The Second Battle of El Alamein, which commenced October 1942, marked a major turning point for the allies in Northern Africa. The advancement of General Erwin "Desert Fox" Rommel's Afrika Korps were finally halted and repulsed in their bid to gain the rich oil fields of the middle east.
Director Billy Wilder (who also co-wrote the screenplay) capitalized on this historic battle for his 2nd Hollywood film, FIVE GRAVES TO CAIRO - which actually takes a fictionalized account of the behind-the-scenes events leading up to the actual battle itself. I think it's fascinating how the story in the film meshes with real life events and gives an added dimension to this wartime propaganda film...and as propaganda - the film succeeded in boosting morale of filmgoers at the time, I'm sure - but it's blend of drama, suspense and comedic moments ensure that moviegoers today will still find it a treat.
Corporal John Bramble (Franchot Tone) is the lone survivor of a british tank crew. During the opening credits we see a lone tank rumbling over sand dunes, apparently with it's accelerator stuck and the crew either dead or passed out. A half-conscious Bramble manages to climb up to the top hatch only to be ejected from the tank as it crests a dune. Bramble wanders the desert until he comes to a town deserted by it's inhabitants for fear of the advancing Nazis. Delirious from heat-stroke, Bramble mistakes a deserted inn for British headquarters. Inn-keeper Farid (Akim Tamiroff) and his french-born maid, Mouche (Anne Baxter) hears the noisy intruder in the lobby and investigates. Farid is quick to render aid to Bramble...but not so Mouche - as she has grown to hate the British due to events stemming from the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940.
Bramble passes out in the lobby just as the Nazis arrive in town and Farid does his best to hide him...as for Mouche - she suggests they turn him over to the Nazis and be done with him - lest they face the firing squad for harboring an enemy.
Representing the Nazis is Lt. Schwegler (Peter Van Eyck), a young and handsome Aryan who is General Rommel's top aide. Schwegler is in charge of setting up the inn as temporary lodging for the General and his staff. The ever-nervous Farid reluctantly welcomes the business...but Mouche has her own agenda regarding the Nazis.
Erich Von Stroheim portrays General Rommel here. I think it's very interesting how Rommel has such a prominent role in this film. He isn't the stereotypical nasty Nazi as seen often in other wartime propaganda films. There is a bit of depth to his character here at least...
Director Stroheim will team up with Billy Wilder again seven years later in the classic SUNSET BLVD.
I really don't want to mention anything more about the story because the film does take some interesting twists along the way. You'll have to find out for yourself what the "Five Graves" are...
8.5 / 10