The Red Beret

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The Red Beret
Cinema poster for the US release
Directed by Terence Young
Produced by Irving Allen
Albert R. Broccoli
Written by Richard Maibaum
Sy Bartlett
Frank Nugent
Based on The Red Beret
1950 novel 
by Hilary Saint George Saunders
Starring Alan Ladd
Leo Genn
Music by John Addison
Cinematography John Wilcox
Edited by Gordon Pilkington
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
11 August 1953 (UK)
Running time
88 min
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget US$700,000[1]
Box office US$8 million (world wide)[1]

The Red Beret (retitled Paratrooper for the US release) is a 1953 Technicolor British war film directed by Terence Young and starring Alan Ladd, Leo Genn and Susan Stephen. It is the fictitious story about an American who enlists in the British Parachute Regiment in 1940, claiming to be a Canadian. It is notable as the first film made by Irving Allen's and Albert R. Broccoli's Warwick Films, with many of the crew later working on various films for Warwick Films and Broccoli's Eon Productions. It is partly based on the 1950 non-fiction book with the same title, about the Parachute Regiment and its first operation, Operation Biting, in February 1942, written by Hilary Saint George Saunders.

The lead character was originally intended to be British, but when Richard Todd, who had been a paratrooper during the war, turned down the role because he felt it was "too far fetched",[2] Albert R. Broccoli offered it to the American Alan Ladd and the story was rewritten by Ladd's personal screenwriter Richard Maibaum to fit him in.


Steve MacKendrick (Alan Ladd), nicknamed "Canada" because that is where he claims he is from, volunteers in 1940 for the British Army's paratroop school. He obviously has a good deal more background and leadership skills than he lets on. Canada tries to become better acquainted with a pretty parachute rigger named Penny Gardner (Susan Stephen). She is initially put off by his attitude, but they eventually start dating. Both Penny and his new commander, Major Snow (Leo Genn), see potential (and a mystery that does not add up) in him, despite his strong efforts to avoid assuming any responsibility. Canada turns down Snow's offer to send him to officer school.

After completing parachute school, Canada's unit goes on a raid on the German radar station at Bruneval. An RAF radar expert, Sergeant Box, accompanies the raiders to retrieve a key component to take back to Britain. The mission is a success but one of the men in Canada's outfit,(Corporal Dawes) hurts both his legs in the drop.

Back in Britain, after visiting Dawes, Canada is recognised by an American airman. He tells Penny that he resigned his commission from the USAAF after ordering his best friend and co-pilot to parachute out of their bomber when an experimental rocket gets stuck. When his friend's parachute did not open properly and he was killed, Canada blamed himself and refuses any responsibility that might endanger anyone's life. When Snow confronts Canada with what he has learned (from a security investigation that he has ordered), Canada wrongly assumes that Penny told what she learned, and he breaks up with her.

The unit's next operation involves taking and destroying an airfield at Bône during the invasion of North Africa. With Major Snow wounded and the men trapped in a minefield, Canada must risk others to extricate the unit. One of his friends who is Polish finds a German container with a Panzerschreck, he then decides to use it to blow a path though the minefield. Canada, the Pole and Taffy Evens use it to blow the path, while Snow and the rest of the men cover them. Although Snow and most of the men get out, the Sergeant Major dies from the wounds he received when he entered the minefield. Afterward Canada and Penny become reconciled and Canada promise to think about the commission Snow offered him.




The film was based on a novel published in 1950.[3]

Film rights were bought by Irwin Allen who announced Trevor Howard and Leo Genn for the leading roles.[4]

Hillary St George Saunders, who wrote the original novel, was to work on the screenplay but died during pre production. Terence Young was signed to direct and write a script. The working title was The Red Devils.[5]

The movie was originally intended to be a co-production with RKO but they and Warwick were unable to come to terms so Warwick made a deal with Columbia instead.[6]


Terence Young's original choice for the lead, former World War II Para Richard Todd turned the role down as being "too far fetched".[2]

Former agent Albert R. Broccoli knew that Alan Ladd was unhappy with Paramount due to a new contract at much less money. Broccoli met Ladd and his wife and agent Sue Carol who agreed to a three picture contract with Warwick provided Ladd's scriptwriter Richard Maibaum was allowed to rewrite the screenplay for Ladd.[7][8]

Ladd was paid US$200,000, first class travel and accommodation for himself, his wife, their four children and their nurse, and 10 per cent of the gross receipts over US$2,000,000 for his eleven weeks work filming The Red Beret.[9]

Ladd's most popular and critically acclaimed film Shane though filmed earlier was also released in 1953 making him a prime box office attraction.

Though there was some public criticism of an American playing the lead in a British war film, British cinema owners responded that Hollywood stars filled their cinema seats, unlike most local actors. Ladd himself explained that his character had enlisted in the Parachute Regiment to learn from them.

In addition to director Young and screenwriter Maibaum, camera operator Ted Moore and stuntman Bob Simmons, who worked on the film worked extensively on future Warwick and Eon Productions films as did actor Walter Gotell, who appeared as a German sentry and Johanna Harwood who worked on the continuity of the film co-wrote the screenplays for the first two Bond films .

Ray Milland was originally announced as star.[10]



The film was a hit at the British box office. According to producer Allen, it recouped its cost out of the British market alone.[13]


  1. ^ a b c p.55 Chapman, James Licence to Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films Columbia University Press 2001
  2. ^ a b Todd, Richard Caught in the Act Hutchinson 1986
  3. ^ Henriques, R. (1950, Oct 15). Pegasus. The Observer (1901- 2003) Retrieved from
  4. ^ Schallert, E. (1951, Mar 08). Boyer to portray hindu; sally forrest dramatic; monroe deal simmering. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  5. ^ Schallert, E. (1952, Jan 01). 'Devils' on hot schedule; coleen gray in 'models;' laughton may do pirate. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  7. ^ Broccoli, Albert R. & Zec, Donald When the Snow Melts Boxtree 1998
  8. ^ Special to THE NEW,YORK TIMES. (1952, Jul 15). STUDIOS PLANNING 2 ALAN LADD FILMS. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  9. ^ 309 F.2d 51
  10. ^ MOVIELAND BRIEFS. (1952, Apr 01). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  11. ^ p.131 Mackenzie, S.P. British War Films, 1939–1945: The Cinema and the Services Hambledon & London 2007
  12. ^
  13. ^ HOLLYWOOD CHEER: Eric Johnston Predicts Good Year for Industry -- Producer's Point of View By THOMAS M. PRYORHOLLYWOOD.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 10 Jan 1954: X5.

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