Appellate Judge James A. Stewart once wrote a spy thriller, but Night of the Turtle was a slow seller.
"From here on, you're going to be staring into the face of evil—and the only way to survive is to be even less human than they are. There's no stepping back from that, no room for doubt."—Harry Martineau (George Peppard)
When you think of suspense, the name Jack Higgins comes to mind. The author best known for The Eagle Has Landed has penned more than 60 thrillers, with more than 10 coming to life on big or small screens.
Night of the Fox, which originally aired as a two-part TV miniseries, finds Higgins coming home—to World War II thrillers and to the Channel Islands, where he lives. Since there's a fake Rommel involved, you could call it Night of the Faux.
Facts of the Case
Why does Sara Drayton (Deborah Raffin, Jacqueline Susann's Once Is Not Enough) have a picture of herself with German war hero Erwin Rommel in her Jersey home? When a visitor asks the question, Sara tells the man the story…
In 1944, Allies training for the Normandy invasion are attacked by German U-boats. While the Allies may have lost 700 men, there are only three that they're concerned about: the three who know the details of the upcoming invasion. "We'd better pray that none of those three men survive the night, because God help us if they do," Gen. Munro (John Mills, Gandhi) says.
One has survived; an American named Hugh Kelso (David Birney, St. Elsewhere) has washed up on Jersey, in the Channel Islands, the only British territory under German control. He's wounded and in the care of Helene De Ville (Andréa Ferréol, Asterix & Obelix vs. Caesar).
Munro seeks out Harry Martineau (George Peppard, Banacek) for a mission that could be rescue—or something worse. "Only one man ruthless enough to waltz straight into Jersey and put a bullet between Kelso's eyes—if he has to," Munro says. Martineau's mourning a lover's death at the hands of Nazi torturers, working on bad poetry, bad nightmares, and a bad drinking habit. Munro also recruits Sara Drayton. She's eager for adventure, and she's Helene's niece.
The pair will go to Jersey disguised as a Nazi envoy and his mistress. Sara seems to be falling for Martineau; she's not upset at her role. She doesn't realize, however, that he'd put a bullet through her eyes rather than risk her torture at the hands of the Nazis.
Throw in two wild cards: an Italian naval man who's fallen for Sara and a Jewish actor pressed into posing as Rommel. Now you've got a Jack Higgins adventure. Don't you love it when a plot comes together?
By now, you might suspect that Night of the Fox is a bit preposterous, and you would be right. This is the sort of war movie where characters who presumably are speaking French or German are actually speaking English with overdone French or German accents. You'll also find some of the coincidences a trifle too unlikely. Moreover, the action-based second half doesn't quite live up to the crackerjack character setup in the first half. Still, I enjoyed the ride a hell of a lot. I'd chalk that up to some strong performances.
"I feel. I act. I'm a very existential person," Harry Martineau says after beating up a soldier who questions Sara's honor. Martineau's pearls of reflective wisdom might not be totally believable, but George Peppard grounds them well enough to draw you in and delivers his dialogue with a smile that lets you know it's just for fun.
Deborah Raffin portrays Sara Drayton as naïve but eager, an agent whose first thought is to make tea as the mission is discussed, shows fear in the face of Nazi torturers, and shows relish for posing as Martineau's "French tart." While still obviously a "rank amateur," as Martineau calls her, she believably has enough on the ball to do the job. She works well with Peppard as he alternately tries to scare her off and protect her.
Michael York (Murder on the Orient Express) as the man who would rather not be Rommel adds a comic touch, revealing himself as a fake with his cowering as Martineau brandishes a gun, but never lapses into schtick.
Most notable among those in smaller roles are Niall O'Brien (Vanity Fair) as an Irish soldier on Jersey who relishes his chances for action and John Mills as Munro, who proves even colder than Martineau.
The production is good for the most part, although the picture hasn't held up all that well. It's faded, night scenes are muddy and hard to read, and flecks abound on the film. The sound came in at a lower volume than the regular TV programming I'd been watching while I set up the DVD player, but wasn't too bad.
Extras are routine, with cast and author bio information provided in text. The information seemed good and reasonably detailed, but the type's rather small, unless you have a big-screen TV.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Would a real British agent have let two untested characters like the Italian naval man and the fake Rommel get involved in his mission? Realism isn't a strong suit of Night of the Fox.
The credits show how the world has changed in roughly two decades since this movie was made: it was produced in Yugoslavia, and transportation was provided by Pan Am.
Night of the Fox is a modest TV movie, and it's not perfect by any means, but it'll provide three fun hours of action and crackling dialogue for fans of Jack Higgins or cinematic war thrillers.
I feel. I watch. I'm a very existential reviewer. I acquit Night of the
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