Operation Daybreak (1975)
Director: Lewis Gilbert.
Starring: Timothy Bottoms (Jan Kubis), Martin Shaw (Karel Curda), Joss Ackland (Janák), Nicola Pagett (Anna), Anthony Andrews (Jozef Gabcík), Anton Diffring (Reinhard Heydrich), Carl Duering (Karl Frank), Cyril Shaps (Father Petrek), Diana Coupland (Aunt Marie), Ronald Radd (Aunt Marie's Husband), Kim Fortune (Ata), Pavla Matéjuvská (Jindriska), Ray Smith (Hájek), George Sewell (Heinz Panwitz, Chief Investigator), Reinhard Kolldehoff (Fleischer, Gestapo).
plot to kill the "Butcher of Prague" SS-General Reinhard Heydrich (who was a driving force of the Final Solution)
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
"This is a true story. It begins in England in 1941."
Two sergeants in the British army come together in the same room. Their names are Jan Kubis and Jozef Kabcik. Another sergeant comes in. The general will see them now so they all march into the general's office. The third sergeant's name is Karel Curda, born near Prague, Czechoslovakia and was a customs officer before the war. Jan Kubis was born in Bratislava (now the capital of Slovakia), a farmer. Jozef Gabcik, born near Pilsen (now in the Czech Republic), was a lock smith.
The General says that he is asking the men to take on one of the most dangerous operations of the war. "You are at liberty to refuse." The code name is Operation Daybeak. Three months ago Reinhard Heydrich came to Prague to be the Acting Reich's Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. He has life and death decisions in his hands over all Czechs. The man has two orders: to crush all Czech resistance and to send Czech people to be labor slaves in Germany.
The plan is to parachute the Czech sergeants into Czechoslovakia to assassinate Heydrich. The General thanks the men and wishes them good luck.
Their plane is over Pilsen. The three jump out of the plane. They all land in an area 200 kilometers from Pilsen. A private citizen out hunting sees Karel and takes him prisoner. Jozef has twisted his ankle and Jan has to help him walk. Jozef and Jan run into two German soldiers. The soldiers are very suspicious of the two men, so the two Czechs knife the two guards to death. The two guys work their way over to a little shack. They lost their radio operator Karel. Explosions start going off and Jan realizes that they are in a quarry.
Two men approach the shack. The men come into the shack and quickly throw their hands up in the air as two pistols are pointed at them. The one fellow says that the guys have to get out of here because there are Germans all over the place. Two Germans drive up in a military vehicle. One of them asks the quarry men if they have seen any parachutists in the area? The quarry men say no, but one of the guys got hurt in the blast this morning. They ask for transportation to a hospital. Everyone goes except for one quarryman who stays behind in the shack.
The fellows go in to see the doctor. He says the leg injury is just a sprain. The doctor pulls a pistol on the two men. The doctor tells his daughter Sonia to come down. She comes down with Karel and he vouches for the two men. The doctor apologizes but says he had to make sure they were not two spies planted by the Germans. The three sergeants are happy to be reunited.
Jan and Jozef get off a bus at a square in town. They see a little girl on a bike watching them. They decide to follow her. She guides them over to a school. They go inside and ask a teacher if this is adult education. It is. Take a seat. Everyone starts staring at them. They need proof that these guys are who they say they are. Jan says he was one of the men captured by the Germans for blowing a bridge in Bratislava. He pulls his sweater over his head to show them the four swastikas that were cut into his back by the Germans.
Karel goes to see his fiancé. She is happy to see him. He tells her he will come and see her whenever he can.
Karel goes to stay with a woman and her daughter and husband. She asks him to call her Aunt Marie. Her husband knows nothing about this. He only knows that Karel is supposed to be from the countryside and is looking for work in Pilsen. Karel is now introduced to Aunt Marie's son, Ata.
A pretty woman named Anna helps Jan and Jozef find their way around Prague. She tells the guys not to look sideways at the German soldiers. As they stand talking a convoy for Heydrich shows up They see the "Butcher of Prague" himself. The Butcher attends a wedding. He then goes to the wedding reception. The new husband is a German soldier.
Aunt Marie's husband comes home from his job on the railway.
The core of the assassination group meet. Jozef says they have to try to assassinate Heydrich on the day he leaves for Berlin. It may be the only chance they get. Now, where i tshe best place to kill him? Jan and Jozef are provided with a good sniper rifle.
Heydrich gets on a train and it pulls out of the station. He takes a window seat. Just about the second Jan is to pull the trigger, another train gets in the way and spoils the shot. Hitler greets Heydrich at the Berlin station.
Anna has taken a liking to Jan and he to her. She asks Jan to dance with her. He says he never learned how to dance. So Anna teaches him how. They kiss.
More fellows are parachuted into Pilsen. At Christmas Heydrich celebrates with his family and high-ranking officers. Heydrich gets a promotion that puts him now in charge of all the occupied territories in Europe. He is to report to Berlin without delay. One of the Czech waiters in the house now reports what happened to the Resistance. Heydrich is leaving this Thursday for Berlin. London's orders are: Kill Heydrich at any cost.
Jan says that they haven't accomplished much because they have only thought about safe ways to kill Heydrich. They may have to chance their lives and take a riskier approach. They now consider assassinating the man on his way from his house to Prague. His route never varies. Anna says that this plan is sheer suicide.
On the day of the planned assassination, Heydrich says goodbye to his daughter and leaves his mansion. The escort picks him up to accompany him to Prague. Jan and Jozef get into their places alongside a city road, sitting on a bench. It's time for Heydrich to show up.
