Douglas and Harris are the Knuts
Although "The Heroes of Telemark" starring Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris is based upon the true story of the Norwegian resistance who along with allied attacks thwarted the production and transportation of heavy water for the Germans during World War II, it is a case of the truth being tampered with to make it into a more commercial movie. Even though there is tinkering with some facts and characters the underlying story is an impressive one. But although I feel the story was worthy of being made into a movie, I can't say that I am impressed with "The Heroes of Telemark" itself.
In occupied Norway the Germans have taken control of a Heavy Water manufacturing plant near the village of Rjukan in rural Telemark. When the Norwegian resistance learn of this they get a message to Britain of the Germans plans to produce a massive amount of Heavy Water to create atomic bombs. But after an attempt by the allied forces to land paratroopers in the region goes fatally wrong the resistance lead by Knut Straud (Richard Harris - The Wild Geese) with the help of Dr. Rolf Pedersen (Kirk Douglas - The War Wagon) set about stopping the Germans from both producing and transporting the Heavy Water.
One of the major issues I have with "The Heroes of Telemark" is over too much ambiguity in particular why Dr. Rolf Pedersen, a scientist by nature, gets so involved in helping the Norwegian resistance in their endeavours. We are never given any explanation, no character development as such to make us understand why he would risk his life in such a way. This is one of the strange things about "The Heroes of Telemark", because whilst the principle characters are stereotypical strong, hero figures we never really get to know them other than they want to stop the Germans producing and transporting Heavy Water to make atomic weapons. It sort of stops them being completely believable, as in how Pedersen can turn from scientist to action hero without any qualms about killing people.
Another issue is that at over 120 minutes "The Heroes of Telemark" suffers several long sections where it just drags. It lacks excitement, tension and most noticeably a musical score making many notably long scenes feel strangely dull as they suffer from no dialogue or music to assist in delivering the tension. I can sort of see what director Anthony Mann was trying to deliver by the minimal dialogue and soundtrack, but a good example of it being wrong is when the resistance infiltrate the heavy water plant. It should be tense, edge of the seat stuff fuelled by a rampant score that helps to build the dangerous atmosphere, but we get nothing, just silence and not an eerie one at that. Shame because in those few scenes where a soundtrack is employed "The Heroes of Telemark" is comparable with any great war movie for tension.
As for the casting well Kirk Douglas is perfect as an action hero even if his character is a bit misleading. What is quite funny though is that to add to the confusing character we have a scientist who is also a bit of a ladies man, as someone comments during the movie he is a playboy scientist which makes me question why throw in a romantic slant to a war movie. Opposite Douglas is Richard Harris who is equally perfect as the leader of the local resistance, delivering that believability of someone who is a local and cares for those around him, whilst also having to balance that with stopping the Germans from succeeding.
Elsewhere Ulla Jacobsson adds a bit of under used beauty as Anna Pedersen, a member of the resistance as well as ex wife of Rolf's and Michael Redgrave appears as a very stereotypical Englishman known as Uncle, and like Jacobbson is equally underused.
None of this though detracts from what is an amazing true story, even if the one we watch is a manipulated adaptation of the true events. You do get a sense of not only how dangerous the mission was but also how vitally important.
What this all boils down to is that the story behind "The Heroes of Telemark" is an important one, but the way it comes across in the movie disappoints. Director Anthony Mann's decision to go with both a minimal soundtrack and dialogue causes it to drag as it struggles to create atmosphere. Plus the lack of characterization makes certain parts a little hard to believe. But the performances from Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris are both strong and between them pretty much carry the movie.