1. The true story
In the night of 26 April 1944, on occupied Crete, a mixed British and Greek commando from Special Operations Executive (SOE) captured General Heinrich Kreipe, one of the highest ranking German officers on the island. Eluding all German attempts to find them thanks to the support of Cretan anti-Axis guerillas and local population, SOE soldiers managed to escape from the island and bring the captured general to Cairo.
Even if general Kreipe was immediately replaced and the whole island of Crete remained in German hands until the end of war, this operation was nevertheless a good propaganda coup and a welcome morale booster for allied cause - it also certainly embarassed, humiliated and infuriated German leadership... Very exceptionally, as the whole operation was bloodless, Germans for this one time didn't take any reprisals against Cretan civilians - making it one of the extremely rare light-hearted episodes of WWII.
All protagonists survived the war and they actually met one more time - in 1972 in Greece, for a special TV show about the whole incident.
2. The film
The whole episode being free of human tragedy and indeed containing some quasi-humouristic elements, it was the right decision for the director to make this film in a lighter tonation than most of true war-time stories. The main protagonist, British SOE Major Patrick Leigh Fermor (played by Dirk Bogarde), who was nicknamed "Philedem" (I am not certain what that means) by his Cretan comrades, is a typical English eccentric, elaborately negligent in his outside appearance, but also perfectly well educated and every inch a gentleman - dashing and fearless he is also so popular that local population makes songs about him... His men, both British and Greek, are highly efficient and well trained soldiers, but in some aspects they look also a little like a bunch of pirates - and they seem to consider this war, at least on the surface of things, like good sport...)))
This film wouldn't be so good without the excellent performance by Marius Goring (he was British and it was his REAL name) who plays General Kreipe, a highly dignified man and professional officer aged 50, who for obvious reasons is REALLY not happy about the whole situation and will do his best to stay civil, preserve his dignity but also give some hard time to his captors... From what I could gather about the real general Kreipe, he was actually not such a bad fellow and even if he fought very hard on the Eastern Front and then went to garrison duty on an occupied island swarming with guerillas, he was never even accused (even least convicted) of any war crimes. Marius Goring portrayed him very well indeed and it really contributed to the success of this film.
If you make an effort, you can notice both Christopher Lee and David McCallum in small cameos - the former playing quite obviously a particularly nasty German officer...)))
There is virtually no fighting in this film, so if you need such thing in your war movies, you will not like this one. A large part of the film is actually about hiking in the mountain wilderness - with some verbal sniping and some quite good jokes, especially about one of SOE soldiers who stubbornly refuses to wash - AT ALL!
This is not some kind of great masterpiece, but a good and I believe mostly accurate account of a true war-time story, one which exceptionally was bloodless and tragedy-free.