Sunday, February 4, 2024



The last James Bond film, NO TIME TO DIE, was not a favorite of mine by any means. When its title was officially announced, I thought it was rather generic for a 007 movie. It certainly didn't have anything to do with the works of Ian Fleming....but I later found out that the title did have a connection with the James Bond movie franchise. 

Before he started up the Bond film franchise with Harry Saltzman, Albert Broccoli produced a series of action movies in England in the 1950s with his then-partner Irving Allen. One of those films was a 1958 WWII story set in North Africa that was titled NO TIME TO DIE. In America the film was released through Columbia as TANK FORCE (talk about generic titles). 

This NO TIME TO DIE shares plenty more connections with the Bond franchise than just a name. Its director (Terence Young), co-writer (Richard Maibaum) and cinematographer (Ted Moore) all worked on the early James Bond films, and set the course for the rest of the series. 

Calling the film TANK FORCE for the American market is a bit of a misnomer. There are two tank battles, at the very beginning and the very end, but most of the story deals with the travails of a handful of Allied soldiers who have escaped from a POW camp in Libya. 

One of the soldiers happens to be an American, serving in the British Eighth Army, named David Thatcher (Victor Mature). A number of lower-budget British movies made in the Fifties would use an American star, and those films usually had a plot explanation about why the American character was in the story. The explanation for Thatcher's presence in TANK FORCE is a doozy--he was married to a Jewish woman who was sent to a concentration camp and died, so he threw a bomb at Joseph Goebbels!! (Apparently TANK FORCE is set before America's entry into the war, and Thatcher seems to have joined the British army to continue to get back at the Nazis.) Needless to say, Thatcher doesn't want to be captured by the Germans and have his identity found out, so he's determined to lead his small group to safety behind the Allied lines. 

Among the group of escaped POWs is a stiff-upper lip, by-the-book sergeant (Leo Genn), who acts as a counterpoint to Thatcher. There's also a very young British soldier who acts as a sort of comic relief (Anthony Newley), and a trigger-happy Pole (Bonar Colleano) whose main focus is to kill as many Germans as he can. 

The group goes through plenty of trials and tribulations along the way, including being assisted by the hostess (Luciana Paluzzi) of an Italian officer's club, dealing with sandstorms, and being pursued by Arab tribesmen. The group also deals with an unexpected betrayal, and unexpected help. (Luciana Paluzzi would also be involved in the Bond franchise--she played the femme fatale in THUNDERBALL.) 

What helps make TANK FORCE stand out from other WWII tales is that it was filmed in color and Cinemascope, and most of the story was actually shot in Libya. (There's also as many Italians in this story as there are Germans.) The tank sequences were filmed with the assistance of the British army, and the footage is impressive, even though most of the vehicles are not of WWII vintage. It's not the most realistic war film ever made, but it was designed to be a crowd-pleasing action adventure. Terence Young (who co-wrote the screenplay along with Richard Maibaum) keeps things moving, with one incident after another. Kenneth V. Jones contributes a rousing musical score. 

Victor Mature was in his mid-forties when he worked on TANK FORCE, but he appears older, and he also looks as if he hasn't had a lot of sleep (and no, I don't think that was his attempt at being an accurate-looking POW). According to internet sources, Mature got the part after a number of other leading men were considered. Leo Genn does much better in the role of the practical sergeant--he's more the type of person a group of escaped POWs would follow, but movies like this have to have the notable American name as the lead. 

TANK FORCE/NO TIME TO DIE isn't a major WWII epic, but it's entertaining enough. A much more charismatic leading man certainly would have helped. I will say I'd much rather watch this NO TIME TO DIE again than the later James Bond film with the same title. 

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