Don Chaffey (director)
Network on Air (studio)
102 min (length)
16 November 2020 (released)
20 November 2020
This tense British war drama takes place in a POW camp in Northern Italy during the summer of 1943, shortly before the camp is handed over to the Germans as part of the Italian Armistice. When several escape attempts leave various high-ranking officers dead, the race is on to find the dirty rat grassing up the escape committee to the Italian Capitano in charge.
It is made crystal clear right from the off that Capitano Benucci (Peter Arne) – the leader of the POW camp, revels in his sadism… Not only does he seem to know whenever a British prisoner tries to escape, in fact he waits until they do so and only then he either kills the poor sods himself or instructs his men to do the same. Which is why a an apparently fool-proof plan ends in the death of yet another prisoner, with Benucci already waiting and only too happy to pull the trigger.
Because it has happened before, Lieutenant Colonel Baird (Richard Todd) and fellow prisoners including Major Marquand (Michael Wilding), Captain Phillips (Richard Attenborough), Captain Callender (Dennis Price) and Captain Long (William Franklyn) are certain they have a traitor in their midst and soon the finger points towards Greek officer Coutoules (Cyril Shaps). The committees’ suspicions prove wrong, however, when Coutoules is found dead in an escape tunnel though he hadn’t actually planned to escape. Now the others must come up with an explanation that their Italian captors will actually believe. Regardless of any explanation that might just about hold water, Capitano Benucci is only too happy to charge the perfectly innocent Captain Byfold (Donald Houston) with Coutoules’ murder although he cannot actually prove that Byfold is guilty. Aware that Byfold will be sentenced to death if the trial goes ahead, the committee frantically puts a plan into action which enables Byfold and two other officers to escape before the trial is about to begin… but it is not to be: once again Benucci and his men are already waiting outside the fence and brutally machinegun the three men down. Now Colonel Baird and his comrades are certain they have a traitor among them, how else would Benucci know the exact time and date of a planned prison break?
This is deeply worrying for the escape committee because they have been extremely busy (not to mention careful) digging another underground tunnel which hopefully will set them free – but how can they be sure Benucci doesn’t already know of their plans? Thankfully, Captain Phillips has an epiphany of sorts when he remembers certain events which point at Captain Long as a possible culprit. Whilst Baird initially finds the idea simply too farfetched, Phillips remarks that Long has a tendency to write an awful lot of letters to his apparent girlfriend, meaning Benucci will get to read them before they leave the camp. As it so happens the latest mailbag still hangs on Phillip’s bedpost and upon sifting through the letters they indeed find a letter from Long to his ‘girlfriend’ – with a clear message in the second paragraph informing Benucci of the committee’s big escape plan! In fact, we already know that Long is in cahoots with Benucci from an earlier scene.
Committee leader Colonel Huxley (Bernard Lee) is only too aware that – following those latest revelations – time is of the essence and a daring plan is set up which hopefully enables the escape committee to get out of the POW camp alive. The plan involves a production of ‘Hamlet’ which the prisoners had already organized but now day and time of the production needs to be changed if they are to succeed with their derring-do undertaking. Cue for a nail-biting climax during which prisoner after prisoner vanishes in an underground tunnel behind the makeshift stage, literally crawling for freedom while Callender gives it his all as Hamlet (“To escape or not to escape – that is the question”) and Phillips busy operating a makeshift wind-machine and an old gramophone which fools the Italian captors outside the barrack into thinking the production really is in full swing. In the end, all of the committee succeed in escaping with a tied-up Captain Long receiving his well-deserved comeuppance.
We get commendable performances all round, in particular Todd, Lee, Attenborough and Price stand out. Proverbial baddie Peter Arne’s Italian accent borders on caricature, nonetheless his performance as sadistic Capitano Benucci is as usual a chilling one – made all the more so because his sadism is more of a devious nature as opposed to an obvious icy-cold display.
Don Chaffey no doubt was in fine form competently directing an all-star cast in this tale which is based upon the 1952 novel ‘Death in Captivity’ by Michael Gilbert.
Network present DANGER WITHIN newly restored in Blu-ray format with ‘Image Gallery’ as only bonus feature.