Heroes of Telemark (1965)




Director:     Anthony Mann. 

Starring:     Kirk Douglas (Dr. Rolf Pedersen),  Richard Harris (Knut Straud),  Ulla Jacobsson (Anna Pedersen),  Michael Redgrave (Uncle),  David Weston (Arne),  Sebastian Breaks (Gunnar),  John Golightly (Freddy),  Alan Howard (Oli),  Patrick Jordan (Henrik),  William Marlowe (Claus),  Brook Williams (Einar),  Roy Dotrice (Jensen),  Anton Diffring (Maj. Frick),  Ralph Michael (Nilssen),  Eric Porter (Terboven). 

Norwegian resistance tries to stop the Nazis from producing an atomic bomb component, heavy water


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

1942.  German occupied Norway.  The film is dedicated to the men and women of Norway whose bravery prevented Nazi Germany from getting the atomic bomb. 

On a snow-covered mountain road the German convoy passes by an ambush.  This ambush is different.  The members of the Resistance releases a huge boulder that rolls downhill and hits an armored vehicle carrier knocking it down the mountain side.  On the way down the armored vehicle explodes.  The Resistance forces run for their lives as the Germans open up with machine guns. 

The German commander visits a power station where they are doing experimentation with heavy water.  The Norwegian Nilssen is told he is expected to increase the production of heavy water by 400% percent.  The Germans want 10,000 pounds of heavy water by Easter of next year.  Outside a firing squad fires.  The German commander says:  Nilssen, let that be a warning to you.  Major Frick is made the head of security for the factory. 

Three Norwegians bike to the factory.  Knut deliberately drives his bicycle into the lead bicycle of the three bikes.  Taking advantage of the confusion, Knut picks up a small container of some type of paste labeled Sudox.  He puts it in his pocket.

In town a Nazi band is playing.  Knut goes to see Dr. Rolf Pedersen at the Oslo University Mathematics Department.  He enters a room while the red light is on.  Knut finds the doctor kissing a co-worker.  Rolf is upset about being disturbed and wants to know who is the intruder.  Knut says he is from the north hydro factory.  He was sent by chief engineer Nilssen.  There is a message in the small Sudox  container.  It is an undeveloped photographic negative.  Rolf says he wants nothing to do with the Norwegian Resistance.  For every Nazi they kill, the Nazis kill twelve Norwegian hostages.  He then tells Knut to get out.  An enraged Knut slams the container on the desk and leaves.  Rolf finds the negative.  It contains blue prints and formulas for the heavy water factory.  Rolf rushes out to find Knut.  When he catches up to him he tells Knut:  "I must get to England." 

Knut and Rolf get onto a ship.  Unbeknownst to the Norwegian pair, they are being followed.  The ship pulls out.  On board are some members of the Resistance.  They take over the ship. The Nazi following Knut and Rolf  takes a shot at Rolf and misses.  Rolf shoots him dead.  Knut tells the captain that they are now heading to England.  The captain responds that enemy planes will spot them or the mines will blow them up.  Indeed, the ship comes up on some mines.  Knut explodes two of the mines by shooting at them.  Rolf takes care of the third mine by pushing it away for the side of the ship with a long pole. 

The ship arrives in England.  Traveling on a train with a British military officer, the officer asks Rolf what is heavy water.  He explains that it is a liquid with a heavier hydrogen structure than ordinary water.  It is useful in the study of atomic energy.  The Germans have inserted a new component to the equation.  In New York he wants Professors Einstein and Oppenheimer to examine the new component.  Rolf is taken to the war room.  A Professor Logan is introduced to the group.  He just came from a disturbing briefing with the Prime Minister.  They have new evidence from Norway brought in recently by Dr. Rolf Pedersen, who is present at the meeting.  The consensus is from America that the Germans may very well be ahead of us in the race to achieve atomic fission.

Knut is brought into the war room.  The heavy water factory must be destroyed.  They want it blown up.  Now Knut and Rolf must find out the best way to destroy the factory.  Is, for instance, a ground attack feasible led by British commandoes parachuted into Norway.  Knut and Rolf parachute back into Norway.  They open the canister holding their skis, weapons and ammunition.  The men cross-country ski to the nearest radio operator station.  When they get there they see the building destroyed and the operator dead.    So they have to move on to the next station, some five miles away over the mountain. 

