Andrew L. Stone’s screenplay, based on a biog of Sergeant-Major Charles Coward by John Castle, has pumped into its untidy 116 minutes an overdose of slapstick humour. Result is that what could have been a telling tribute to a character of guts and initiative, the kind that every war produces, lacks conviction.
Coward (Dirk Bogarde), a breezy, likeable character, becomes a prisoner of war and is dedicated to sabotaging and humiliating his German captors. As senior soldier in Stalag 8B, he rallies the other men to escape so that they can get back to fighting the Nazis. Coward’s main problem is to make contact with the Polish underground to get maps, money, etc., before escaping through a 280-foot tunnel which the prisoners have laboriously built.
Bogarde gives a performance that is never less than competent, but never much more. The best male performance comes from Lynch, as Corporal Pope, a philosophical soldier devoted to Coward. He is a composite of several characters in Coward’s actual story. Maria Perschy, a personable Hungarian girl making her first appearance in a British film, brings some glamor to the film as the underground worker.