WolfmanOz at the Movies #22

Operation: Daybreak (Anthropoid)

Tomorrow, May 27th, will be the 80th anniversary of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in Prague, the Nazi commander of the Reich Main Security Office and the acting governor of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

Although not initially killed in the attack on May 27th, Heydrich died of his wounds on June 4th, 1942.

The assassination, codenamed Operation Anthropoid (in this film named Daybreak), was carried out by soldiers of the Czechoslovakian army-in-exile after preparation and training by the British SOE (Special Operations Executive).

The operation was the only government-sponsored assassination of a senior Nazi leader during World War II.

Reinhard Heydrich was one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany and many thought he would be the ultimate successor to Hitler given his ruthlessness, intelligence and position within the SS (he was Himmler’s deputy). He was also given overall command of the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”(the Holocaust) in Europe.

Operation: Daybreak isn’t wholly correct in some of the finer details, but it is still a reasonably accurate re-telling of what happened 80 years ago, and, IMO, is the best film version of these events.

The film was directed by the under-rated Lewis Gilbert (Sink The Bismarck!, Alfie, The Spy Who Loved Me, Educating Rita and Haunted) from a script by Ronald Harewood (The Dresser, The Pianist) as the film chiefly follows the 2 main Czech protagonists – Jan Kubiš (played by Timothy Bottoms) and Jozef Gabcík (played by Anthony Andrews) – as they parachute into Czechoslovakia, contact the local resistance and plan the assassination.

At the same time the film also show the activities of Heydrich, played superbly by Anton Diffring, who, although too old for the role, captures the arrogance and cold hearted evil ruthlessness of this thoroughly repugnant man.

The irony was that Diffring, who made a career playing mostly Nazi officers in war films of the 1960s and 1970s, had left Germany in the 1930s to escape persecution due to his homosexuality.

Heydrich’s death led to a wave of tragic reprisals by the Nazis where thousands of Czechs were murdered/executed, including the total destruction of a number of villages (most notably Lidice aka Liditz).

Ultimately the 2 assassins and their 5 accomplices were trapped in the Saints Cyril and Methodius Cathedral in Prague and, after a fierce gun battle on June 18th with a Waffen SS battalion, they were all killed either by the Germans or by committing suicide.

Note there have been 3 other films which have directly covered the events of Operation Anthropoid:

Atentát (1964) – a rarely seen Czech version which is worth catching.
Anthropoid (2016) – a recent and a pretty good version of the story
The Man With The Iron Heart (2017) – a film of 2 halves which shows the rise of Heydrich in the 1930s and the build-up to the assassination. IMO a very average movie portrayal of the grim events.

Another highlight of Operation: Daybreak is the unusual but highly effective music score by David Hentschel in which the music was played on an ARP synthesiser.

Today this film is now often overlooked but I feel is still one the best World War II dramas ever made based on true events as it emotionally captures the incredible courage and sacrifice of the men and women involved in this major episode of WWII.

Enjoy.

11 thoughts on “WolfmanOz at the Movies #22”

  1. What?, Tiger tanks (with badly painted crosses), didn’t exist in May ’42.
    But historical pedantry is not important. Nowadays everything can be CGI-ed and made to look right afterwards.
    Like the cheap cardboard and canvas scenery in the Dr Who of the 70’s, it doesn’t matter. It’s the story that counts.


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  2. I think the man with the iron heart was called Killing Heydrich when it was on Netflix here. It no longer seems to be available on Netflix now. I thought it was pretty good but I’ve never seen any of the other ones.


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  3. From my readings, Heydrich was a very charming and clever man, who had no difficulty in rising to senior positions in the Reich.

    It should be remembered that the Reich was a talent magnet in one of the most talented countries in the world. Germany was an economic and technological powerhouse in the 1930s, not to mention an intellectual hub.

    As an aside, someone in the OT mentioned drug abuse. I remember reading that the guy who picked up Goering saying that he thought that his prisoner must be a salesman for a pharmaceutical company. He had a suitcase full of codeine.


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  4. Killing Heydrich when it was on Netflix here

    I thought it was quite good as well. Very poignant (and very possibly fictional) scene in it when the old Czech resistance members ask the two would be assassins if Heydrich’s life is worth the more than thousand civilians who’ll inevitably be slaughtered in the subsequent reprisals.

    With the benefit of hindsight, there was no useful purpose served by killing Heydrich. It didn’t alter the course of the war one jot, it resulted in the subsequent butchery of at least 1,300 civilians and it also ensured that the Czechs were subject to even more stringent monitoring and abuses by the nazis.

    You can’t blame the Czechs for trying it on, though. Heydrich’s arrogance in strutting around Prague in an open topped car on a daily unchanged (to the minute) schedule cried out for some taking down. I’d always thought well, he was one of the most brutal nazis and zero sympathy.

    Had never even thought of the moral dilemma raised by his assassination until having watched that scene. It stayed with me for days afterwards, something that never happens after watching most if not all of the disposable garbage that passes for modern day movie making.


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  5. Wolfie,
    thanks for this post (and your other ones, as well). I’ve never heard of the film. Now I’d like to see the rest of it.

    To Rabz’ comment about the moral dilemma of the assassination and its aftermath in the murder of all those Czechs.

    Was there a bigger strategy behind it – obviously the Brits wanting numbers of trained partisans across Europe when D-Day finally occurred – or was it just the need for an oppressed people to stand up against Nazi oppression?

    In 1942, so much was hanging in the balance in the “wider war effort.” So did they see it as their part in the winning of the war? Or were these actions designed to show their preparedness to push back against what the Nazis proclaimed would be, and in all likelihood in 1942 was, that the Third Reich would last 1000 years?


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  6. I just searched for the film and found a clip from the beginning. The scenario given is that Reinhard Heydrich maybe in line to succeed Hitler if something happened to him. So, the operation becomes an imperative.


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  7. Bar Beach Swimmer says:
    May 29, 2022 at 3:17 pm
    I just searched for the film and found a clip from the beginning. The scenario given is that Reinhard Heydrich maybe in line to succeed Hitler if something happened to him. So, the operation becomes an imperative.

    Yes that’s in the first clip in this post.

    Heydrich was a fearsome individual who combined utter ruthlessness with an extremely intelligent mind plus a gift for organisation.

    In addition, the Czech govt in exile wanted to impress the Allies that they were still relevant which was actually the main reason they instigated the assassination.

    Afterwards the Czech govt in exile admitted they had not anticipated the scale of the barbaric vengeance that was inflicted on the Czech people.

    It’s a fascinating episode of WWII, one which I’ve widely read about in the last 45 years.

    Hopefully you can catch up on watching the entire film.


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