The Cockleshell Heroes (1956)

94 or 97 mins | Drama | May 1956

Director:

José Ferrer

Producer:

Phil C. Samuel

Cinematographers:

John Wilcox, Ted Moore

Editor:

Alan Osbiston

Production Designer:

John Box

Production Company:

Warwick Film Productions, Ltd.
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HISTORY

The working titles of this film were Survivors Two , Canoe Commandos and The Survivors . The opening and closing cast credits differ slightly in order. The film opens with the onscreen reminiscences of Bill Sparks, the last of the two men who survived the mission of the “Cockleshell Heroes.” Sparks’s description of his war experiences are intercut with dramatic reenactments of the events as they appear in the film. After the opening onscreen credits, a written prologue describes a brief history of the Royal Marines from their founding in 1664 to their 1942 World War II assignment to eliminate the German merchant ships that were running the British blockades. The film closes with the following written acknowledgment: “The producers gratefully acknowledge the assistance given to them in the making of the film by the Royal Marines and other branches of the Royal Navy.” The HR review adds that trained British sailors and Marines portrayed the German sentries and crews of the patrol boats.
       The Cockleshell Heroes is loosely based on the World War II exploits of the Royal Marines Boom Patrol Detachment, a small boat unit founded by Major H. G. Blondie Hasler. The division’s first operation gave rise to the book and film Cockleshell Heroes . As depicted in the film, ten men in five canoes paddled 75 miles upriver to attack the German blockade runners anchored in the Bordeaux harbor. Only Major Hasler and Bill Sparks survived the expedition; the other Marines were either drowned, captured and executed. Hasler and Sparks served as technical advisors on the ... More Less

The working titles of this film were Survivors Two , Canoe Commandos and The Survivors . The opening and closing cast credits differ slightly in order. The film opens with the onscreen reminiscences of Bill Sparks, the last of the two men who survived the mission of the “Cockleshell Heroes.” Sparks’s description of his war experiences are intercut with dramatic reenactments of the events as they appear in the film. After the opening onscreen credits, a written prologue describes a brief history of the Royal Marines from their founding in 1664 to their 1942 World War II assignment to eliminate the German merchant ships that were running the British blockades. The film closes with the following written acknowledgment: “The producers gratefully acknowledge the assistance given to them in the making of the film by the Royal Marines and other branches of the Royal Navy.” The HR review adds that trained British sailors and Marines portrayed the German sentries and crews of the patrol boats.
       The Cockleshell Heroes is loosely based on the World War II exploits of the Royal Marines Boom Patrol Detachment, a small boat unit founded by Major H. G. Blondie Hasler. The division’s first operation gave rise to the book and film Cockleshell Heroes . As depicted in the film, ten men in five canoes paddled 75 miles upriver to attack the German blockade runners anchored in the Bordeaux harbor. Only Major Hasler and Bill Sparks survived the expedition; the other Marines were either drowned, captured and executed. Hasler and Sparks served as technical advisors on the film. The RMBPD continued operations throughout World War II.
       According to Apr and May 1955 DV news items, four weeks of location shooting was done around the Tagus River in Portugal. Although a Jan 1953 HR news item states that Hugh Hastings was to write the screenplay, the extent of Hastings’ contribution to the final film has not been confirmed. A NYT news item notes that Warwick Films was considering filming the picture in CinemaScope, which would have marked the first time that that process was used in England. According to an Apr 1956 LAT news item, the film’s American premiere in San Diego was attended by members of the U.S. Marine Corps. A Sep 1956 HR news item notes that The Cockleshell Heroes was the first war film from a foreign nation to be exhibited in West Germany. The film won first prize at the Vichy Film Festival.
More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
18 Feb 1956.
---
Daily Variety
27 Apr 1955.
---
Daily Variety
24 May 1955.
---
Daily Variety
21 Nov 55
p. 3.
Film Daily
10 Feb 56
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Jan 1953.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Apr 1955
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
24 May 1955.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 Jun 1955
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Nov 1955.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Feb 56
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Sep 1956
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
18 Apr 1956.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
11 Feb 56
p. 777.
New York Times
13 Nov 1953.
---
New York Times
4 Jun 56
p. 25.
Variety
23 Nov 1955
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Assoc dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Exec prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Cam op
Cam op
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Asst art dir
FILM EDITOR
COSTUMES
Ward supv
SOUND
Sd recordist
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
ex-Marine
Tech adv
Prod supv
Prod supv
Location mgr
Location mgr
Casting dir
Continuity
Continuity
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the short story "Cockleshell Heroes," by George Kent in Readers Digest (Jun 1951).
AUTHOR
MUSIC
"March" and "The Cockleshell Heroes," music by Lt. Col. F. Vivian Dunn, Principal director of Music Royal Marines
"The London I Love," music by George Posford.
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Survivors Two
Canoe Commandos
The Survivors
Release Date:
May 1956
Premiere Information:
World premiere in London: 16 November 1955
San Diego, CA premiere: 17 April 1956
Production Date:
early April--late June 1955 at Shepperton Studios, London
Copyright Claimant:
Warwick Film Productions, Ltd.
Copyright Date:
27 March 1956
Copyright Number:
LP7308
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
CinemaScope
Duration(in mins):
94 or 97
Length(in reels):
11
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
17642
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In March 1942, at the Royal Marines base in Portsmouth, England, Capt. Hugh Thompson, a career officer, meets his new superior, the unconventional Major Stringer. Stringer, an experienced yachtsman, has been promoted to the rank of major because of his proposal to lead a special unit of canoes and divers up the Gironde River to the Bordeaux harbor in order to blow up the German blockade runners docked there. When forty-three Marines arrive at the base to volunteer for the mission, Stringer insists on interviewing each one individually. After eliminating his first cut, Stringer decides to test the others by dropping them off 300 miles from the base, dressed in German uniforms and carrying no money. The group is then instructed to return to the base as quickly as possible. By bicycling, riding the rails, jogging and other ingenious solutions, eight men make the grade: Clarke, Ruddock, Stevens, Lomas, Booth, Cooney, Bradley and Todd. Following Thompson’s orders, Sgt. Craig begins to drill the men, and when Stringer objects, Thompson terms them ill-disciplined rabble and expresses his contempt for the major’s lax methods. After the unit fails miserably during a training mission, Stringer turns to Thompson for advice and Thompson archly observes that the men must conform to military regulations. Under Thompson’s guidance, the men undergo a strict training routine while Stringer teaches them how to handle canoes and live explosives. When permission comes to mount the mission, Stringer and Thompson get drunk to celebrate. Inebriated, Thompson confides that he has been passed over for promotion because his company commander blamed him for the failure of his first ... +


