What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called the Third Hammer-Amicus Blog-A-Thon being hosted by RealWeegiemidget Reviews and Cinematic Catharsis. As one would expect, this is an event “celebrating both those dark and light themed films from these productions.”
You can see all the contributors to this blog-a-thon here:
Released in the United States as Ten Seconds To Hell and in the United Kingdom as The Phoenix, this Hammer Films/UFA joint production is also a joint British and West German-made film based on Lawrence P. Bachmann’s novel The Phoenix. In any event, this is the tale of six German prisoners-of-war repatriated to the rubble of their homeland in the days following Germany’s defeat in the Second World War.
Returning to Berlin, the half-dozen former soldiers find work as a bomb-disposal squad charged with clearing a city littered with unexploded ordnance from the war. The members the squad are Hans Globke (played James Goodwin), Peter Tillig (played by Dave Willock), Wolfgang Sulke (played by Wesley Addy), Franz Loeffler (played by Robert Cornthwaite), and last but certainly not least…our two stars of the film, Karl Wirtz (played by Jeff Chandler) and Eric Koertner (played by Jack Palance). As part of the Allied occupation of Germany, the six bomb-defusers are led by a British officer named Major Haven (played by Richard Wattis).
Obviously, this is exceptionally dangerous work; as such the six men give them a dark view of life. As a result, they begin gambling on their own lives by forming a tontine. In short, each man contributed a portion of their pay to a poll which would be shared by the those who are sill alive in three months.
It’s the high-paying nature of this work which serves as the genesis of the tontine, but it is only part of the spice of the plot. Originally, it started as a bet between Karl and Eric; the relationship being another important plot point. The twist in that line comes when the two take up residence in a boarding house which is run by Margot Hoefler (played by Martine Carol). As one would expect, it takes no time for Karl and Eric both to take an interest in the attractive young widow.
As time goes by, the work of working of dealing with unexploded bombs begins to feel routine until Globke is killed while defusing a British-made 1000-pounder. While the men are shocked back into the realization of the danger of their task, the rivalry intensifies between Karl and Eric for the affections of Margot. Karl’s flirtations with her escalate to the point where Eric reacts to Margot’s protests to Karl’s drunken advances. Eric bursts into the room forcing Karl to back off, but not before Karl berates him.
Margot feels that Eric disapproves of her behavior; that perhaps she had “led on” Karl to a point. As a result, Margot confides in Eric that she has a tenuous position in post-war Europe. While she is French by birth, her homeland considers her a traitor for marrying a German soldier. Since she is French and her husband is dead, she is persona non grata. This leads to her obviously jaded attitude and her willingness to take happiness wherever she can find it. Eric doesn’t really buy what she is selling, so she accuses him of denying his own desires.
A few days later, a building collapse traps Tillig under a live bomb. Eric and Karl race to his rescue. Despite Eric’s defusing of the bomb, a doctor arrives on the scene and pronounces that the injuries suffered by Tillig in the collapse are fatal. Eric dismisses the doctor’s prognosis and request some heavy equipment to move the bomb. Karl has doubts as to whether Eric plan can be successful, but it turns out to be a moot point; before they can attempt to move the bomb, more building debris falls killing Tillig and the doctor.
Clearly upset, Eric seeks comfort from Margot. The next day, he takes her to another ruined section of the city where he reveals that he was an architect prior to the war. This scene serves as the official notification that Eric is conflicted about his burgeoning feelings for Margot. He admits this to her; his concern being a romantic involvement while his life is in daily danger.
When Eric’s past becomes known to the other members of the bomb disposal squad, it comes out that all of them were assigned to demolitions duty as punishment for some anti-Nazi infractions indiscretion. Being forced into such dangerous duty, this gave the,m all resolve to do whatever it took to survive the war. Sensing Eric’s internal conflict over the danger of his duty and his growing romance with Margot, Karl goads Eric into quitting the unit and and giving up the tontine. Eric flatly refuses.
