Follow TV Tropes


Film / Under Ten Flags

Go To

Under Ten Flags (Italian: Sotto dieci bandiere) is a 1960 Italian-American World War II film directed by Duilio Coletti, starring Van Heflin, Charles Laughton, and Mylène Demongeot.

In 1941, Allied merchant ships are being sunk by the disguised German commerce raider Atlantis, captained by Bernhard Rogge (Heflin), who seeks to fight the war in an honorable manner. Meanwhile, the British Admiralty and intelligence service coordinate their efforts to hunt and sink the Atlantis.

This movie has the following tropes:

  • Abandon Ship:
    • Captain Windsor decides to ram the Atlantis rather than surrender. However the African crewmen in the engine room panic and flee to the lifeboats, forcing the captain to give the order to abandon ship when he realises the situation is hopeless. Of course he has to add That's an Order!, as heroic Brits would never willingly abandon ship like those cowardly Africans!
    • Captain Rogge ends up giving his own order to abandon ship at the end. His men are not captured because the British cruiser didn't want to risk it with a U-boat in the area; the U-boat then rescues them once it's left.
  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • The Atlantis was fired on by the British ship Kemmendine after it signaled its surrender, but a board of inquiry by the captains of both vessels determined that the man who fired the gun hadn't been aware of this because a ruptured steam pipe cut off communication with the stern of the ship where the gun was positioned. In this movie we have the captain of the Abdullah deliberately ordering his gunners to fire after raising a white flag.
    • The Admiralty was acting on much surer ground when they ordered the Devonshire to open fire on the fake Polyphemus, because a Life magazine reporter had taken a photograph of the Atlantis while a prisoner on board the vessel.
  • Anachronism Stew
    • Infra-red detectors were used during World War 2, only they were a lot bigger and cumbersome than the slim spy goggles seen here.
    • Zizi has '60s Hair, a bullet-bra and short shorts. While she might have abandoned ship in her skivvies, she certainly wouldn't be dancing around in public dressed like that in the 1940's.
  • Asshole Victim: The captain of the Abdullah shoves Zizi aside when climbing into a boat, so Paco throws him overboard.
    • America Won World War II: The spy who steals the crucial Flower code that enables the Admiralty to sink the Atlantis is an American army officer. Atlantis was sunk on 22 November 1941. The United States did not declare war on Germany until December of that year (which is even shown by the Atlantis posing as a neutral Japanese vessel!)
    • Dated History: Instead of doppelganger spies doing Mission Impossible-type infiltrations of German headquarters, the codes were actually obtained by the codebreakers of Bletchley Park, a fact still classified at the time the movie was made. In fairness, Ultra decrypts were routinely passed off as intelligence obtained from spies or reconnaissance aircraft.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Kruge and Zizi.
  • But Not Too Evil: Kruger, the only member of the crew who believes in Nazi ideology, is presented as naïve due to his youth and Nazi indoctrination. Although he threatens to denounce Captain Rogge for not detaining the Jews on the ship, at the end he admits he had no intention of doing so.
  • Can't You Read the Sign?: There's a sign (in English) on the door of the room where the spy goes to steal the code: ARE YOUR SECRET FILES LOCKED UP?
  • Cigar-Fuse Lighting: The German officer who boards the Liverpool has a cigar sticking out of his mouth, which he uses to light the fuse on the demolition charges.
  • Code Name: The Flower grid code used by the German navy substitutes the names of flowers for rendezvous points. A major part of the plot involves stealing the Flower code without the Germans knowing it so the Atlantis can be Lured into a Trap.
  • Confronting Your Imposter: The Doppelgänger sent to steal the code from German naval headquarters is told he has exactly ninety minutes before Captain Knoche returns from the Louvre. Unfortunately the Louvre is closed on that day and Knoche returns early, encountering the spy after he's left the building. As Knoche chases after him, a couple of spies in a backup car run him over.
