Ramakrishnan, my uncle, took me to Safire Theater to watch this movie when I was in Class VIII. This was the first English movie I watched and also first time I stepped into a place which had air-conditioning. This may sound like an old Peter Pan lingerie ad, “The first time I wore Peter Pan, was also first time I came home at 2 A.M.” I can safely say the first one is true.
I did not remember the story or the dialogues of the movie till internet and Wikipedia came about in our lives. Whatever I remembered about the movie was nothing about the story. I was mesmerized by the beauty of Europe. The cold and wet streets, the huge buildings, the splendour and opulence of the city (Prague).
I was watching the movie dumbstruck. I could not understand the dialogue. It was in English of course, but then, as I have mentioned before, English was one of the subjects taught in school and I had not spoken more than few sentences in that language ever. I felt cold and I thought, somehow the chillness from the snow filled forests was the reason, forgetting that I was sitting in an airconditioned cinema. It was a mesmerizing experience and I thank my uncle for the magical experience he gave me.
All I understood about the movie was, some young men were trying to kill a General of the Nazi army. I have read about World War II, Hitler, the allies and how the war was won. So I could sympathize with the young men when their first attempt to kill the deputy protector of Bohemia and Moravia – Reinhard Heydrich fails. The plan was to kill Reinhard Heydrich from a signal cabin, shooting him as the train passes by the cabin. Unfortunately, when they have him in sight, another train passes in front of the train RH is travelling, obstructing their aim. I let out a ‘Oh shit’ or more precisely an equivalent of that expression in Tamil.
Years later (about 30 or 35 years), after a frenetic search, I could get hold of the movie and relived the experience. The scene which I remembered was exactly how was visualizing it all these years. Please watch the clip. You can see the smoke belching steam engine, the the richness of the railway station and the gleaming rail carriage in which Heydrich was travelling, the tension, the excitement and the eventual disappointment of the fighters.
The Failed First Attempt.
I actually did not remember the successful second attempt. The exercise almost ends in clumsy execution. When the fist fighter opens & fires the gun to shoot RH, his machine gun jams. He runs away from the scene pursued by the driver of the car. The second one throws a mine on the car and severely injures RH. He eventually dies of the injury a week or so later.
The reprisal ordered by Hitler was brutal even by the coldhearted Nazi killers standards. The three young men were hunted with all the might of Nazi army. They take shelter in a church and betrayed by a member of the resistance group. About hundred vehicles and countless soldiers swarm the church and big battle ensues and all the three fighters die. But Hitler won’t be satisfied. He orders mass killing of two villages close to the city and everyone above sixteen years of age in those village is slaughtered or sent to concentration camps to be killed. Four women who were pregnant, were sent the same hospital where RH dies, forcefully aborted and sent to concentration camp to die.
I have watched many WW II movies later. For people of my age, I think, Steve McQueen and his motorcycle stunt in Great Escape would be the scene that would readily come to mind if we talk about World War II movies. I am planning to write about some of the WW II movies I enjoyed and Steve McQueen would take top honors.
How fast European cities recovered after all the destruction from the war, in itself, would be a great story. Prague, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, was part of the East European block till the fall of Berlin wall, is today, a hot tourist destination. My friend Miroslav Halko is from Prague and we had wonderful time when I visited the city few years back.
Halko and Yours Truly in Prague.
Operation Day Break does not figure in any Top 10 or Top 20 greatest WW II movie list. But for me, Operation Day Break would be a dear movie. The music and the characters will be always etched in heart, thanks to my uncle.
Operation Day Break – 1975 – Available for download in Amazon Prime USA.
Directed by: Lewis Gilbert,
Starring: Anthony Andrews, Timothy Bottoms & Martin Shaw
Cinematography: Henri Decaë. Music: David Hentschel