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Film / Atlantic Wall

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Le Mur de l'Atlantique (Atlantic Wall) is a 1970 French war comedy directed by Marcel Camus. It was the final film to star Bourvil, who passed away on 23 September 1970, three weeks before the French release. It also starred Peter McEnery, Jean Poiret, Sophie Desmarets, Terry-Thomas, Reinhardt Kolldehoff, Pino Caruso and William Mervyn.

In 1943, the Avro Lancaster of Royal Air Force Bomber Command Lieutenant Jeff (McEnery) is shot down over Normandy, in occupied France. Jeff escapes the wreckage with German soldiers on his trail, and finds a hiding place (and love) thanks to Juliette (Sara Franchetti), the daughter of a restaurant-bar owner, Léon Duchemin (Bourvil).

Due to the local Kommandanturnote  officers mistaking him for a house painter, Léon finds himself in possession of V1 missiles launching pads plans. Jeff decides to bring said plans to London with the help of a Resistance network, and Léon finds himself forced to follow Jeff to the United Kingdom due to an incoming German patrol.

In London, Léon is interrogated, drafted and used against his will by the British military on the orders of Commander Perry (Terry-Thomas) and under the watchful eye of Jeff to prepare for a very special mission that will send him back to Normandy...

The film is named after the extensive fortifications system Germans built along the coasts of Western Europe from 1942 to 1944.


