.  She is working on a blacksmith job and much of what Miles says she can't hear.  He breaks the ice when he asks her:  "How does such a beautiful person get so grubby?"  She smiles and Miles smiles back at her.  They get into the tub together and Miles suggests that Mattie come with him to Canada.  She asks he will marry her then?  He replies that he is not so know about that "yet".

Over the radio comes the news that the Japanese bombed the American Pearl Harbor naval facility in Hawaii knocking out many of the ships of the American Pacific Fleet.  In addition, a state of war now exists between Germany and the United States. 

Sam shows up again.  He balls Miles out for talking about escaping, but parking his ass in the camp.  He goes on.  Miles doesn't say anything back to Sam.  Miles and the others go into the church.  Sam sits out in the grave yard to have a cigarette.  The u-boat captain and one of his men come by and start laughing at Sam for being send back to Ireland by the British.  So Sam starts mocking Hitler.  Consequently, the captain goes after Sam with the help of his underling.  They beat Sam up pretty badly, until Rudolph rushes out of the church and knocks the two Germans down..  Miles rushes over to Sam to see if he is alright.   

On Christmas morning the Germans start throwing stones at the Allied POWs and the other side responds in king.  One of the stones hits the senior German officer and he has to be taken to his bunk.  The sound of a machinegun makes all the men hit the dirt.  Sean tells them that they are all acting like a bunch of heathens and are a disgrace to their uniforms.  There will be no liberty passes for a month. 

Sam apologizes to Miles for yelling at him and scolding him.  Miles tells him to forget about it.  Sam says he married his girl in London.  And then, In the London blitz, his wife was killed along with 240 other people in a movie theater.

Sam comes into the prison tavern and tells the boys that the Germans are bombing London almost every night.  The RAF have lost a lot of their best pilots.  So the guys start talking about everyone escaping at the same time.  The men start the planning.  They also start supplying the guards with a lot of whiskey, so they won't notice much.  Lewis knocks the lights out with bow and arrows.  The Allied prisoners all get out and they invite Rudolph to come with them.  Rudolph and Miles go over to see Mattie.  Miles promises her that she will see him again.  Both fellows head north. 

Sean says they recaptured most of the escapees the very next day.  Rudolph was recaptured too.  Sam and Miles made it to London. Sam became an ace in the Pacific war with Japan.  Miles was shot down over Cologne, Germany and is presumed dead.  Rudolph married Mattie and adopted her young son who she named Miles. 


An enjoyable film.  And I got a real kick out of the performance of Jean Butler.  I enormously enjoyed her dancing as one of the stars of River Dance and now I got to see her close up playing the role of Mattie.  She did a good job.  My biggest beef is with the script was that I just don't see how an Irish girl could or would go with a German pilot?  Mattie said herself that half of the Irish men were out of the country fighting for the British.  Her own brother was fighting in Egypt and Libya against the Germans under Gen. Rommel.  What would he have said to his sister?  An Irishman or woman can have a big beef about the eight centuries of foreign rule by the British, but Britain never behaved as badly as the Germans under Hitler did.  Hitler was an anti-Semitic hate monger and was secretly on his way to killing 6 million Jews and millions of others:  gypsies, political radicals, clergymen, political opponents, homosexuals, etc.  He also started WWII after having taken Austria and Czechoslovakia under his power.  In addition, the Germans were taught to hate the inferior races and peoples and the German soldiers had to take an oath personally to Adolf Hitler himself.  I don't think that this is what the producers of the film meant, but to me it's like and insult to the Irish, a very abused minority for eight centuries, to Irishman or woman would associate with any German soldier at that time.  Ireland may have been politically neutral, but they never really sided with the fascists under Hitler and Mussolini. 

That bugged me, but I put it aside and still enjoyed the film anyway.   


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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