The Heroes of Telemark is a 1965 British war film directed by Anthony Mann based on the true story of the Norwegian heavy water sabotage during the Second World War from Skis Against the Atom, the memoirs of Norwegian resistance soldier Knut Haukelid.
The film stars Kirk Douglas as Dr. Rolf Pedersen and Richard Harris as Knut Straud, along with Ulla Jacobsson as Anna Pedersen. It was filmed on location in Norway.
The Norwegian resistance sabotage the Vemork Norsk Hydro plant in the town of Rjukan in the county of Telemark, Norway, which the Nazis are using to produce heavy water, which could be used in the manufacture of an atomic bomb.
Kirk Douglas plays Rolf Pedersen, a Norwegian physics professor, who, though originally content to wait out the war, is soon pulled into the struggle by local resistance leader Knut Straud (based on Knut Haukelid, portrayed by Richard Harris).
They are both smuggled to Britain to have microfilmed plans of the hydroelectric plant examined, and then return to Norway to plan a commando raid. When a force of Royal Engineers, who were to carry it out, are all killed, Pedersen and Straud lead a small force of saboteurs into the plant. The raid is successful, but the Germans quickly repair the equipment.
The Germans then plan to ship steel drums of heavy water to Germany. Pedersen and Straud sabotage a ferry carrying the drums and it sinks in the deepest part of a fjord.
Besides this sequence, the raids (Operations Grouse, Freshman and Gunnerside) and the final attack are depicted in location filming, in which snowy Norwegian locations serve as a backdrop for the plot.
- Kirk Douglas as Dr Rolf Pedersen.
- Richard Harris as Knut Straud.
- Ulla Jacobsson as Anna Pedersen.
- Michael Redgrave as Uncle.
- David Weston as Arne.
- Sebastian Breaks as Gunnar.
- John Golightly as Freddy.
- Alan Howard as Oli.
- Patrick Jordan as Henrik.
- William Marlowe as Claus.
- Brook Williams as Einar.
- Roy Dotrice as Jensen.
- Anton Diffring as Major Frick.
- Ralph Michael as Nilssen.
- Eric Porter as Josef Terboven.
- Wolf Frees as Sturmbannführer Knippelberg.
- Karel Stepanek as Professor Hartmüller.
- Gerard Heinz as Professor Erhardt.
- Victor Beaumont as German Sergeant.
- George Murcell as SS Oberscharführer.
- Mervyn Johns as Colonel Wilkinson.
- Barry Jones as Professor Roderick Logan.
- Geoffrey Keen as General Bolt.
- Robert Ayres as General Courts.
- Jennifer Hilary as Sigrid.
- Maurice Denham as Doctor.
- David Davies as Captain of Galtesund.
- Philo Hauser as Businessman.
- Faith Brook as Woman on Bus.
- Elvi Hale as Mrs. Sandersen.
- Russell Waters as Mr. Sandersen.
- Paul Hansard as German Officer (uncredited).
- George Roubicek as German Radio Operator (uncredited).
- Joe Dunne as Norwegian Quisling’s Nazi (uncredited).
Knut Haukelid wrote a memoir of the attack called Skis Against the Atom published in 1954. John Drummond wrote a novel based on the same story called But for These Men. Both books formed the basis of the screenplay.
The film was originally announced in 1963. It was made by Benton Film Productions, a company of director Anthony Mann and producer S. Benjamin Fisz. Financing came from America’s Allied Artists and Britain’s J Arthur Rank Productions.
Scenes early in the film when the main characters escape from occupied Norway were filmed around Poole and Hamworthy in Dorset with the former Channel Islands ship TSS Roebuck playing the role of the hijacked steamer. SF Ammonia was used to represent the train ferry SF Hydro in the final fjord scenes.
The movie was originally called The Unknown Battle and was to have starred Stephen Boyd and Elke Sommer and be written by Ben Barzman. Later, Anthony Perkins was announced as star. Eventually Kirk Douglas signed as the lead. Cliff Robertson was mentioned as a possible co-star before Richard Harris came on board.
“I hear they are spending five million dollars, so it’s got to be spectacular and that means more fiction and less fact”, said Haukelid during filming.
Stephen Boyd later sued Mann for half a million dollars when funding for the initial project fell through in early 1964. “I missed out on four good roles and plenty of money when he signed me without financial backing and then dropped the project”, said Boyd later. “He asked me again later but I’d made other commitments so Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris made it under another title.”
- In the skiing chase, where the black-clad Jensen (Roy Dotrice) is pursuing Pedersen (Kirk Douglas), Dotrice’s stand-in was one of the original saboteur heroes of the World War II Telemark operation.
