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Film / Operation Daybreak

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Operation Daybreak is a 1975 war film starring Anthony Andrews, Timothy Bottoms, Martin Shaw, Anton Diffring, and Joss Ackland; it was directed by Lewis Gilbert and shot mostly on location in Prague. It is adapted from the book Seven Men at Daybreak by Alan Burgess.

The film tells the story of Operation Anthropoid, the assassination of SS-General Reinhard Heydrich in Prague. Three Czech commandos are parachuted back into their home country, now under Nazi occupation, with orders to kill Heydrich, the Reich "Protector" of the Czech homelands. Will they be able to reach and kill the heavily guarded Heydrich? Will they be able to get away?

See also and compare Hangmen Also Die! (1943), Hitler's Madman (1943), Atentát (1964), Anthropoid (2016) and The Man with the Iron Heart (2017), all about the same historical events.

This film features examples of:

  • Adaptational Heroism: Čurda gives up the identity to save his wife and son from retaliation, and only after a beating from the Gestapo. There's no mention of the one million Reichsmark reward he got for doing so.
  • Artistic License – History: There's a couple of major departures from the facts.
    • The assassination happens around Christmastime, in the dead of winter, and Heydrich never makes it to Berlin for his big conference about the Final Solution. In fact the attack happened on May 27, 1942, four months after Heydrich had organized and hosted the Wannsee Conference.
    • Curda, who betrayed the others, is shown being sent into Czechoslovakia along with Kubis and Janak. He in fact was dropped into the country as part of a completely different operation (a sabotage group), although he did join up with the Anthropoid group before the attack on Heydrich.
    • The film depicts the Czechs in the church having grenades and automatic weapons that they use to take a high toll of the attacking Nazis, before the Czechs are finally overwhelmed. In fact the Czechs only had pistols and as a result the Germans suffered only five lightly wounded.
    • As noted above, the name of the operation was Operation Anthropoid, not Operation Daybreak.
    • The attempted train sniping never happened, simply because it was impossible to identify their target amongst all the other people travelling on the train.
  • Based on a True Story: The film starts with the titles "THIS IS A TRUE STORY" and "IT BEGINS IN ENGLAND IN 1941".
  • Assassination Attempt: For the first attempt on Heydrich, the commandoes attempt to snipe him as his train is sitting at a siding. Just as they're about to pull the trigger, a train races past on the other track and blocks their view of the target.
  • Ate His Gun: A mutual version by Kubis and Gabcík.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: The SOE commandos commit suicide after the German authorities track them down to their hideout in the crypt of a church.
  • Convenient Misfire: Gabčík steps out in front of the car carrying Reinhard Heydrich and pulls the trigger on his Sten submachine gun, only for it to jam. This scene was Truth in Television; Heydrich would have survived if his driver had sped off, but instead the driver pursued Gabčík who'd thrown down the Sten and fled, leaving Heydrich to be fatally wounded by a bomb thrown by Kubiš. Apparently the jam was caused by the weapon being packed in straw, which got into the weapon (not that the Sten gun was particularly reliable anyway).
  • Costume Porn: The title sequence involves a slow pan across Nazi regalia laid out on a large swastika flag and Heydrich being fussed over by his servants, all set to David Hentschel's magnificent synth score.
  • Disturbed Doves: The pigeons in the square fly away as the crowd disperses after the siege of the church ends.
  • Ditch the Bodyguards: On the day of his assassination Heydrich is running late for his flight, so he tells his chauffeur to speed up, leaving his escort behind.
  • Food as Bribe: A member of La Résistance smuggles an SOE agent past a German roadblock with some fresh fish he's caught. "I'll make it worth your while..." The German soldiers don't know this, of course; they just assume they're turning a blind eye to a curfew violation for a local Czech with whom they're on friendly terms.
  • Impairment Shot: Blurred vision from Ata as he wakes up, after being beaten by the Germans, and sees Curda. Ata, who doesn't realize that Curda is the traitor, reveals to him the location of the church where the others are hiding out.
  • Intro Dump: In the first scene, the three men selected for the mission introduce themselves to a superior officer, and the audience.
  • Kill It with Water: The German authorities track down the commandos who assassinated Reinhard Heydrich to the crypt of a church. After suffering casualties trying to storm the hideout, the Germans use fire hoses to flood the crypt to force those inside to surrender. The commandos commit suicide instead.
  • Last Stand: The commandos in the church conduct a heroic last stand, killing a whole bunch of Germans before Kubis and Janak commit suicide.
  • Missed Him by That Much: Curda gives himself up because he thinks his son has been scooped up in the mass arrests and executions that are taking place after Heydrich's assassination. His son returns home just as Curda is walking into Gestapo headquarters.
  • New Child Left Behind: After the fact. Curda makes it back to visit his old girlfriend, sees some children's toys scattered about,and realizes that she has borne his child while he's been away.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Only the German characters speak with the appropriate accent. The majority of the characters, who are all Czech, speak with a Received Pronunciation English accent.
  • Secret Underground Passage: Subverted; the commandoes trapped in the crypt try to break down the wall to a passage that's rumoured to be there, but it doesn't exist.
  • Tanks, but No Tanks: Averted. Czechoslovakia built 3 Tigers specifically for this movie, by mounting Tiger mockup hulls on T34 chassis.
  • Tempting Fate: One of Heydrich's officers is getting married. The bride is shown the Crown of St. Wenceslas, but balks at trying it on when told that legend says anyone who isn't the rightful king who wears the crown will die within the year. Undeterred, Heydrich puts on the crown himself, to general applause.
  • Title Drop: The code name "Operation Daybreak" is given by the general who briefs the three men in the opening scene.
  • Translation Convention: Zigzagged; the Germans speak German with subtitles; the Czechs speak English.
  • Vulnerable Convoy: Even though Heydrich's car is escorted by an armoured car and two truckloads of soldiers, he's still more vulnerable there than in his home or office.