  • Adolf Hitlarious: While Adolf Hitler doesn't appear in the film, two portraits of him are featured in the climax (and they are used for humorous effects). The first one is at the Kommandantur. Jeff (in German soldier disguise) straps a bomb to a second one and brings it to the Kommandantur to replace the first, with the intention of assassinating Erwin Rommel. Of course, every German soldier who looks at the portrait raises the arm as Jeff passes by with it. Jeff ends up using the first portrait to knock a soldier out in order to steal his side-car and escape with Léon.
  • Anti-Air: The German Flak shoots at the squadron of RAF Avro Lancasters at the beginning, and manages to damage Jeff's bomber enough to cause it to crash.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Léon ends up being one of the (fictional) reasons Rommel left Normandy just before D-Day, offering shoes to the field marshall for his wife's birthday.
  • Boyfriend-Blocking Dad: Léon is initially very pissed when he comes back to his restaurant as he finds out his daughter Juliette is in love with Jeff and had a child with him. Upon joining Jeff in the prison where the Résistance-friendly cops put them as a cover for the secret operation, he starts punching him before the two calm down with some booze. Léon then ends up accepting the situation.
  • British Stuffiness: While Jeff is stranded in occupied France, his father is seen discussing with his RAF superior. Without any emotion, he says his son might be dead... or that he will be back on the next Saturday for a rugby match at Twickenham (most obviously counting on that latter option).
  • Brits Love Tea: Commander Perry drinks tea while interrogating Léon and has some served to him. Léon inadvertently spills his cup, which prompts Perry to say:
    Perry: Mr. Duchemin. England is a free country. You can do everything and say everything here... EXCEPT spilling tea when it is rationed!
  • Butt-Monkey: Leutnant Heinrich Jakobus Steinbichler a.k.a. "Totor" always gets hit on the head, be it by someone or by falling objects.
  • Casting Gag: German actor Johannes "John" Eppler plays Erwin Rommel. Before he became an actor, Eppler was apparently a spy working for the real Rommel himself during World War II. He has been sent in Egypt as part of Operation Salaam.
  • Chase Scene: Jeff and Léon escape on a sidecar after the explosion, and they are chased by Germans on other motorbikes. An Allied plane comes to help them by shooting telephone poles on the road, which stops several of the enemy bikes. Jeff and Léon end up in a river, and Armand comes to pick them up in a car.
  • Checkpoint Bluff: Armand borrows Jeff's German uniform just after picking him and Léon up following their escape of the mayhem at the Kommandantur, then uses it at a roadblock to have the German soldiers of said roadblock shoot at the German motorcycle soldiers chasing them and let them pass. It works very well since Armand perfectly speaks German.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Armand's stuffed antelope. Jeff bumps on it in the dark at the beginning and Léon asks what it is at some point. Léon later steals it and brings it to a shoemaking friend of his to turn it into a pair of shoes for Rommel's wife, which will prompt Rommel to go back to Germany.
  • Coming in Hot: The Avro Lancaster of Jeff is shot down by the German Flak and he pulls off a crash-landing.
  • Double Agent:
    • Armand (Jean Poiret) is a Resistance leader passing as a collaborateur.
    • Léon is used as one after he's parachuted back in France, as he knows the Kommandantur Rommel is about to visit, having been there earlier.
  • Dressing as the Enemy:
    • After the crash of his bomber, Jeff knocks a German Feldgendarm out and uses his uniform to disguise himself. He disguises himself as a German soldier again in the climax to set up the bomb to kill Rommel at the Kommandantur.
    • In the climax, Armand borrows Jeff's German uniform just after picking him and Léon up following their escape of the mayhem at the Kommandantur, then uses it for a Bavarian Fire Drill Checkpoint Bluff at a roadblock to have the German soldiers of said roadblock shoot at the German motorcycle soldiers chasing them. It works very well since Armand perfectly speaks German, unlike Jeff.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Once Léon is drafted in the British army, Jeff oversees his training, and never misses an occasion to make his life a hell doing so.
  • The Driver: A drunk Friedrich reveals to his friend Léon that he's become Erwin Rommel's personal driver.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Once he brings the German miracle weapons plans to the British military in London, Léon expects to be "awarded the Victoria Cross, at least"... Except they suspect him of being part of a German counterintelligence operation, and treat him as such, and later put him through a Training from Hell.
  • Historical Domain Character: Erwin Rommel (played by Johannes "John" Eppler) shows up in the climax, as the secret mission involves an assassination attempt by the Allies on him. Léon has the idea to offer Rommel a pair of shoes for his wife, which causes Rommel to leave to celebrate his wife's birthday. It practically screws the assassination attempt but takes Rommel away from Normandy just on the eve of D-Day.
  • I Am Very British: The British characters played by British actors speak French with a very thick (and posh) accent.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: All Léon wanted was to live a normal life in his restaurant, with no involvement in the Resistance whatsoever. Fate decided otherwise.
  • It Began with a Twist of Fate:
    • Léon goes to the house painter shop to find out the guy is sick. Then Germans arrive to seek the same guy and think Léon is the painter. Had he not been there, he would have remained a peaceful restaurant owner with no tale to tell.
    • Even moreso once he's at the Kommandantur. The German officer who had him brought there puts the wallpaper samples over maps showing the sites of launching pads for V1 missiles, and something causes Léon to deliberately fold one of such maps into the samples. Once Jeff looks at it, it becomes clear it's of paramount importance that the Allies get them.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Jeff and Juliette sleep together only once and Juliette gets pregnant.
  • Non-Indicative Name: The eponymous Atlantic Wall (beach fortifications) built by the Germans in occupied France is actually never seen, not even the beach of Duchemin's coastal town. The only things that could more or less said to be part of it are the German Anti-Air batteries at the beginning.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Some British characters are played by French actors, and it shows when they speak in the original version.
  • Off with His Head!: Commander Perry (Terry-Thomas) has the head of a dead German bomber pilot who parachuted in Yorkshire severed and brought to Léon in a hat box in order to cause him a psychological shock and make him talk.
  • Real Event, Fictional Cause: Erwin Rommel did leave France just before D-Day and offered a pair of shoes to his wife, but the film provides a fictional reason that is, a French restaurant owner offering him the shoes to avoid assassinating him. There was no assassination attempt on Rommel immediately prior to D-Day.
  • Running Gag: Leutnant Steinbichler (who Armand nicknames "Totor") gets hit several times on the head.
  • Serious Business: Rugby is serious business for Jeff and his father. Jeff is hiding in occupied France because his plane was shot, but he insists that he must go back to England to play in a rugby match on the next Saturday, and his father either thinks he's dead or expects him to come back for that match.
  • Stock Footage: All of the war footage (the bombers and German Flak at the beginning and D-Day at the end) was taken from reels of Real Life World War II.
  • Stuka Scream: The squadron of Avro Lancasters makes that sound during the air raid at the beginning, despite the planes not being Ju 87 Stukas.
  • Take a Third Option: Léon is not keen on assassinating Rommel, but he doesn't run away from the mission either. He decides to offer Rommel a pair of women's shoes, which makes the Generalfeldmarschall go back to Germany for his wife's birthday, sending him far away from Normandy on the eve of D-Day.
  • Training from Hell: Léon's training in England includes crawling in the mud and leaping into the void.
  • Unlikely Hero: Léon, an average Frenchman who would rather avoid troubles and finds himself thrusted into the bigger picture of World War II.
  • Unnecessary Roughness: Jeff practices rugby, and it is Serious Business for him and his father. Prior to the film, he ended up in a fist fight with the referee (who is also his superior in the Royal Air Force) because said referee refused to validate a legit try he scored.
  • The Vicar: Jeff's father is a bishop, played by William Mervyn, who portrayed a very similar character in All Gas and Gaiters.
  • You All Meet in an Inn: The early part of the film happens inside Léon's restaurant. His various customers are German soldiers, Resistants and Black Market traffickers.