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Two Men Went to War
IMDB Rating: 6.7/10 from 781 votes
Release: 1 November 2002 (UK) /

Two Men Went to War

Genre: Comedy, Drama, War
Director: John Henderson,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: Based on a true story, Sergeant Peter King of the Army Dental Corps, too old to fight, and Private Leslie Cuthbertson, a trainee dental mechanic in the Corps, are thrown together by their passionate desire to see active service. Armed with just two revolvers and a dozen grenades, King persuades Cuthbertson to join him on a mission to occupied France. In a letter to Winston Churchill, King explains their intention to invade France and fight the Germans. After a number of failed attempts, they finally arrive by boat and stumble across a German radar station. They succeed in blowing up what they believe to be the main Operations Room, but are soon forced to make their escape as the entire compound unexpectedly erupts with gunfire and explosions. After narrow escapes from the Germans and a stray mine in the Channel, the two men are picked up at sea and interrogated as spies. Identified as deserters, they are returned to their barracks to be court-martialed. At the eleventh hour King and ... Written by Ira Trattner

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Critic Reviews

Only the English can make a war movie starring desperately patriotic but, in terms of weapons, toothless soldiers: stalwart officers and other ranks of the Army's Dental Corps. And only in England could such a story be true (in the main).

1942: the war isn't going terribly well for Old Blighty. Churchill, played here by David Ryall, is sometimes depressed, always stressed. He needs a victory and he's hanging his spurs on the promise of a new general in the Mideast, a fellow named Monty.

But at Aldershot most train to fight and a small number prepare to provide emergency fillings on the battlefield for teeth with cavities. The Dental Corps major has the right elan-"An Army That Can't Bite, Can't Fight." Two of his other ranks, however, desperately want to fight, not make dentures.

Sergeant Peter King (Kenneth Cranham) is a survivor of the great World War I battle of Passchendale and he has one recruit, Private Leslie Cuthbertson (Leo Bill), naive but intensely patriotic, who wants action. So they go to war without orders or authorization and that's what "Two Men Went to War" is about.

This noncom decides to invade France accompanied only by Cuthbertson (both names are real, I told you this is a true story). Mailing a letter with their pay books to Churchill (to establish they weren't deserting), the two steal a boat and head for Occupied France.

They make an unopposed landing and establish a beachhead (several critics have commented that it was unlikely two men could just hit the beach like that undetected but this is when Germany was doing very well and the construction of "Festung Europa" hadn't started on the Atlantic Coast. And, anyway, that's exactly what these fellows did.

Bill and Cranham make an engaging military odd couple, the sergeant brittle, barking peremptory commands and the private taking just so much gruff but not too much from his leader.

Armed only with pistols and hand grenades they strike a tertiary target of opportunity, their first two targets being beyond their capability. Exactly how much of this is accurate is hard to say but their adventures were reported at the time.

On their unauthorized, bumbling, ill-planned foray they have humorous encounters and harmless adventures. Even the German soldiers don't appear too sinister. Sergeant King may have been truly devoted to his country's cause but his sergeant-major had it right when, asked by a superior officer about the noncom's character, he responds "Barking mad, sir"

Derek Jacobi is entertaining as Churchill's tired and ever-on-duty intelligence officer, Major Merton. The scenes in Churchill's London bunker appear to have been filmed there-I've visited the site and it looks awfully authentic here.

I don't know how well this film was received in England. Tough, snapping sergeants of the British Army have been a movie staple since the talkies began. The exploits of these two soldiers are more weird than impressive. Their adventure seems to be a mixture of "Dad's Army" and "Monty Python."

Still, the film engrosses because the story is so bizarre and when one enters the theater knowing it's true, "Two Men Went to War" becomes attention holding. Both men are now dead, King having died in a New Zealand road accident not that long ago (his military career continued after he was broken to corporal for his invasion of France. He won the Military Cross, one of Great Britain's highest decorations, in subsequent combat). Cuthbertson earned 28 days in jail for being absent without leave. He seems to have had a very nice postwar career, dying of natural causes about eight years ago. An end title states neither ever saw the other again after their court-martial.

An oddball film about two definite genuine originals who contributed nothing to victory but who gave the British public something to smile about when the days were dark with the inevitability of victory more a matter of faith than fact.


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