Saturday, 13 December 2014

Operation Amsterdam (1959)
Eva Bartok

Peter Finch, Tony Britton and Alexander Knox
This is one of those rather simple British war films that were so prevalent throughout the 1950s. It makes no pretence to be high art, or even high drama, but just tells its tale without unnecessary embellishment. The film has a lengthy voice over and opening explanation which gives a documentary feel, as does the downplayed action. As a result, it's surprisingly effective.
'Operation Amsterdam' is the code name for a British attempt to prevent the stock of industrial diamonds, held by Dutch diamond dealers, from falling into the hands of the Nazis when the Netherlands was occupied in 1940. The diamonds, which had a high value for use in precision engineering, would have been vital to the war effort of both sides. So, with the consent of the Netherlands authorities, a team is sent into Amsterdam to secure the diamonds. Under the command of a British intelligence operative Major Dillon (Tony Britton), two Dutch nationals Walter Keyser (Alexander Knox) and Jan Smit (Peter Finch) are sent to convince the diamond merchants to hand over their stocks for safe keeping.

The film is based on the 1956 book Adventure in Diamonds by David Walker. If you are interested, the full text can be read online courtesy of the Internet Archive.
Where the film is particularly effective is in presenting the chaos of the situation in the Netherlands as its armies are routed, the Germans continue to advance and civilians attempt to flee. The sense of chaos in the docks as civilians attempt to find safe passage overseas in contrasted by the eerie feeling of the deserted city streets as people hide away as they await the arrival of the victorious enemy.
This is heightened by the central theme of the film: Who can the three agents trust?
They are helped by a local woman Anna (Eva Bartok), but is she a patriot or a German agent? Then there's Colonel Janssen (John Le Mesurier ...
John Le Mesurier
... a loyal soldier or working for the enemy?
Even the soldiers on the streets aren't certain to be loyal. Are they defending their city or 'Fifth Columnists' sent to cause chaos and confusion?

The film reaches its climax as the three agents, assisted by a mysterious group led by Alex (Christopher Rhodes) ...
Christopher Rhodes
... rob the bank vaults to ensure the success of the operation which has, by this time, become a diamond heist:
The identity of the gang is never established. They are obviously sympathetic to the British, but their skills at safe breaking suggest they are criminals rather than undercover agents.
One thing to look out for: It's a lesser-spotted example of someone taking up a gun and actually picking up some spare ammunition. This sort of thing doesn't happen very often in war films of the 1950s. Usually people blaze away as if guns are refilled by magic!
Eva Bartok
Well done, Anna!!!
Also look out for:
Melvyn Hayes
Not the best war film of the 1950s, but certainly not the worst.
Currently available on DVD.

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