With only a month remaining until the end of the wager, Sulke is killed while working on a double-fused bomb. All the remaining members of the crew except Karl agree to stick to the terms of the tontine, but they consider giving their salaries to Sulke’s widow and child. Karl rejects this idea and states that he only believes in looking out for himself.
The following day Loeffler drowns after being called to defuse a bomb found in a canal. Later that day Eric learns of Loeffler’s fate, and that afternoon Margot urges Eric to quit. Once again, Eric refuses stating that he has to know if he can overcome Karl’s greed and selfishness.
The climax comes as Karl is assigned to defuse a 1000-pounder; Eric joins him. Aware this may be another double-fused bomb, they discuss how to avoid the second fuse. Eric departs but his concern for Karl keeps him nearby. Karl begins to dismantle the bomb, but then abruptly calls for Eric’s help. Eric rushes in to Karl’s aid, but when Karl steps away ostensibly to retrieve his tools, he realizes that Karl is trying to kill him.
Eric punches Karl and walks away. His plot having failed, Karl goes back to the bomb, but as Eric continues walking away, Karl is killed as the bomb explodes.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
November 4th, 2011: Without a doubt, this is the darkest day in the 100-plus year history of Penn State football. This is the day a grand jury indicted former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky on a slate of child sex abuse charges. Over the next several months, the bombs kept falling on Penn State’s. Legendary head coach Joe Paterno was painted as a scapegoat…the man who had donated millions of his own salary to the university, and whose name is on the main library to this day…had his 60-plus year association with the Pennsylvania State University ended in one phone call. He didn’t even get the courtesy of being fired in person.
The gutless worm who fired Paterno over the phone, university president Graham Spanier…as well as several other Penn State administrators…ended up facing federal charges for their role in cover-up Sandusky’s crimes as far back as the 1990s.
Things only got worse in the summer 2012 when the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) went “nuclear” on the Penn State football program when it levied sanctions including five years of probation, the loss of forty scholarships over five seasons, a four-year ban on post-season play, and a $60 million fine. If that weren’t enough, the NCAA allowed every Penn State player the option of transferring to another school without having to sit out a season as would normally be the case.
In other words, the man who was the face of Penn State football was run out of town…and subsequently died. Several members of the university’s administration were on their way to federal prison, and the horrifying details of Jerry Sandusky’s crimes kept hitting the headlines during his trial. Penn State was the pariah of the college football world, many of the players left and couldn’t be replaced due to the reduction in scholarships, and nobody knew how many more bombs had yet to explode. Things were bad and only getting worse because everybody figured there had to be a bevy of civil suits coming against the university.
But there were also several players who decided they were going to remain committed to the university that made a commitment to them. That meant incoming university president Rodney Erickson had to find a coach willing to come to Penn State knowing the once-mighty football program likely was destined to be a doormat in the Big Ten for quite some time.
When Erickson set out on his search for a coach, he believed he needed to seek out a guy who just wanted a chance to be a head coach at a major university, despite all the bombs he might have to defuse. By his own admission, Erickson never thought the guy he would ultimately find would would come from the most successful franchise of the last decade in professional football.
Enter Bill O’Brien, the offensive coordinator of the perennial Super Bowl contending New England Patriots. Nobody…and I mean nobody…thought anybody would give up the serious success and sizeable paychecks associated with NFL success to risk career suicide defusing bombs at Penn State. Not to mention, Erickosn had O’Brien singed, sealed, and delivered before the big bombs from the NCAA were dropped. O’Brien was introduced as Penn State’s head coach on January 7th, 2012.
On the field, O’Brien took the reins of a team being coached by Tom Bradley, Penn State’s defensive coordinator who took over in the wake of the dismissal of Joe Paterno. The Nittany Lions notched a 9-4 record in 2011 and earned a berth in the Ticket City Bowl. But they lost that post-season game 30-14 to the University of Houston, and the 1-3 record under Bradley looked to be a preview of coming attractions.
That pessimistic prognosis only gained steam once the NCAA sanctions hit. That opened the door for the exodus from State College, and thus began O’Brien’s bomb-disposal duty.
