ABC Movie of the Week/The Birdmen

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The Birdmen
Airdate September 18, 1971
Written by David Kidd
Directed by Philip Leacock
Network ABC
Style 90-minute action military drama
Company Silverton Productions Inc.
Universal TV

Origin USA

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The Birdmen (1971) is a TV movie about an American soldier who designs a glider to escape from a German prisoner of war camp. It aired as part of the ABC Movie of the Week.

Cast: Doug McClure (Major Harry Cook), Rene Auberjonois (Halden Brevik/Olav Volda), Richard Basehart (Schiller), Chuck Connors (Colonel Morgan Crawford), Max Baer Jr. (Tanker), Don Knight (Focus Flaherty), Tom Skerritt (Orville "Fitz" Fitzgerald), Greg Mullavy (Sparrow), Barry Brown (Donnelly), Paul Koslo (Davies), Genadii Biegouloff (Bridski), Rolf Niehus (Helmut Weber), Peter Hellman (Konrad), Karl Swenson (Gunter), Karl Bruck (Chief)


Plot Overview

The movie is based on two true (but unrelated) facts of World War Two.

One is the manufacturing of "Heavy Water".

Heavy Water is water containing a higher-than-normal proportion of the hydrogen isotope deuterium, either as deuterium oxide, D2O or ²H2O, or as deuterium protium oxide, HDO or ¹H²HO.[1].

During World War Two Heavy Water was being produced in Norway.

Norwegian Heavy Water production was sabotaged, in a series of actions undertaken by Norwegian saboteurs during World War II, to prevent the German nuclear energy project from acquiring heavy water (deuterium oxide), which could be used to produce nuclear weapons.

The second fact is the use, by Nazi Germany, of the Colditz Castle in Germany as a prisoner of war camp. The castle was regarded as almost escape proof. High risk prisoners of war and prior escapees were housed there.

Allied prisoners built a false wall in an upper attic area of the castle. Behind that wall they built a glider. They planned on using a bathtub, along with a system of pulleys, and a track along a roofline, as a launch point for the glider. Two Prisoners of war planned on flying out of the Colditz Castle and escaping in the glider.

The glider was named the “Colditz Cock”.

The glider was approaching completion when the American Army liberated the camp on 16 April 1945.

The movie “The Birdmen” stars Doug McClure, Chuck Connors, Rene Auberjonois and Richard Basehart. It places a Norwegian nuclear scientist (Rene Auberjonois) and his secret rescuer (Doug McClure) in Colditz castle during World War Two. McClure has an idea to escape from Colditz by building a glider, behind a false wall, an a castle attic. The glider would then be launched from a track on the roof of the castle’s chapel.

The glider in the movie was named the “Dodo” (as in "Dodo Bird").

There is a song in this film which the prisoners sing “Die Gedanken sind Frei”. The German title translate to English roughly as Our (My) Thoughts Are Free. It is from the Death Camps and they taunt the Nazis with it when they burn their uniforms. Many who hear the song never forget it.


Behind the Scenes

Allusions and References


DVD Release

Awards and Accolades