Directed by John Brahm; produced by Andre Daven
In the middle of World War Two, a young British Army officer (John Sutton) is selected to be put ashore in German-occupied France. His goal is to facilitate the destruction by the Royal Air Force of an ordnance factory. To accomplish his mission, he must rely upon the help of members of the Resistance, and keep a disaffected woman (Annabella), grieving over what the war has done to her family, from turning him in to the Nazis.
While the movie’s title gives the impression of a story about commandos, it is actually a tale of cloak and dagger (the latter featuring literally). Unfortunately, it is not an exciting story, nor even that interesting. The lead actors are not the sort to grab one’s attention; there is no presence to them. They are also rather ordinary performers. The subsidiary players are better; they include Lee J Cobb as a French farmer, with Howard Da Silva and Charles McGraw (who seem to be in every second movie I see these days) as German NCOs.
The plot relies too much on most of Sutton’s contacts being in the know, ready to connive at him taking the place of a dead Frenchman. It’s true that Annabella is unwilling to play along, but having everything in place for Sutton’s arrival feels a little too neat. As well, the Germans appear to suspect him of being a British operator almost from the beginning. There is some conflict displayed between French and English (the story took place after Vichy France had sided with Germany and fought the British), rare for the time, and, even rarer, some attempt to show the bitterness of the French in defeat, and in the British decision to carry on. But this is negated by too much speechifying.
There is little action as such, and the story might actually have been successful as a more talky stage-play than an attempt at an action drama - if the script had been refined or conceived by better writers - but that would probably have failed at the box office. In any case, this propaganda piece likely would have faced an uphill battle against the better products coming out at the same time, both from England and Hollywood.
As it is, mediocre acting, bland characters and unrealistic writing sinks Tonight We Raid Calais without any outside competition.