In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility;
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger.
Shakespeare, Henry V
"Action of the Tiger"
(aka "Overnight to Nancy")
For Ben, the third time's not the charm. He's shot down again and this time ends up in a German stalag. He arrives just as the inmates have staged an escape for one man for the purpose of delivering tactical information to the Allies. The man, who is French, will take the identity of a French machinist who is transferring to the factory in the town of Nancy. Just before Ben's arrival, the man collapses. When the other inmates find out Peter is fluent in French and can also speak German, he's tagged to take over the escape and delivery. It's not a task he feels up to but he has no way to refuse.
At the train station, Ben's French and German pass muster but his nervousness is obvious to a careful observer. Telly Savalas' character is just such an observer. He wins Ben's confidence by advising him how to be overlooked by the German soldiers. He reminds him to hold a cigarette like a European not an American and advises him to flirt with a pretty girl who comes in to wait for the train to Nancy.
Once on the train Ben only becomes more nervous. As the soldiers come through the train to check papers, Ben realizes he's forgotten the name on his forged papers. And the papers were made for someone ten years older and two inches shorter than he is. Telly's character advises him that the quality of the papers is secondary to his attitude. If he acts confidently, his papers won't be closely scrutinized. Ben lacks that confidence however and ends up fleeing to the top of the train.
Shortly thereafter we see a conversation between Telly's character and a German soldier and find out he's a German captain. The Captain knows Ben is an escaped prisoner and believes he's going to Nancy to rejoin the Allies. He won't let Ben be arrested until they can follow him to his contact.
The Captain talks Ben off the top of the train and tries once more to get him to show some spirit. Ben finds himself in a compartment with the girl for most of the night. During casual conversation she asks Ben if he's gestapo. He's surprised at the question and shocked at the reason for it. Her ex-boyfriend was Gestapo. She points out Telly's character as a Gestapo captain.
The knowledge that the Captain is Gestapo galvanizes Ben into taking action. He is arrogant when the soldier comes to examine his papers. As the train pulls into Nancy, he asks to talk to the Captain alone. Ben thanks him for everything he's done, knocks him out and escapes through the window. As he's chased down, he uses the Captain's gun and quick wits to escape his pursuers and make it to his contact.
With his confidence enhanced, Ben is ready for a pilot's slot.
NiteOwl Review: A good war drama even for those who don't like the war genre, no blood, some newsreel footage of air battles, mostly a psychological study of a man finding his courage. Peter is a natural in this type of role having played a number of them prior to his gig on Laredo in which he played a cocky Texas Ranger. After Laredo he tended to be cast either as a straight hero or a sleazy arrogant villain. Although we liked him best in Westerns, we have to admit some of his best roles were in the war genre, particularly this one and in the movie Merrill's Marauders.
Original air date Feb 20, 1964
Directed by Richard Irving
Written by Sam Dann
Peter Brown as Ben Hollister
Telly Savalas as Beret
Stephan McNally as Sanford
Ulla Jacobsson as Ursula
In one of his best non-western roles, Peter plays Lt. Ben Hollister, an American flier in 1943 England who has not yet learned to "imitate the action of the tiger." He's never made his own decisions; his university and fraternity were chosen by his father. It was his fraternity brothers who pushed him into the air cadets.
As the story opens, he's flown four missions as a copilot and has already been shot down twice. Major Sanford is desperate for pilots to send up and wants to give Lt. Hollister the pilot's position in his next mission. Ben is so clearly hesitant, however, so Sanford assigns him a copilot's slot instead.
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