The Cockleshell Heroes
Cast & Crew
In March 1942, at the Royal Marines base in Portsmouth, England, Capt. Hugh Thompson, a career officer, meets his new superior, the unconventional Major Stringer. Stringer, an experienced yachtsman, has been promoted to the rank of major because of his proposal to lead a special unit of canoes and divers up the Gironde River to the Bordeaux harbor in order to blow up the German blockade runners docked there. When forty-three Marines arrive at the base to volunteer for the mission, Stringer insists on interviewing each one individually. After eliminating his first cut, Stringer decides to test the others by dropping them off 300 miles from the base, dressed in German uniforms and carrying no money. The group is then instructed to return to the base as quickly as possible. By bicycling, riding the rails, jogging and other ingenious solutions, eight men make the grade: Clarke, Ruddock, Stevens, Lomas, Booth, Cooney, Bradley and Todd. Following Thompson's orders, Sgt. Craig begins to drill the men, and when Stringer objects, Thompson terms them ill-disciplined rabble and expresses his contempt for the major's lax methods. After the unit fails miserably during a training mission, Stringer turns to Thompson for advice and Thompson archly observes that the men must conform to military regulations. Under Thompson's guidance, the men undergo a strict training routine while Stringer teaches them how to handle canoes and live explosives. When permission comes to mount the mission, Stringer and Thompson get drunk to celebrate. Inebriated, Thompson confides that he has been passed over for promotion because his company commander blamed him for the failure of his first mission. While Thompson bitterly rehashes his career, the rest of the unit becomes involved in a drunken bar brawl. When Ruddock fails to return to the base with the others, the now sober Thompson goes to Ruddock's house and there finds Ruddock's wife ensconced with a lover. After locating the troubled Ruddock in a pub, Thompson knowingly drives him back to the house, where Ruddock throttles his wife's paramour. Once Thompson and Ruddock return to the base, Operation Cockleshell commences as the canoes are loaded onto a submarine bound for the Gironde River. Once underway, Stringer warns that each two-man canoe team is responsible for their own salvation, and that the success of the mission is more important than the lives of the men. As they near the Gironde, a German artillery ship shoots a depth charge at the submarine. When the force of the explosion knocks Lomas to the floor, unconscious, Thompson insists on taking Lomas' place in Ruddock's canoe. Soon after, the canoes are launched in turbulent waters, and when a crushing wave overturns one of the crafts, the men are left to fend for themselves in the choppy seas and soon are captured by the Germans. The other six paddle to land where they hide in the tall grass, waiting for night to fall. After the tide recedes, they climb back into their canoes and head for Bordeaux. When Craig's canoe is spotted by the Germans, he capsizes the vessel and blows it up with a grenade, after which he and his companion are taken prisoner. As the two remaining canoes, manned by Thompson, Ruddock, Stringer and Clarke, continue upriver, the Germans mount an intensive search for them. Upon reaching the enemy ships, the Marines dive into the water and attach deadly mines to their hulls. Alerted to their presence, the Germans converge upon the harbor and capture Thompson and Ruddock. After the Germans ram Stringer's boat, some friendly French fisherman pull Stringer and Clarke out of the water, saving them from imminent danger. Later that morning, as the mines detonate, blowing up the German ships, Thompson and the five other Cockleshell heroes are executed before a German firing squad for refusing to divulge their mission. Disguised in overcoats, Clarke and Stringer, the only survivors, take to the French roads to escape back to England, satisfied that their mission was a success.
John Van Eyssen
Albert R. Broccoli
Lt. Col. F. Vivian Dunn
Colonel H. G. Hasler
Phil C. Samuel
W. E. Sparks
The London Symphony Orchestra
The Cockleshell Heroes
"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)
The Cockleshell Heroes
The working titles of this film were Survivors Two, Canoe Commandos and The Survivors. The opening and closing cast credits differ slightly in order. The film opens with the onscreen reminiscences of Bill Sparks, the last of the two men who survived the mission of the "Cockleshell Heroes." Sparks's description of his war experiences are intercut with dramatic reenactments of the events as they appear in the film. After the opening onscreen credits, a written prologue describes a brief history of the Royal Marines from their founding in 1664 to their 1942 World War II assignment to eliminate the German merchant ships that were running the British blockades. The film closes with the following written acknowledgment: "The producers gratefully acknowledge the assistance given to them in the making of the film by the Royal Marines and other branches of the Royal Navy." The Hollywood Reporter review adds that trained British sailors and Marines portrayed the German sentries and crews of the patrol boats.
The Cockleshell Heroes is loosely based on the World War II exploits of the Royal Marines Boom Patrol Detachment, a small boat unit founded by Major H. G. Blondie Hasler. The division's first operation gave rise to the book and film Cockleshell Heroes. As depicted in the film, ten men in five canoes paddled 75 miles upriver to attack the German blockade runners anchored in the Bordeaux harbor. Only Major Hasler and Bill Sparks survived the expedition; the other Marines were either drowned, captured and executed. Hasler and Sparks served as technical advisors on the film. The RMBPD continued operations throughout World War II.
According to April and May 1955 Daily Variety news items, four weeks of location shooting was done around the Tagus River in Portugal. Although a January 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item states that Hugh Hastings was to write the screenplay, the extent of Hastings' contribution to the final film has not been confirmed. A New York Times news item notes that Warwick Films was considering filming the picture in CinemaScope, which would have marked the first time that that process was used in England. According to an April 1956 Los Angeles Times news item, the film's American premiere in San Diego was attended by members of the U.S. Marine Corps. A September 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that The Cockleshell Heroes was the first war film from a foreign nation to be exhibited in West Germany. The film won first prize at the Vichy Film Festival.
Released in United States Spring May 1956
Released in United States Spring May 1956