The Password Is Courage

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
The Password is Courage
ThePasswordIsCourage poster.jpg
theatrical release poster
Directed by Andrew L. Stone
Produced by Andrew L. Stone
Screenplay by Andrew L. Stone
Based on The Password is Courage (1954)
by John Castle (pseud.)
Starring Dirk Bogarde
Maria Perschy
Alfred Lynch
Music by Virginia Stone
Derek New
Christopher Stone
Tommy Riley
Cinematography Davis Boulton
Edited by Noreen Ackland
Andrew L. Stone Productions
Distributed by MGM
Release date
  • January 1962 (1962-01) (UK)[1]
  • 21 December 1962 (1962-12-21) (U.S.)
Running time
116 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

The Password is Courage is a 1962 film based on John Castle's 1954 Second World War memoir of the same name. It was written, produced and directed by Andrew L. Stone and stars Dirk Bogarde, Maria Perschy and Alfred Lynch. The film is a lighthearted take on the true story of Sergeant-Major Charles Coward, written under the pseudonym John Castle by Ronald Charles Payne and John Williams Garrod.


Sergeant-Major Charles Coward (Dirk Bogarde) is a senior British NCO incarcerated in the Prisoner of war camp Stalag VIII-B. He encourages his fellow inmates to escape, and tries to humiliate the Nazi guards at every opportunity.

Coward first attempts to escape by leaving a forced march and finding refuge in a farmhouse that is requisitioned by a Nazi unit needing a field hospital. Inadvertently thought to be a wounded German soldier, he is taken to a hospital, where his identity is revealed, but not before being awarded the Iron Cross as Coward lies in his hospital bed.

Coward is transferred back to a POW camp but on the way to the camp, he engineers the destruction of a passing ammunition train. At the camp, he is involved in the elaborate tunnel schemes and plans an escape with fellow prisoner Bill Pope (Alfred Lynch). When Coward attempts to deceive his camp commander and Luftwaffe officials that he has knowledge of a secret bomb sight, he receives special favours which are used to bribe the guards.

When his ruse is discovered, Coward is transferred to a new camp where he is being set up as a traitor with the commanding officer hoping to use his fellow prisoners to kill Coward. When that scheme is unsuccessful, he blackmails the commanding officer (Richard Marner) who thinks he was responsible for a devastating fire. Coward extracts an extraordinary privilege in being able to go to the neighbouring town on his own, without an escort. When he makes contact with an attractive Polish resistance agent (Maria Perschy), he attempts to leave Germany by rail with his new friend providing assistance, but the pair are captured at a railway station.[N 1]

After the failure of that escape, Coward, along with his other escape partner, Pope, are assigned to the IG Farben work camp but manage to escape again by masquerading as workmen clearing rubble in a rural area. After learning that the American front line is only a mile away, they steal an unattended fire engine to get past the enemy soldiers who block their escape. Their plan works - a Nazi troop convoy on the road moves aside to allow them to speed past to get to a non-existent fire - and they drive off to freedom.


Cast notes:

  • Richard Marner appeared in the role of German officer Schmidt, he would later play another German officer in the 1980s BBC comedy 'Allo, 'Allo!.


The recreation of German prisoner of war camps took place amongst the English countryside.

The Password Is Courage is based on John Castle's biography of Sergeant-Major Charles Coward. Serving as technical advisor during the filming, Coward also has a cameo appearance in the film during a party scene. The film is shot entirely in England; street scenes were filmed in the Chiltern market town of Chesham.[2]

The film raised some debate amongst ex-prisoners of war. There are no known survivors of any of Coward's escapes and the National Ex-Prisoner of War Association in their Autumn 2006 newsletter, has suggested that some of the stories in his biography might have happened to other men in the camps, with some events "borrowed" for the book and, subsequently, for the film.[3] Shimon Peres, President of Israel, also disclosed that his father, Yitzchak Perski, who immigrated from Poland to Mandatory Palestine in 1932, had joined the British Army in 1939 and was captured by the Germans at Greece in 1941. He had been a fellow prisoner of Coward. He further claimed that some of the film's episodes are based on his father's real-life exploits.[4]

The original cinema version of The Password Is Courage had a sequence set in Auschwitz concentration camp, illustrated by drawings.[5] This sequence is cut from the version shown on television broadcasts, but the credit for the drawings remains in the credits list at the end of the film.[6][N 2]


The Password is Courage received mixed reviews from critics as the true life story of a prisoner of war done in a jocular vein was considered inauthentic. The review in Variety noted: "Andrew L. Stone’s screenplay, based on a biog of Sergeant-Major Charles Coward by John Castle, has pumped into its untidy 116 minutes an overdose of slapstick humour. Result is that what could have been a telling tribute to a character of guts and initiative, the kind that every war produces, lacks conviction."[7]


Explanatory notes

  1. ^ Despite the film's title, the password Coward uses to identify the agent who is an optometrist, actually turns out to be "cleaning cloths".
  2. ^ Why this sequence has been cut is not known. Suggested explanations include that the events described did not happen; that the sequence is inappropriate in an otherwise broad comedy and that a shorter run time required the cut of a self-standing sub-plot.


  1. ^ Johnston, Trevor. "Review: 'The Password Is Courage'." Time Out London, 21 January 2014. Retrieved: 9 April 2016.
  2. ^ Tanitch 1988, pp. 110–111.
  3. ^ Allan, Les. "Charlie Coward." The National Ex-Prisoner of War Association Newsletter, Autumn 2006. Retrieved: 22 September 2013.
  4. ^ Peres, Shimon. הסיפור המדהים של אבא שלי ("The astonishing tale about my father"). Yediot Aharonot, 27 January 2013.
  5. ^ Morley 2000, p. 100.
  6. ^ Castle 2002, p. 178.
  7. ^ "Review: The Password is Courage."Variety, 31 December 1961.


  • Castle, John. The Password is Courage. London: Monarch Books, 2002, First edition: 1954. ISBN 978-0-28563-587-6.
  • Morley, Sheridan. Dirk Bogarde: Rank Outsider. Pontarddulais, Swansea, UK: Macmillan Distribution Limited, 2000. ISBN 978-0-74754-698-6.
  • Tanitch, Robert. Dirk Bogarde: The Complete Career Illustrated. London: Ebury Pres, 1988. ISBN 978-0-85223-694-9.

External links[edit]