Following his dazzling directorial debut with 'Compartiment Tuers' Costa-Gavras was approached by producer Harry Saltzman. The director professed a wish to film 'The Human Condition' by André Malraux but unsurprisingly Saltzman showed reluctance! Instead they settled on a film about the French Resistance based upon the novel by Jean-Pierre Chabrol who had served in the communist-led FTP maquis.
The plot concerns a group of Resistance fighters who have succeeded in their mission to help twelve men condemned to death by the Germans to escape from prison. Much to their surprise however there is a thirteenth! Is he a spy, a collaborator or a plant? As the pursuing Germans close in it is decided that he must be eliminated.........
The film boasts an impressive cast list including Jean-Claude Brialy and Gérard Blain who had first appeared together in Claude Chabrol's 'Le beau Serge' whilst veteran Charles Vanel again effortlessly steals most of his scenes. Bruno Cremer and Jacques Perrin both play roles not entirely dissimilar to those they had played in the excellent '317th Platoon' but the contrast between that film and this could not be greater. This is more gung-ho and derring-do with a bit of comedy relief thrown in. By far the most interesting part is the 'extra man' of the superlative Michel Piccoli. His character has been written not as a villain but in the director's words as 'a lost one who has chosen not to engage or take sides.' This obviously undermines the myth of the unified resistance of the French and no doubt contributes to the film's commercial failure. Perhaps Saltzman should have gone with the director's first choice!
The film itself never stops to draw breath, contains plenty of rapidly delivered dialogue and the thrilling action sequences had to be shot quickly by Jean Tournier as they only has one camera! Christian Gaudin's contribution towards the editing is particularly impressive.
Costa-Gavras' meticulous approach is never more apparent than in the concluding scenes on the Alés Bridge. The final shot, once seen, is unlikely to be forgotten.