When they arrive at the next place, Rolf says he knows the place.  Anna opens the door to them.  She apparently knows Rolf.  Rolf tells them that by their being at the house they have put Anna and her Uncle as risk.  Rolf tells Knut that Anna is his ex-wife.  At night Rolf tries to seduce his own ex-wife.  She tells him that she is not his wife now and that it is not so easy to seduce her anymore.  She says:  "I just don't believe in you anymore. Please go." 

The next day the four ski to town.  They go into the church to see if Chief Engineer Nilssen is there.  They don't find him, but they do find Sigrid, the wife of their friend Arne.  Arne is said to be in England.  Sigrid tells Knut to give Arne a message:  He'll be a father in spring.  Anna and Rolf start walking toward the factory.  They see a bunny hopping in the small woods around the factory and they hear the explosion when it steps on a land mine.  They hurry to a nearby small cottage and go inside.  The German head of security goes in to the cottage to check on the new man in town.  When he walks into the cottage he finds Rolf and Anna kissing.  They say they are fiancées.  The head of security asks to see the new man's identity papers.  He is satisfied by what he sees and leaves.  The pair go back to kissing. 

The Resistance now has a detailed layout of the factory.  They have 3,000 pounds of heavy water ready to be shipped to Germany.  Rolf says that the British will have to bomb the place.  But Anna asks what about all the Norwegians in the area.  Some 6,000 people live nearby.  Rolf tells her to keep out of the discussion.  She walks away.  Knut wants to explode the factory by planting explosives.  Knut also wants to know from Rolf why is heavy water so damn important.  When Rolf tell Knut that he cannot tell him, the two start fighting and Anna has to step in to try to stop the fight.  Uncle arrives and they stop fighting.  He suggests that they send in two different reports to the British and let London decide what is to be done. 

A group of seven commandoes are dropped by parachute not too far from the factory.  Their job is to secure the landing strip on the lake.   Knut goes out to give them a hand.  Arne is one of the commandoes.  Knut gives him the message about his being a daddy in the spring.  The men set up the lights for the landing field for the glider.  Knut sees a strange man all dressed in black looking at them.  He goes over to find out about the fellow.  His name is Jensen and he says he is on a hunting trip.  But hunting what?  They take Jensen with them.  Rolf wants to execute the man, but he has to defer to Knut who wants him held as a prisoner.

The sound of a British plane is heard overhead.  But then it sounds like the plane is in trouble.  The plane crashes killing 50 British commandoes.  Knut says that they are going to go ahead with the same plan anyway.    The men think he has gone mad. Rolf says he won't be going on an impossible mission.  The factory will be jumping with guards so soon after the plane crash.  Nevertheless, they all dress in British military uniforms so the German won't kill any Norwegian hostages.  They tie Jensen up and leave him behind.  Nine men head for the factory on skis.  Closer to the factory they take off their snow white covers.  They head down to the factory.  They even face a section where they have to repel down the mountain side.  At the factory they see the German guards changing shifts.  The commandoes are able to get into the main factory building without any interference.  They get the drop on one of the laboratory workers and place him under guard.  Rolf and Knut set the explosives. light the fuse and run.  The explosions go off on time, but they do not destroy the actual building, only the main machines.  The guys jump back over the fence and head up the gorge.  Arne is killed.  The rest of the commandoes escape.  They mention heading for Sweden to test the neutrality of that nation.

Nilssen tells the Germans that it will at least be a year until they can manufacture more heavy water.  But the Germans have a surprise for Nilssen.  They duplicated all the machines used by the Norwegians back in Germany.  They have all been prefabricated.  They are on their way now and the machines will be installed tomorrow.  They will have 12,000 pounds of heavy water by Easter.  Major Frick gets balled out for what happened at the factory.  The commander tells Frick to go into the mountain with his men and get everyone of those commandoes.   And if they are Norwegian, 100 hostages will be shot.  The commander has Jensen with him.  He has agreed to show the Germans to where the commandoes' headquarters are.

Jensen leads the way to find the commandoes.  He comes to the top of the hill and sees Knut and Rolf skiing away from their headquarters.  Jensen followed by the Germans chases after the two Norwegians.  Rolf and Knut split up.  Jensen pursues Rolf.  Rolf and Jensen are soon way ahead of everyone else.  Jensen stops to take a shot at Rolf, but only wounds him on the side of the ankle.  Rolf shoots Jensen with a pistol as Jensen comes flying over a little cliff.   Jensen gets up and raises his rifle toward Rolf but falls down again.  Rolf shoots him twice.  The winner of the showdown between the two men heads off, but then runs right into a German patrol.  He quickly pretends that he is a Norwegian cooperating with the Germans.  He tells the soldiers that he is looking for the two Norwegians.  They take Rolf to their German doctor.  But when they check out Rolf they find his pistol. 

