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The Cockleshell Heroes

The Cockleshell Heroes(1956)

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teaser The Cockleshell Heroes (1956)

A British major leads a suicide mission to take out a German shipyard in occupied France in The Cockleshell Heroes (1955). This war movie marked the American film debut of Trevor Howard and it was also the second directorial effort for actor Jose Ferrer who also had the starring role. Irving Allen and Albert R. Broccoli, one of the producers of the James Bond film series, joined forces to produce this film for Warwick Pictures and Columbia which was an expensive motion picture for its time.

"The screenplay by Bryan Forbes and Richard Maibaum," according to Michael Munn in Trevor Howard: The Man and His Films, "followed the exploits of 10 marines as they went through training for a special mission to canoe their way into Bordeaux harbour and mine German shipping. Like The Way Ahead, it began with typical barrack-room humour and culminated in tragedy and drama. Said Trevor, 'The best thing about Cockleshell Heroes was filming in Portugal. Beautiful country. While I was there I ended up doing the commentary for a documentary about the country which won more awards than the film ever did. I went all over the world promoting the documentary. As for the film - well.'"

Munn also noted in his biography that "what Trevor didn't say was that Jose Ferrer directed and Jose Ferrer starred and in the process didn't make himself too popular with Irving Allen. At the time Allen said, 'When Ferrer finished the film, we found that he had made a tour de force for Jose Ferrer. He seems to have forgotten about the rest of the cast. I've been doing close-ups of Trevor Howard that Joe forgot to do.'"

Howard also failed to mention the real reason he got involved with making the aforementioned documentary. According to Vivienne Knight in Trevor Howard: A Gentleman and a Player, "..the Portuguese government had decreed that filming in Portugal [for The Cockleshell Heroes] would have to stop unless the film company guaranteed to make a documentary about Portugal to be shown with Cockleshell Heroes. It was a rare stab at blackmail coming from any government, particularly as it must have been obvious that, once the film was sold for distribution, nobody could possibly guarantee that another film would be shown with it. However, Euan Lloyd [production assistant for Warwick Pictures] was not about to argue. He had been deputized to write, produce and direct the documentary; he also got the excellent second unit cameraman, Ted Moore, who later won an Oscar for A Man For All Seasons. Trevor Howard volunteered to do the commentary. The schedule was arranged to give Trevor two free days and the unit of three went off to shoot footage of caves and any other points of interest they could find. They also found the famous fado singer, Amalia Rodriguez, who agreed to sing for the film, which was titled April in Portugal."

The Cockleshell Heroes was a huge boxoffice success in England at the time with critic Campbell Dixon of the Daily Telegraph noting "a magnificent performance by Trevor Howard as the regular officer..Even when given nothing to do or say he dominates the screen with effortless authority." The film still holds up well today as a superior war adventure of its era. Robert Murphy of the TimeOut Film Guide wrote, "Ferrer directs with a freshness of vision which cuts through the usual coy cliches, and Howard's magnificently bad-tempered performance lifts the film a degree beyond jingoistic flag-waving."

Producer: Phil C. Samuel
Director: Jose Ferrer
Screenplay: Bryan Forbes, Richard Maibaum; George Kent (story)
Cinematography: Ted Moore, John Wilcox
Art Direction: Jon Box
Music: John Addison
Film Editing: Alan Obiston
Cast: Jose Ferrer (Major Stringer), Trevor Howard (Captain Thompson), Dora Bryan (Myrtie), Victor Madden (Sgt. Craig), Anthony Newley (Marine Clarke), David Lodge (Marine Ruddock), Peter Arne (Marine Stevens), Percy Herbert (Marine Lomas)

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