Sunday, April 21, 2013

Movie Review

 U.K. produced 1957

Franz Von Werra was a very charismatic pilot of WWII’s Lüftwaffe.  The Von Werra story begins on the fifth of September in 1940.  When he is shot down by two enemy planes, one British the other Australian, the controversy would go on until each pilot was award a ½ Victory each.  Earlier Von Werra had gained Fatherland Notoriety by  blending into a formation of 6 Hawker Hurricanes and downing 3 of them.  During the same sortie, Von Werra was also credited with destroying 4 British planes on the ground.

The Movie is based on a true and heroic story of Franz Von Werra’s capture and multiple escapes from the British interrogators and P.O.W. camps.  Von Werra, played by Hardy Krüger, comes across in the movie as part “Frank Sinatra” part “James Dean” and he looks a lot like Stray Cat front man Brian Setzer. 

It’s the month before the end of the Battle of Britain. Von Werra is forced to land in the south east area of the U.K. known as Kent.  The most impressive scene in the movie is the downing of Von Werra’s BF-109E.  The U.K. production studio actually used a real BF109E for the filming.  Kenneth Moore, the producer used not only a real Messerschmitt but an actual Hawker Hurricane as well.  As of 2012, the Hurricane that was used was still to be in existence and flying as part of the “Battle of Britain Memorial Flight”.
(real BF-109 used in movie)

On 5 September 1940, Leutnant Franz Von Werra is shot down in England over Kent.  He is captured by a British mess cook with a meat cleaver and 2 armed infantrymen.   He’s taken to a nearby interrogation headquarter where Von Werra is given the usual routine.  In addition to being put into a room with a fellow pilot from his old squadron, Von Werra out smarts the British intelligence by mocking their feeble placement of microphones.  Before Van Werra is transferred to a P.O.W. camp, he bets the chief interrogator a magnum of Champagne that he will escape and return to the Fatherland.

Upon arrival at his first P.O.W. camp, he organizes an escape attempt and manages to elude the British search parties for 5 days.  On the 5th day Von Werra is discovered by an English maid who sees Von Werra trying to out run his search party.  By the time the Brits catch up with Von Werra, he is face down in 4 to 6 inches of mud.  He peacefully surrenders to his captures again.

Von Werra is then transferred to a true “Lüftstalog”.  It is not known how much creative licensing Kenneth Moore used, but Von Werra’s new camp is very reminiscent of Hogan’s Heroes’ “Stalog 13”.  After days of tunneling under the perimeter of the prison camp, Von Werra and others were able to escape.  Von Werra wore a Dutch pilot’s flight suit and had forged papers.  Upon his 2nd successful escape, he turns himself over to a rail station manager and insists that he is a downed Dutch pilot working on a top secret plane that crashed.  The railway manager calls the RAF who sends a driver to bring him back to the airfield.  It’s here where Von Werra attempts to make his flight back to Germany in a new upgraded Hawker Hurricane.  As the plane is being refueled, the base commander holds a gun to Von Werra’s head who is anxiously sitting in the cockpit.

England proves to be too much of a risk for the tenacious Von Werra who is put on a ship destined for Canada.  On the way to Canada Von Werra learns of the route of the train and takes notice of the train’s close proximity to the neutral country, The United States  (Which has not entered the war yet) Von Werra develops a plan to jump out of the train window once the train passes Montreal. 

Von Werra makes his escape and hitches a ride with a Canadian who thinks Von Werra is a Dutch fisherman.  The final part of the movie (Which is cut short) is all about Von Werra crossing the semi-frozen St. Lawrence river and seeking political asylum in the neutral United States.  The movie ends with Von Werra’s post card of the Statue of Liberty being read by the initial interrogator in England stating: “You owe me a magnum of Champagne”. 

What the Movie omits is the political negotiations going on between the Canadian embassy and the U.S. state department for the extradition of Franz Von Werra.  While the two countries are working out the transfer plans, the German embassy transports Von Werra to Mexico, then Peru, Bolivia, Brazil , Spain and finally back to Germany.

Upon his return to Germany he is awarded the Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes  by Der Führer and becomes a national hero. 

Within the next year, Franz Von Werra would be promoted to Hauptman and assigned to JG53 as Gruppenkommandeur  during operation Barbarossa.  During July of 1941 Von Werra raised his score of victories from 13 to 21. (Becoming an Ace)  In the following month (August) JG53 would be recalled to have their Messerschmitts upgraded to the BF-109”F” version.  On October 25th 1941 (A little over a year after his initial capture) Franz Von Werra would take off in his upgraded War bird only to have engine failure over the North Sea by the Netherlands.  His body was never found.   
Hauptman Franz Von Werra 1941
In review, the true story is more exciting than the movie.  For those who had never read the story of Franz Von Werra, they may have thought the movie too "over the Top" to be true.  Yet again, this is another story of persistence from those in an ugly situation in WWII.  Like many of the great Heroes who faced incredible odds only to survive then their life is cut short by simply bad luck.  First it was the Father of Aerial combat Oswald Boelcke who had his landing gear clipped by his wingman, then Manfred Von Richthofen taking a stray ground machine gun round to the chest, a golden B.B. .  The great Werner Mölders was the first Ace to reach 100 victories, only to die in bad weather aboard "The Boelcke" on his way to Ernst Udet's funeral. George Patton looked death in the eye and never flinched.  Then died in automobile accident.   History is full of Heroes that faced death daily only to die in a freakish accident.
The one that got away is a movie that is not as good as the real story.  All I can say is: "You know how a movie can ruin a good book? This movie couldn't do reality justice".



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home