  • Disguised in Drag: The Horny Sailors on the City of Liverpool are eagerly checking out the kimono-clad women on a (then still neutral) Japanese vessel, until the 'women' cast aside their fans and parasols and race to man the guns.
    First Mate: They're not girls, they're not even Japs—they're Germans!
  • Dive! Dive! Dive!: The Atlantis is refuelling a U-boat when the British cruiser Devonshire turns up, forcing them to crash dive leaving their captain on board. He's hopeful they can torpedo the cruiser, but an airplane circling overhead forces them to lower their periscope just as they're lining up the shot.
  • Dramatic Irony:
    • Captain Windsor stuffs his codes into a weighted bag and throws it out the porthole. The leader of the Boarding Party tells him he shouldn't have bothered as the Germans already have their secret codes.
    • Windsor notes the irony that he's dying from a shell fired from a British warship.
  • Enemy Eats Your Lunch: At one point Admiral Russell mentions that Rogge has stolen supplies from a British outpost and so is now gorging himself on Royal Navy rations. The man he's talking to expresses his sympathy...for the Germans.
  • Forged Message
    • When they pick up a ship transmitting, the Germans blow up the radio shack, then send a fake radio signal saying the earlier message was a false alarm.
    • The Admiralty sends a fake Distress Call from a U-boat so Atlantis can be Lured into a Trap, but Rogge isn't fooled. After getting the Flower Code they contemplate sending another fake message, only to be informed Berlin puts a prearranged 'mistake' in each message to spot fake ones.
  • Going Down with the Ship: The captain of the Liverpool refuses to abandon the ship he's captained for thirty years, but the Boarding Party just tell him he's got five minutes to collect his things and get dressed. We then see him grim faced on the Atlantis with the other prisoners as demolition charges send the Liverpool to the bottom. Ironically he ends up going down with the Atlantis when he's fatally wounded during the final battle, but he urges Rogge to save himself. "When peace comes, you'll be a good man to have around."
  • Hate Sink: Seeing as there are no evil Germans in this movie, we have the captain of the Abdullah instead. He runs up the white flag, then forces his crew at gunpoint to fire on the Atlantis hoping to get the prize money, leading to his passengers being killed and injured when the Atlantis returns fire. He then tries to claim his crew opened fire without orders. After he gets beaten up by the other prisoners for putting their lives in danger, he denounces a Jewish couple in hope of gaining favour with his Nazi captors. Rogge gladly kicks him off his ship as soon as he has the chance.
  • Heroes Love Dogs: The crew rescue a dog from the Liverpool and give it to Captain Rogge, who decides to call it Schnapps.
  • Hidden Weapons: The raider's guns are hidden in collapsible cargo crates or parts of the hull that fold down when readying to fire.
  • Historical Domain Character: Captain Rogge of the Atlantis.
  • Honey Trap: Film is shown of Captain Knoche leaving German naval headquarters with a pretty girl. It's explained that she's actually a former nurse from Glasgow. "They shot her a fortnight ago."
  • Honor Before Reason: Captain Rogge rejects the idea that they should sink ships without warning to prevent them signalling their location and description to the British Admiralty. He orders his men to get the prisoners off first if they are attacked. He refuses to detain the Jewish couple despite Kruger threatening to report him on their return to Germany, and makes sure they are dropped off at a neutral port instead of an Axis one. Captain Windsor notes the irony while he's dying from a British shell splinter.
    Windsor: You're a strange man, Rogge....full of mad ideas like fighting a clean war. There's no such thing. It's all foul and dirty and bloody. But you tried. You certainly gave it one hell of a try.
  • Hopeless Suitor: The portly Paco tries in vain to woo Zizi away from the handsome but duty-bound Lieutenant Kruger. Not that Zizi minds Paco; he's just nowhere near as good looking.
  • I Can't Hear You: The Atlantis transmits an increasingly weak Distress Call so they'll have an excuse not to answer by pretending their transmitter generator has failed. It makes no difference as the British open fire anyway.
