Escape to Victory – Rediscovering ‘The Password is Courage’ (UK 1962 – 116 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - December 24, 2014
Escape to Victory – Rediscovering ‘The Password is Courage’ (UK 1962 – 116 mins)

Made a year before ‘The Great escape’ (’63) and based on the exploits of Sergeant-Major Charles Coward, ‘The Password is Courage’ is an under-rated POW escape movie with a plot similar to its more famous counterpart, making you feel that the Steve McQueen favourite borrowed heavily from this lesser known movie.

Charles Coward (Dirk Bogarde) a senior British officer, is a POW being held in a German Stalag. Along with his fellow inmates they plot an elaborate escape via a tunnel which will hopefully get them safely into the nearby woods. With the help from Irena (Maria Perschy), a pretty Polish resistance worker, Coward escapes with fellow inmate Bill Pope (Alfred Lynch). Although they are later apprehended at a railway station, Coward’s dogged determination means this is not the end of their adventures.

‘The Password is Courage’ has some humorous escapades in between the drama, such as Bogarde’s clever sabotage of a passing trainload of explosives, but it also has its share of tense moments including an expertly shot cave-in scene where the viewer feels the characters claustrophobia. Also, like ‘The Great Escape’, the film employs many of the same planning methods, which include absorbing scenes of forgers and engineers at work, plus moments showing the utilisation of planks from bunk beds and the workings of an underground breathing machine. Also, in both movies the tunnel fails to reach the designated woods.

Dirk Bogarde was often unfairly criticised for being miscast in this type of role, but I think he’s very good as the cockney charmer, a rather brash British officer who’s determined to escape at any given opportunity. 41 year old Bogarde was at the peak of his star power at the time, and was in between Bafta-winning roles for his powerful turns in both ‘Victim’ (’61) and ‘The Servant’ (’63). Stunning Austrian actress Maria Perschy does a good job as Irena, and would later play George Chakiris’s sister in the WWII drama ‘633 Squadron’, and resort owner Easy Mueller in the Rock Hudson screwball comedy ‘Man’s Favorite Sport?’ (both ’64). Perschy’s later career includes parts in the Paul Naschy favorites ‘Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll’ (’74), and ‘Exorcismo’ (’75). Reliable character lead Alfred Lynch was always worth watching and he’s fun here as Bogarde’s right-hand man. Lynch was previously in the 1961 comedy ‘On the Fiddle’ with a pre-Bond Sean Connery, and would later be memorable in Sidney Lumet’s excellent military drama ‘The Hill’ (’65), again with Connery.

This is one of those early 60’s movies where you can spot a number of familiar British actors in early roles. As well as stalwarts Reginald Beckwith and Nigel Stock, you’ll also find in the British camp Lewis Fiander and Mark Eden. Colin Blakely and Ferdy Mayne appear as Nazi’s and, in his film debut you can also spot Hollywood legend Charles Durning as a GI. American director Andrew L. Stone does a fine job and, together with John Castle, wrote the tight screenplay.

While the star-studded ‘The Great Escape’ continues to get all the attention (it’s rightfully an enduring classic), I think ‘The Password is Courage’ deserves more acclaim than it’s had over the years. It remains a solid entertainment which is both gripping and tense, but with a (very British) light-hearted approach. I imagine the movie would be a more pleasant surprise if you’ve never seen (unlikely!) ‘The Great Escape’.

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