Operation Amsterdam: a daring true story from 1940

This dramatic tale in Operation Amsterdam – made all the better by the knowledge that it is based on real events – follows two Dutchmen and a British spy as they try to stop Holland’s store of industrial diamonds from falling into the hands of the Nazis in 1940.

Operation Amsterdam DVD coverDispatched from Britain shortly after the German invasion of Holland, they get to the Amsterdam diamond market just ahead of the enemy. They then face a tense day trying to persuade diamond traders to hand over their stock whilst also staying out of trouble with fifth columnists and Nazi sympathisers.

Most of the action in Operation Amsterdam is low key tension, aided by a very well judged musical score, and although an obviously dated film being from 1959, there is still plenty to enjoy. Especially when the director repeatedly cuts to shots of clocks to heighten the tension as time slips away for the team to complete their mission in time to get away safely.

The hyperbole from the DVD cover – “They had to outsmart a city in order to save the world” – is thankfully missing from the film itself. Important though it was to bring the industrial diamonds to the UK, this was hardly a world-saving mission.

The DVD itself is pretty basic: no extras, no subtitles and the writing on the back of the box has an impressively large number of errors for such a short piece of text. The whole movie is there and the picture and sound qualities are good. However, it is in 4:3 ratio so you lose some of the pleasure of the original widescreen format.

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Buy Operation Amsterdam on DVD here.

One response to “Operation Amsterdam: a daring true story from 1940”

  1. A young Peter Finch takes the lead role in this British production. Finch became one of Britain’s leading actors for a generation. But perhaps the hero of this film is quite literally the hanging backdrop of Old Amsterdam. The magnificent architecture, streets, bridges and canals, not to mention the dockside harbour where they first alight off the HMS Destroyer. what is remarkable is how empty those streets, as though the whole of the city centre has been parked for a film set. All the people on the street are dressed in character as soldiers, policemen or extras. Even the bombs dropped in the harbour make it look like a real time drama, with genuine Nazi signed planes flying over head. The authenticity of the details in materials and costumes, place-settings is remarkable, lending a refreshing newness to the film. Only the recorded music and the odd burglar alarm at Barclays Bank seem to belong to a more modern era. The actors lend a slight 1960s ring to the musical timbre of “The Prisoner” , utilising the set as a playground for the escapees. The Fifth Column of Lieutenant is still unexplained: why oppose the party if the Colonel is supportive of Anna? Surely they know that she is not an enemy? Perhaps the real answer is one of the unspoken truths, that the Dutch Army were waiting and covering the streets to allow Jan, Walther and Major Dillon (Tony Britton) to get back in safety? It is a pity to see the two Dutch factions fighting one another. Still the shelling in the background is reminiscent of the film “Dunkirk”, starring John Mills. Melvyn Hayes (the boy) went on to play parts in other military films, and TV’s comedy It aint half Hot Mum”; while John Le Mesurier, (the colonel) was most famed as Sgt Wilson in “Dad’s Army”. The films draws to a climax as Anna racing through the streets has to escape and leave the car to them to break the road blocks. They drive to a bank with Resistance group to blow the safe open! The Vault (discussed earlier in the boardroom scene at the club) holds the bulk of Amsterdam’s diamonds. All the while the organ grinds in the street to cover the noise of the explosions; and glamorous Anna waits patiently to make the getaway, her long locks flowing in the wind. If it was written in the thoroughly English directions, the tension would be palpable! Jan’s father in real life was later murdered by the Nazis who had banked on the diamonds falling into their hands. Bankers across Europe were interrogated and tortured by the Gestapo for a number of offences, including secreting saving funds to the jewish population. Some played a double-agent role, feigning friendship with the Nazis while withholding vital funds; even cooking the account-books to fool the ledger scrutineers. The Nazi believed that the jews who were Goldsmiths, silversmiths, diamond-smiths were also part of the Anglo-American World Capitalist Conspiracy against Germany. Finally at 6.45 pm the timer goes and they reach into the vaults. Luka is wounded, as Alex leads his resistant fighters against the Fifth Columnists, (Fifth Column originates from the Dutch Calvinist Church – Anabaptists – leading radicals and revolutionaries of 17th century; many were republicans or anti-monarchists,) not necessarily sympathetic to the Stadtholder Queen Wilhelmina in 1940. Remarkably after a long gun-fight they manage to escape in the car to the port along a road congested by refugees. Overhead is the droning sound of a plane – strafed by a Messerschmidt 109e the car is shot up. A child watches on plaintively as her horse bolts, terrified she scampers after it. Again and again the plane returns to rained down death on the sad civilian column, line after line of begraggled exhausted people fleeing the approaching Blitzkreig. Finally the army realise that the escapees are friends to the Dutch people. What follows is a tearful goodbye for Anna and Jan; he promises to return. “There will be many more Anna before the war is over” is one of the most poignant last lines of any film. Women like her who joined the Resistance were killed in their thousands before 1945, in this film of black and white heroism, where all the choices are stark.

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