Rolf is put on a bus carrying Norwegian civilians and German guards.  A woman recognizes Rolf and says that she knows him.  Trying to remain anonymous, Rolf tells her that she is mistaken.  She starts to say that she is from the same university, but suddenly stops when a German guard wants to hear more from her about the man she says she recognizes.  She then tries to say that she doesn't know the man, but the guard insists that she give him the man's name.  Rolf comes to her rescue by telling the guard his name:  Dr. Rolf Pedersen, spelled with the ending "sen" instead of the Swedish "son".   The woman starts to apologize to Rolf but he tells her not to worry about it.  Rolf escapes from the bus.  He jumps out and heads down a steep mountain side. 

At the bottom he turns himself into a hospital.  He starts to tell the doctor who he is, but the doctor doesn't want to know.  He tells Rolf that if Rolf leaves the hospital both he and his medical staff will be killed. 

Anna tries to contact England in order to find out what happened to Rolf.  Knut tells her to stop that because the Germans can pick up her signal.  And sure enough the Germans are looking for the sender of the signal.  Rolf stays in the hospital but is feeling much stronger.  He goes down the corridor to see Arne's wife Sigrid.  Sigrid says she already knows about Arne. 

Rolf leaves the hospital.  Knut tells him that the Nazis have completely restored production within two weeks time.  Now the British will definitely have to bomb the factory. 

Planes are heard overhead and  air raid sirens sounds at the factory.  The planes hit and destroy many of the buildings in the factory complex.  Nilssen is wounded and is brought into the German hospital.  He has a 24 hour guard placed on him.  The news arrives to Knut and Rolf that the factory was virtually untouched in the air raid.   And worse the Germans are shipping the heavy water out to Germany.  The train to the ferry with the heavy water will be protected by 1,000 picked troops.  Rolf and Knut decide to blow up the ferry when it is at the deepest part of the channel.  Again Anna complains about the loss of civilian life.  Rolf says they have no choice.  But he finally gives in a little to Anna.  He agrees to send a notice to the Norwegians in London to see if they approve of the sinking of the ferry.  At least that way they will be able to share the responsibility.   Anna is relieved and gives Rolf a big embrace. 

When they use the transmitter again, the Germans pick up their location.  But before they can get to Anna's house, Rolf, Knut and Anna leave for the ferry.  Uncle is left behind.  Two German soldiers shoot him, but Uncle is able to grab his shotgun and kill the two Germans.  While he tries to reload, another German soldier appears and shoots Uncle in the back multiple times. 

The Germans load the heavy water on the two small trains.  Anna drops Rolf and Knut not too far from the ferry.  They walk the rest of the way.  They wait for a line of German soldiers to leave and then sneak down to the ferry and find their way to the bilge area.  They plant the explosives and set them to go off at 9:45 a.m.   Knut and Rolf start leaving.  But as Rolf heads up the mountain he looks back and sees Sigrid with her new baby getting on the ferry.  He has to stop her so he rushes back to the ferry.  But he cannot get to her before she gets on the ferry.  And he is too close to the ferry now not to buy a ticket and get on.  So he buys a ticket and gets on the ferry.  He considers his options and tells Sigrid to take all the kids up to the front of the ship and play a game of who can put on their life vest the fastest.  Sigrid obliges and takes the children and two parents up to the front. 

As the time of the detonation gets close, Anna and Knut go out in a small boat to pick up any Norwegian survivors.  Rolf loads the kids and Sigrid into one of the lifeboats on the ship.  He starts to lower the boat the water.  The explosion goes off.  Rolf saves a girl from being killed by the now moving train caused by the tilting of the ship.  The trains roll out and into the sea. 

Rolf jumps off the ship and gets into the pickup boat.  He is back together again with Knut, but, more importantly, back with Anna too.   


This is pretty much an action flick with not that much history.  Lots and lots of action.  I prefer a bit less action and more insights into history and people.  The movie is o.k.  It's just that I'm not that keen on action for action's sake.  I realize, however, that lots of people love the action parts the most.  It's good to know that there was some Norwegian Resistance as the movie entitled The Last Lieutenant makes it seem that no Norwegian unit really resisted the German onslaught.    

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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