The first explosive situation which needed to be addressed was simply making sure that had enough players to field a team. This meant not only did O’Brien need to sell Penn State to current Nittany Lion players who were now free to leave for greener pastures; ones where they would be able to play in bowl games and possibly compete for a national championship.
On top of that, O’Brien had to convince new recruits to come to Penn State fully expecting that that during their entire period of eligibility, they might never get to play a post-season game. Worse yet, they might never get to play on national television.
Once O’Brien got players, the next bomb to be defused was trying to be competitive in the face of the NCAA sanctions. O’Brien’s Nittany Lions faced their first test against the Bobcats of Ohio University…a smaller school that a non-sanctioned Penn State would normally beat by 30 points.
Penn State lost 24-14.
The next week against the University of Virginia, things were a bit closer, but the outcomes was the same, another Penn State loss..this time 17-16. Now the circling birds were clearly visible over the Nittany Lions. They were all decrying the death of Penn State. There was even talk that Penn State was going to be everybody’s date for homecoming… you know, scheduling the team you know you can beat to keep all the returning alumni happy.
Determined to bring the happiness back to Happy Valley, O’Brien used all that “Penn State is dead” talk to motivate his team. Whatever he said, it worked; the Nittany Lions snapped off five straight wins, including victories over 24th-ranked Northwestern and usual Big Ten nemesis Iowa.
After a loss to the perennial powerhouse Ohio State, Penn State went on to win three out of it’s last five, including a season-capping 24-21 overtime nail-biter over Big Ten big-dog Wisconsin. All tolled, Bill O’Brien led Penn State to 8 wins and four losses in a season when most didn’t expect them to win a single game. The Nittany Lions also notched a 6-2 in the Big Ten…one of the toughest conferences in all of college football.
O’Brien’s time in Happy Valley only lasted two seasons, but he led a program given up for dead to a 15-9 record between 2012 and 2013. All things considered, that was nothing short of miraculous. It may have only been two seasons, but they are easily the two most important in the 100-year history of Penn State football. After all, the man restored all that was taken by Jerry Sandusky.
He risked his entire career to defuse the bombs dropped by the Sandusky scandal, and he earned his reward of a head coaching job in the National Football League. More importantly, he restored stability to a besieged program through unprecedented times by maintaining Penn State’s winning tradition. Most importantly he did so by being completely honest about the situation.
“This is a great program, and you’re going to get a great degree. Those were the things that I reiterated to those parents and those kids over and over. I just tried to be as honest and straightforward as I could be.”~Bill O’Brien
Current Penn State head coach James Franklin has brought the Penn State Nittany Lions back to the realm of college football’s Top 25, but he had to cross a bridge built by Bill O’Brien to get there.
The Moral of the Story:
Regardless of whether the bombs you’re defusing are literal or figurative, integrity matters.
For an in-depth examination of what went wrong at Penn State, you can take in my rundown of how it happened as well as my breakdown of the official report.
FUN FACT: Robert Aldrich’s direction is noted for its meticulous attention to the actual techniques of bomb deactivation and disposal.
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This does sound a more interesting
Oops.. take on the tontine scheme than other films like this. And super impressed you found a sports reference. Thanks for joining the blogathon.
An informative review! 👍
Sounds like a gritty real film that I will have to keep an eye out for.
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Interesting story about Penn State – I know literally nothing about American Football, but it sounded fascinating.
I love the film for making Jack Palance the hero and Jeff Chandler the villain. Chandler makes a great villain, like many great villains you completely understand his point of view, but apparently audiences didn’t take to the idea.
Big fan of the amazing Jack Palance ever since Sudden Fear and The Big Knife. And Jeff Chandler too, so this one is a must see for me. Great review!
A fascinating take on a neglected Hammer film. Thanks so much for joining the blogathon.
Hammer, Aldrich, Palance… How did I miss this one? Thanks for the review!
Well…how sad would it be if we had all already seen everything?
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