  • Identical Stranger: With the help of Magic Plastic Surgery, a lookalike from Texas is able to pass himself off as a captain working in the German naval headquarters in Paris.
  • Imperiled in Pregnancy: Mrs. Braun is pregnant and traveling on false papers to hide the fact that she and her husband are Jewish.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Admiral Russell is not happy to get a Distress Call saying "SS Christina attacked by—" with no further details on who's doing the attacking. He then gets a message saying it was a mistake and they're proceeding as planned. Cut to a life ring marked SS Christina floating on the water.
  • Large Ham: Charles Laughton appears to be channeling Winston Churchill (who admittedly used to run the Admiralty too) in his portrayal of the mercurial Admiral Russell.
  • Laser Hallway: Quite possibly the Trope Maker, since the first real-life laser was built the same year. The spy has to steal the Flower code from a safe guarded by infra-red beams, which he sees using special goggles.
  • The Laws and Customs of War: Captain Rogge does his best to avoid the deaths of innocent civilians and sailors who've abandoned ship, and always runs up the German flag before engaging the enemy. He holds in contempt a captain who shows a white flag and then opens fire on him, saying he'll be tried in an international court.
  • Master of Disguise: Hence the title—the Atlantis can conceal itself as neutral or friendly vessels using false flags, deck crew in disguises, and altering the ship by repainting and altering the shape of the structure or funnels.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Zizi, played by the French actress Mylène Demongeot. Every scene she's in involves showing off her assets—flashing her lovely legs while climbing a scramble net, stripped down to her bra in the sweltering prisoner hold, teasing Kruger that her lifejacket is too tight or dancing on deck in a period-inappropriate bullet bra and shorts.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: That Superdickery in the poster showing the Atlantis firing on the lifeboats of the crew as they abandon ship? They actually fire on the ship because it fired on them first.
  • No Sympathy
  • Sea Mine: The Atlantis is shown laying a sea minefield.
  • Spot the Imposter: The Atlantis signals that they are the British ship Polyphemus, which is also in the area. The Brits try various methods to discern whether they are facing the real Polyphemus. Admiral Russell decides to go with his Gut Feeling and orders Devonshire to open fire rather than close for a Boarding Party, which would put them within range of the Atlantis's torpedoes.
  • Stock Footage of sinking merchantmen is used, as with all war movies made when movies were still in monochrome.
  • Stop, or I Will Shoot!: The shot-across-the-bow version, used by both sides.
  • Shout-Out: Admiral Russell notes the ships disappearing without trace and quips that a Boojum is involved.
  • Tempting Fate: Admiral Russell sends destroyers to the last known location of the Atlantis and says they'll have the raider in twenty-four hours. Instead the Atlantis sinks a destroyer with torpedoes, then evades the subsequent search.
  • Sarcasm Mode: Admiral Russell wants a message sent to the naval base in Columbo (Sri Lanka).
    "Russell speaking. (beat) Which Russell? I'll tell you: The one who roasts ignorant operators on the spit and eats them for his dinner—Admiral Russell! I've got an urgent message for Columbo. WHAT? Ohhhh yes, I think in cypher don't you? Or should we send it in German!
  • Shoe Phone: The infra-red viewing glasses and Minox subminiature camera are hidden in a fake pistol magazine.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Instead of going down shooting (which will do no good as they're out of range) Rogge runs up the German flag but refuses to shoot, so the British can't be sure whether they've sunk a commerce raider or an unarmed auxiliary vessel, and will continue to waste resources searching for the Atlantis.
  • The War Room: Admiral Russell's domain is the Admiralty operations room. The movie opens with the numerous shipping casualties being plotted on The Big Table.
  • Worthy Opponent: Admiral Russell can't help admiring Captain Rogge, saying he's "Damn near everything a sailor ought to be."
  • You Need to Get Laid: Zizi suggests to Kruger that he might get all the Nazi-ness out of him if he would just kiss a foreign girl.