Five Graves to Cairo Reviews
The only thing that doesn't really work are some of the broader attempts at humour - they sit and bit oddly with the dark and cynical tone of the rest of the film. Strangely overlooked effort on Billy Wilder's resume - it came just before two of his classics - Double Indemnity and Lost Weekend. I guess those had better scripts and casts, and Billy was still honing his directorial craft here - but nevertheless - the lensing is often stunning, and very clever, compared to most films of the era. And typically for him, the film is laced with dry, wry dialogue, which he captures in some nice exchanges.
Milder Wilder, but even milder Wilder is well worth it.
Five Graves to Cairo is one of his earliest films (his third feature as a director), and beside some funny moments and a really great premise is a comedy of errors - literally.
Beside the hilariously bad opening sequence with the "ghost tank" in the desert and maybe the worst staggering I've ever seen by a professional actor, the casting is slightly atrocious. Multinationality Hollywood-style: Anne Baxter (US) plays a French maid (faking a really bad accent), Franchot Tone (US) plays a British army Corporal (he doesn't even try), Erich von Stroheim (Austria) plays Erwin Rommel with a light Schwarzenegger-esque accent, furthermore we've got a Spanish as an Italian and an Armenian as a Egyptian. Lol, why not?
The film also fails in focussing on the good stuff and leaving out the goofy scenes. It doesn't get to thrilling even though there would be enough material for a serious spy film and despite some memorable one-liners, it doesn't fulfill its comedic potential either.
There are some scenes though, that show what Wilder is capable of doing. In situations of great despair and earnestness he finds the fun stuff beneath the drama, digs it out and makes us laugh - and feel kinda bad for it the next second - Wilder specialized in this kind of storytelling like no second director (Lubitsch and in some of his films, Chaplin, came close though).
This is an early efforts of his and definitely not his best - I can't understand why Tarantino put it in his list of his favourite eleven movies of all time (which was actually the reason I was watching it).
The story concerns resilient British Corporal J.J. Bramble (Franchot Tone of "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer") is the member of an Allied tank crew. Everybody in the armored vehicle is dead and the tank careens through the desert over one dune after another until Bramble regains consciousness and bails off it. Confused and delirious from his long walk in a broiling sun, he wanders aimlessly through the sands and finds himself at an oasis hotel. Unfortunately for Cpl. Bramble, the British have pulled out and the Afrika Korps are pulling in to occupy the joint as their new headquarters. The hotel owner Farid (Akim Tamiroff of "Topkapi") and his chambermaid Frenchwoman Mouche (Anne Baxter of "All About Eve) try to persuade Bramble to get out while he can. Bramble refuses to leave. He assures them that he will shot either as an enemy soldier or as one that they cannot afford to furnish water. While the Germans swarm into the hotel and dictate the new arrangements for the owners and the new boarders, Farid hides Bramble behind the registration counter. Later, Farid and Mouche watch in horror as the Germans move the counter to another spot in the room. Bramble remains hidden in the counter while all of this is transpiring. Bramble hears them talk about a waiter named Davos who worked for Farid. It seems that Davos died in an explosion. Bramble dons the waiter's uniform and slips into his shoes, shoes designed for a man with a clubfoot.
Surprisingly, the Germans seek out Davos because he is an elite German spy with a well-deserved reputation, but nobody knows him by face. Nevertheless, the Germans accept him as the spy and plan to infiltrate him into Cairo. Meanwhile, Bramble meets an opera-singing Italian general and plans to steal his automatic pistol so that he can shoot Rommel. Several British officersâ??now prisoners-of-warâ??are shown into Rommel's company. Farid warns Bramble that the British were well-acquainted with Davos and would recognize him without fail. Bramble makes contact with one British officer while serving him liquor and the officer orders Bramble not to kill Rommel. Later in the evening, Rommel sits down to dine with the captured British officers and answer their twenty questions. Afterward, he reveals that he posed as an archaeologist before the war and execrated five secret supply dumps, the "Five Graves to Cairo", for the conquest of Egypt. has buried armaments at five sites inside Egypt that will enable him to carry the fight to the British and capture Cairo. The tension in "Five Graves to Cairo" grows partially out of Bramble's masquerade as Davos and the reality that the real Davos lies dead and buried under the rubble under the cellar. Inquisitive Rommel aide Lieutenant Schwegler (Peter van Eyck) discovers Bramble's treachery during an RAF air raid. Bramble and he struggle and he kills Schwegler. Bramble is certain that the Germans will find out about him. One of the subplots deals with Mouche trying to obtain information about her only living brother in a German concentration camp. Schwegler takes advantage of her desperation to learn something, anything about her brother. She accepts blame for Schwegler's killing and the Germans smuggle Bramble as Davos off to Cairo. Bramble receives a promotion to a lieutenant in charge of a tank for his excellent undercover work.
This is a great film with some nail biting suspense!