The McKenzie Break (1970) – Moving Image : Opening Scenes
The McKenzie Break is a 1970 British war drama film directed by Lamont Johnson, starring Brian Keith as Jack Connor, an intelligence officer investigating recent disturbances at a German prisoner of war (POW) camp in Scotland. The POWs are led by the charismatic, yet ruthless, Willi Schlüter (Helmut Griem).
At a Prisoner of War (POW) camp for Germans in the north of Scotland, Kapitän zur See Willi Schlüter (Helmut Griem) – a German submariner – challenges the authority of the camp’s embattled Commanding Officer, Major Perry (Ian Hendry).British Army Captain Jack Connor arrives to investigate what’s happening at the McKenzie POW Camp.
Connor believes the camp disturbances are a cover for an escape attempt. During a mass brawl two POWs escape dressed as British soldiers and Connor notices an outcast German POW named Neuchl (Horst Janson), being dragged from the barracks and fleeing from the Germans. He is badly beaten and later that night in the hospital is strangled before Connor gets the chance to learn about Schlüter’s plans.
With Connor investigating the camp, Schlüter leads his 28-man escape party out of a tunnel the next day. Meeting the two escapees who have arranged a U-boat to pick them up, they all head for the coast. Unknown to Schlüter, Connor has broken the code used in letters sent by POWs to Germany and knows the plan.
Connor, along with, General Kerr (Jack Watson), starts searching for the prisoners. The Germans head for the coast and burn their escape lorry, which is seen by a reconnaissance plane. Drawn by the burning lorry, Connor (now in an aircraft) locates the Germans attempting to paddle towards a surfaced U-boat at dusk. Connor calls in a Royal Navy motor torpedo boat (MTB) with depth charges to engage the U-boat. With only 50 yards to go, Connor orders the pilot to ‘buzz’ the inflatable dinghies, delaying Schlüter’s craft, and with the MTB arriving, the U-boat dives, leaving Schlüter and three comrades stranded.
- Brian Keith as Captain Jack Connor
- Helmut Griem as Kapitän zur See Willi Schlüter
- Ian Hendry as Maj. Perry (Camp CO)
- Jack Watson as Major General Ben Kerr
- Patrick O’Connell as Sergeant Major Cox
The plot of the film reflects real-life events at the PoW camp in Grizedale Hall, Cumbria; in particular, the interception of German attempts to communicate in code with the captured U-boat ace Otto Kretschmer, and the “trial” of Captain Rahmlow and his second-in-command, Bernhard Berndt from the U-570, which was surrendered in September 1941, and recommissioned as HMS Graph. Kretschmer was also the subject of Operation Kiebitz, an attempt to liberate several U-boat commanders by submarine, from Bowmanville POW camp in Ontario, Canada, which was foiled by the Royal Canadian Navy.