Here comes Heydrich's car. Jozef steps out onto the road forcing the car to stop. He then pulls his sub-machine out and pulls the trigger. Click. Click. Jan on the other side of the road tells Jozef to: "Run!" The driver jumps out of his seat and chases Jozef. Jan throws a hand grenade into Heydrich's back seat. It goes off, but Heydrich is still alive and starts firing at Jan across the street. Jan returns fire and Heydrich is hit. Jozef trades shots with the driver chasing him. Jozef turns a corner and then waits and fires a shot that brings the driver down. Jozef and Jan both get away. Heydrich is put in the back of a truck and driven to a hospital.
When Jozef reaches Aunt Marie's place the news is that Heydrich is still alive. Jan is already back. Jozef tells him that the gun jammed.
The doctor says that hundreds of pieces of shrapnel went into the lumbar region of Heydrich's back. His spleen and kidneys are seriously damaged. They may have to operate on Heydrich again because fine splinters of horse-hair and upholstery have entered into the blood stream. Herr Frank tells the doctor that he will not touch Heydrich. Hitler's own surgeons are coming to treat Heydrich.
Heydrich is back on the operating table. A priest prays for Heydrich. He says very nice things about the Butcher of Prague. But the priest is working with the Resistance. The Resistance leader says that Jan and Jozef must come with him, but the two men say they won't leave without Karel. Anna tries to convince them to go, but they refuse.
In the recovery room, Heydrich dies. He is dressed in his uniform and put in a coffin. The Germans have a big funeral procession for him. The wife and daughter walk behind the coffin.
Karel is with his wife and child. His wife asks him to please leave. He doesn't want to leave his family.
The Germans decide that the town of Liditz helped the assassins and now they are going to destroy the place. The inhabitants are brought out into one place. All the men are shot, all the women sent to concentration camps and the children sent for re-education. Every building has been demolished and the name of the city has been removed.
Karel wakes from a nap and grabs his coat and cap. He lets his wife sleep and slips out of the house. He goes to downtown Prague. He sees people being rousted from buildings and being taken away by German soldiers.
Jan wants to confess to the priest. He says he is guilty of killing the people of Leditz because he killed Heydrich. The priest absolves Jan. Jozef and Jan go into a hidden cellar below the church. There they see others sent over to kill Heydrich.
Karel goes to Gestapo headquarters. He says he killed the Reich's Protector.
The head of the Resistance comes to speak to the assassins. They have to be out of here by daybreak. The RAF is sending them a plane to pick up the fellows. Jan asks permission to go outside to meet with Anna.
Karel is let in to speak to a high official. He tells him that he was a member of the group that killed Heydrich and he can identify the others. The official asks why the man is telling him all this? Karel says he wants to protect his family. The official has two tough guys sent in. He asks Karel where the others are hiding? Karel says he doesn't know. So the brutes start hitting him and smashing his face into the desk.
Because of Karel, Aunt Marie and her husband are arrested. The bike the Gestapo was searching for is now found. Aunt Marie's little girl and a man named Hájek see her parents being taken away by the Gestapo. The man tells the girl to go tell her brother Ata not to go home. The two children will go straight to the crypt.
The little girl goes to the music conservatory, but Ata has already left. He comes into his family's apartment to find everything a mess. He is suddenly grabbed by the Gestapo and slapped across the face hard. The little girl can't find Ata. Ata is viciously beaten by the Gestapo to try to make him talk.
Jan talks with Anna. He says after the war he will come back for her. Ata awakens to see Karel wiping the blood from his face. Karel is working with the Gestapo trying to find out where the assassins are hiding. Jan returns to the church.
The Gestapo are now moving in on the church. Now one of the guards in the church spots the Germans. The guy tells the others that the Germans have found them. The German soldiers surround the place. They knock on the door and grab Father Petrek. The first group of soldiers that come into the church are all shot down. Jozef starts putting holes in the wall of the cellar looking for a secret passage out.
The Germans shoot out the windows of the church and now rush into the sanctuary. The second group of soldiers is destroyed by sub-automatic weapons and grenades.
The German soldiers are regrouping. Another set is sent into the church and the fight begins again. A German soldier throws a grenade upstairs which kills the first assassin. Another grenade takes a second man out. The third man is killed by a soldier with a sub-machine gun. Ambulances are sent in. Karel is brought to the church to identify the bodies of the three gunmen at the church. Are these the men who killed Heydrich? they ask him. He says no. They were dropped after the original three.
The Germans now search the floor of the church for a way into the hidden cellar. Grenades are thrown into the cellar. Karel is given the job of telling the guys to give up. The guys try to kill Karel, but can't. Now gas is let into the cellar. The guys push the gas pipe out of the ventilation slit and shoot some of the guys who placed it there. Of the four guys in the basement, only Jan and Jozef are now left.
Now the Germans start to fill up the cellar with water from two hoses. As the cellar fills up the last two guys shoot each other in the head.
Karel was sentenced to death for high treason and executed by the Czech authorities in 1947. Anna died in a concentration camp. Karl Frank was publicly hanged near Prague in 1946. Father Petrek was executed by the Nazis in 1942. Aunt Marie committed suicide in 1942. He husband survived a concentration camp. Ata executed by the Nazis 1942. Ata's little sister died in a concentration camp. Lidice was not erased from the map. The village was rebuilt after the war. Many towns throughout the world were renamed after it.
Spoiler Warning: Terrific film and what a shoot-out at the end! Damn but those Nazis were evil. The film kept my interest throughout and was filled with suspense. So it didn't happen exactly like it was portrayed in the film. It's still a good story. You can always look up the real story on Wikipedia and elsewhere. I was especially glad to find out about the way it ended for Karel Curda. What a traitor!
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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