It plays as something of a cross between Went the Day Well? and The Day of the Jackal with Michael Caine as a Nazi Colonel whose regiment infiltrates a small English town disguised as Poles as part of a plot to kidnap Winston Churchill. But like the interlopers of Went the Day Well? they prove somewhat careless, in this case wearing their real uniforms under their disguises, and are soon exposed and forced to besiege the town.
It was the last film directed by John Sturges, who in a career spanning thirty years had established a solid track record in action films and westerns, as well as helming The Great Escape. The film has his customary virtues of tense action sequences and well-photographed locations, and shows every sign of a large budget being thoroughly spent.
It is, however, somewhat compromised by its unhurried pace, by a plethora of subplots and consequent lack of focus, and by the central miscasting of Donald Sutherland as a wisecracking IRA mercenary and Michael Caine as the Nazi leader, his accent explained away as the result of a British education. (Despite this, and the equally eccentric casting of Robert Duvall as a Nazi, it redeems itself somewhat by giving Donald Pleasence the chance to add Himmler to his already extensive gallery of villainous characterisations.) And after the leisurely first half it builds to a number of sprawling action sequences and an effectively suspenseful climax, leading to a bizarre twist ending reminiscent of some of the stranger fifties war films, such as The Man Who Never Was and I Was Monty’s Double.
The film is also notable as one of very few that attempt to show relatively sympathetic Nazi characters. This can obviously be effective in creating a more complex and layered portrait of Nazi hierarchy and society, as was achieved for instance in Anatole Litvak’s underrated The Night of the Generals (1968). Here, however, it seems rather more forced and contrived, serving no deeper purpose than to keep Caine’s character – who we first see facing a court martial for obstructing an SS officer in the act of rounding up Jews – comparatively likeable.