|The One That Got Away
|Roy Ward Baker
|the book The One That Got Away
by Kendal Burt and James Leasor
Earl St. John
Julian Wintle Productions
|£3 million (Germany)
The One That Got Away is a 1957 British biographical war film starring Hardy Krüger and featuring Michael Goodliffe, Jack Gwillim and Alec McCowen. The film was directed by Roy Ward Baker with a screenplay written by Howard Clewes, based on the 1956 book of the same name by Kendal Burt and James Leasor.
The film chronicles the true exploits of Oberleutnant Franz von Werra, a Luftwaffe pilot shot down over Britain in 1940. He initially tried to escape while captive in England, but was later successful during transfer to a Canadian POW camp. Von Werra was the only Axis POW to succeed in escaping and make it home during the war.
Luftwaffe fighter pilot Franz von Werra is shot down during the Battle of Britain and captured. At the 'London Cage', the military intelligence POW reception centre, he wagers with his RAF interrogator that he will escape within six months. At Trent Park House outside London, von Werra is placed with other officers and their conversations are bugged, but von Werra is too cautious to give much away.
Initially, von Werra is sent to No 1 prisoner-of-war camp Grizedale Hall in the Furness area of Lancashire. During a group walk, he drops over a wall he is lying on and escapes into the hills. It takes an intense manhunt by troops and police to recapture him.
Subsequently, von Werra is sent to a more secure POW camp (based on the Hayes Conference Centre) near Swanwick, Derbyshire. During a German air raid, he and four others escape through a tunnel. The others pair up, but von Werra goes it alone. Reaching Codnor Park railway station, he impersonates a Dutch pilot and claims his Wellington bomber had crashed while on a secret mission. The station master telephones the police to take him to the nearest airfield, RAF Hucknall. Von Werra tricks the RAF duty officer into sending a car. The police arrive first, but with much bravado he delays them until the RAF car arrives. He gets to the airfield and spots a Hawker Hurricane. When his story starts to fray, von Werra creeps away and tries to steal an experimental Hawker Hurricane, getting as far as sitting in it and starting the engine before being caught.
Along with many other POWs, von Werra is then sent by ship to Canada, arriving at Halifax, Nova Scotia. On the train ride across the country, while the guards are distracted, he escapes near Smiths Falls, Ontario, by jumping from a window. Making his way south hitching rides, von Werra finds the St. Lawrence River not as frozen solid as he has been led to believe, He then steals a rowing boat and pushes it over the ice until he reaches the free-flowing section. He reaches the still-neutral United States almost frozen to death.
Back in the United Kingdom the RAF interrogator receives a postcard from von Werra, featuring a photograph of the Statue of Liberty, informing him that he has lost his bet.
The film's epilogue states: Despite the efforts of the Canadian Government to obtain his return, and of the United States authorities to hold him, Von Werra crossed the border into Mexico. Travelling by way of Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and Spain, he reached Berlin on 18 April 1941. On October 25th of the same year, while on patrol, his plane was seen to dive into the sea. No trace of Von Werra was found.
Kenneth More says he was approached to play the lead role but turned it down as he had just played another real-life POW in Reach for the Sky (1956). John Davis, head of the Rank Organisation, wanted Dirk Bogarde. Director Roy Ward Baker insisted on a German. Rank's overseas distribution manager then suggested Hardy Krüger.
A Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Hawker Hurricane were featured in the film. As of 2022[update], the Hawker Hurricane IIc (serial number LF363) is still in existence, flying with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
The film was generally well received by audiences and critics. Howard H. Thompson of The New York Times noted its "... restrained, well-knit scenario."
According to Kinematograph Weekly the film was "in the money" at the British box office in 1957.
In British Sound Films David Quinlan writes: "Interesting war story with nail-biting climax."
Leslie Halliwell opined: "True-life biopic, developed in a number of suspense and action sequences, all very well done."
The film did extremely well in West Germany, making over £3 million, with a comfortable profit. This prompted producer Julian Wintle to form his own production company and he made two films with German protagonists, Bachelor of Hearts (1958, also starring Krüger) and Tiger Bay (1959).