- During filming, Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris failed to get along with each other.
- The tension between the two was fairly noticeable to cast and crew alike.
- Although this movie takes liberties with some historical facts, some technical details are surprisingly correct, given that it was made twenty years after the war.
- The car used by the Norwegians, is fitted with a “generator” converting wood to natural gas.
- As gasoline was in short supply, civilian cars were not allowed to run on real gasoline.
- Just before the soldier keeping watch outside the heavy water plant leaves, he places his gun on the ground.
- No explanation for this is given in the movie, but during the actual raid, a Thompson submachine gun was purposely left behind, to indicate that it was the work of British forces, and not of the local resistance, in order to try to avoid reprisals.
- The raiders wore British uniforms for the same reason.
- The gun was left behind in case they all got away unseen.
- The real mission code-names for the Telemark operations in World War II were Operation Freshman, Operation Grouse, and Operation Gunnerside.
- The raid was originally scheduled for October 1942, but was not conducted until February 1943.
- Operation Grouse established an advance team of four Norwegians above the hydro plant at the Hardanger Plateau.
- Operation Freshman was unsuccessful, and resulted in the deaths of British paratroopers when gliders crashed and any survivors were captured, interrogated, tortured and shot by the Nazi Gestapo.
- Its aim was to rendezvous with the Norwegians from Operation Grouse and proceed to and then raid the Vemork hydro station.
- Operation Gunnerside was the successful second attempt of Operation Freshman.
- The same story was covered in the 1948 Franco-Norwegian film Kampen om tungtvannet (also known as La bataille de l’eau lourde or Operation Swallow: The Battle for Heavy Water).
- Quite faithful to real events, it even had many of the original Norwegian commandos starring as themselves.
- Ray Mears presented a documentary called The Real Heroes of Telemark in 2003.
- Despite mainly sticking to the factual evidence, some scenes in the documentary were partly dramatised, focusing on the survival skills involved in the operation.
- Kampen om Tungtvannet is a 2015 mini-series based on the events.
Production & Filming Details
- Anthony Mann.
- Benjamin Fisz … producer (as S. Benjamin Fisz).
- Ivan Moffat … (screenplay).
- Ben Barzman … (screenplay).
- Knut Haukelid … (novel) (uncredited).
- John Drummond … (novel) (uncredited).
- Malcolm Arnold.
- Robert Krasker.
- Bert Bates.
- Benton Film Productions (as A Benton Film Production).
- Rank Film Distributors (1965) (UK) (theatrical) (as The Rank Organisation).
- Columbia Pictures (1966) (USA) (theatrical).
- Kommunenes Filmcentral (KF) (1966) (Norway) (theatrical).
- Parvisfilmi (1966) (Finland) (theatrical).
- Rank Film (1966) (Netherlands) (theatrical).
- Rank (1966) (France) (theatrical).
- J. Arthur Rank Film (1966) (West Germany) (theatrical).
- Columbia Films S. A. (1967) (Mexico) (theatrical).
- American Broadcasting Company (ABC) (1970) (USA) (TV) (original airing).
- Kamras Film Agency (1980) (Finland) (theatrical).
- Aquarius TV (2005) (Greece) (DVD).
- BBC Two (2016) (UK) (TV).
- Belle & Blade Studios (USA) (VHS) (pan/scan).
- Breien Film (1985) (Norway) (VHS) (as Videoklubben Månedens Film).
- Calsor (Finland) (VHS).
- Carlton Visual Entertainment (2003) (UK) (DVD).
- Columbia Pictures Home Video (USA) (VHS) (pan/scan).
- Future Film (2000) (Finland) (DVD).
- Gebe Film (Finland) (VHS).
- Harley Video (Finland) (VHS).
- Kinowelt Home Entertainment (2006) (Germany) (DVD).
- L.C.J Editions & Productions (2014) (France) (DVD).
- Rai Movie (2016) (Italy) (TV).
- Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (2011) (USA) (DVD).
- Star Media Entertainment (2003) (Norway) (DVD).
- Star Media Entertainment (2008) (Norway) (DVD).
- Video Collection International (1988) (USA) (VHS) (pan/scan).
- Video Screen (Netherlands) (video) (Betamax).
- Yleisradio (YLE) (2011) (Finland) (TV).
- marketing-film (West Germany) (VHS) (unknown).
- Release Date: 23 November 1965 (London, Premiere).
- Running Time: 130 minutes.
- Rating: 15.
- Country: UK and France.
- Language: English, French, Norwegian, and German.