1943 and the rescue of Benito Mussolini by the Nazi SS has spurred Adolf Hitler to ask for a study into the possibility of staging another daring escapade: the kidnap of Winston Churchill from British soil. The officer placed in charge of this investigation, Admiral Canaris (Anthony Quayle), is highly sceptical of the efficiency of such an endeavour, and tells the man he asks to put the report together, Colonel Radl (Robert Duvall), the same, but Radl has an idea of who he could bring in to make it a success. Could it actually be done?
Well, no, because if it had happened we'd all know about it by now, but that didn't prevent novelist Jack Higgins from crafting a bestseller about it, and shortly thereafter media mogul Lew Grade buying the rights to bring it to the screen as part of his hope to create an ongoing movie division. Grade managed to churn out a surprising number of these in a short space of time, but his plans never really took off as too many of them faltered at the box office, though this example actually made a big enough splash to be one of the successes of ITC.
And besides, there cannot be many who have not stumbled across this while looking for something to watch on late night television and thought, why not? It was undemanding thrills all the way, with a plot mainly lifted from a better film, Went the Day Well?, which really was made during the Second World War, and managing to be more urgent in its concerns of Nazi invasion than this production, perhaps understandably in light of what was going on at the time. In this case, the story got too bogged down in the minutiae of the German high command and whether there were any noble soldiers lower down the ranks.
So if you had a library of World War II literature that you were fond of perusing of an evening, then you'd doubtless appreciate this more than the average viewer hoping to see action and adventure (plus you'd be able to exercise your knowledge of the historical details as you picked up on the anachronisms and general errors). For everyone else, they would be wondering why we were suffering through seemingly endless scenes of discussion about what the Nazis were scheming without actually getting around to following up their aims until the point where you'd lost interest, unless the sound of actors mangling accents appealed.
As if Robert Duvall's Teutonic tones were not poor enough, Donald Sutherland was cast as an IRA man in Germany who assists the operation; we can tell he's from Ireland because he greets Radl with a hearty "Top o' the morning to ye!", in no way a stereotype, then. But such was the keen ambiguity about the bad guys that we were left wondering whether they were quite as bad as all that, as after all Sutherland's Devlin is nice to Jenny Agutter, chief officer on the ground Michael Caine tried to save a Jewish girl from execution, which was why he ended up with this job as a punishment, and the Germans' cover is blown when one of them rescues a little girl from drowning and his uniform is revealed (fairly silly to be wearing them under their disguise at all, but Caine's Colonel insisted - they must have been boiling). There are some half decent sequences of activity as could be expected from seasoned director John Sturges, but the word for this was unexceptional, if enduring. Music by Lalo Schifrin.