In March 1942, at the Royal Marines base in Portsmouth, England, Capt. Hugh Thompson, a career officer, meets his new superior, the unconventional Major Stringer. Stringer, an experienced yachtsman, has been promoted to the rank of major because of his proposal to lead a special unit of canoes and divers up the Gironde River to the Bordeaux harbor in order to blow up the German blockade runners docked there. When forty-three Marines arrive at the base to volunteer for the mission, Stringer insists on interviewing each one individually. After eliminating his first cut, Stringer decides to test the others by dropping them off 300 miles from the base, dressed in German uniforms and carrying no money. The group is then instructed to return to the base as quickly as possible. By bicycling, riding the rails, jogging and other ingenious solutions, eight men make the grade: Clarke, Ruddock, Stevens, Lomas, Booth, Cooney, Bradley and Todd. Following Thompson’s orders, Sgt. Craig begins to drill the men, and when Stringer objects, Thompson terms them ill-disciplined rabble and expresses his contempt for the major’s lax methods. After the unit fails miserably during a training mission, Stringer turns to Thompson for advice and Thompson archly observes that the men must conform to military regulations. Under Thompson’s guidance, the men undergo a strict training routine while Stringer teaches them how to handle canoes and live explosives. When permission comes to mount the mission, Stringer and Thompson get drunk to celebrate. Inebriated, Thompson confides that he has been passed over for promotion because his company commander blamed him for the failure of his first mission. While Thompson bitterly rehashes his career, the rest of the unit becomes involved in a drunken bar brawl. When Ruddock fails to return to the base with the others, the now sober Thompson goes to Ruddock’s house and there finds Ruddock’s wife ensconced with a lover. After locating the troubled Ruddock in a pub, Thompson knowingly drives him back to the house, where Ruddock throttles his wife’s paramour. Once Thompson and Ruddock return to the base, Operation Cockleshell commences as the canoes are loaded onto a submarine bound for the Gironde River. Once underway, Stringer warns that each two-man canoe team is responsible for their own salvation, and that the success of the mission is more important than the lives of the men. As they near the Gironde, a German artillery ship shoots a depth charge at the submarine. When the force of the explosion knocks Lomas to the floor, unconscious, Thompson insists on taking Lomas’ place in Ruddock’s canoe. Soon after, the canoes are launched in turbulent waters, and when a crushing wave overturns one of the crafts, the men are left to fend for themselves in the choppy seas and soon are captured by the Germans. The other six paddle to land where they hide in the tall grass, waiting for night to fall. After the tide recedes, they climb back into their canoes and head for Bordeaux. When Craig’s canoe is spotted by the Germans, he capsizes the vessel and blows it up with a grenade, after which he and his companion are taken prisoner. As the two remaining canoes, manned by Thompson, Ruddock, Stringer and Clarke, continue upriver, the Germans mount an intensive search for them. Upon reaching the enemy ships, the Marines dive into the water and attach deadly mines to their hulls. Alerted to their presence, the Germans converge upon the harbor and capture Thompson and Ruddock. After the Germans ram Stringer’s boat, some friendly French fisherman pull Stringer and Clarke out of the water, saving them from imminent danger. Later that morning, as the mines detonate, blowing up the German ships, Thompson and the five other Cockleshell heroes are executed before a German firing squad for refusing to divulge their mission. Disguised in overcoats, Clarke and Stringer, the only survivors, take to the French roads to escape back to England, satisfied that their mission was a success. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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