The Desert Rats Reviews
The film is based on the Australian 9th Division, who were charged with the defence of Tobruk under the command of General Leslie Morshead. Hoping to survive against overwhelming odds for two months, the garrison held off the best of Rommel's Afrika Korps for over eight months. Morshead was a distinguished Australian citizen-soldier, but is depicted in the film as the anonymous "General" and played by English actor Robert Douglas.
The film was a quasi-sequel to The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel (1951), partly made to portray a less likeable General Rommel, after criticism that film had been too friendly to the Germans. Rommel is again played by James Mason only this time he usually speaks in German and is not sympathetic. The title "Desert Rats" was selected to refer to the earlier title "Dester Fox". Mason wore Rommel's real scarf in the film, which had been given to him by the general's widow.
Michael Rennie was originally announced to play to male lead apposite Robert Newton, but eventually the role was taken by Richard Burton. Instead, as he had done in The Desert Fox several years earlier, Rennie delivered an uncredited voiceover.
The script was written by an American, Richard Murphy, who was familiar with Australian servicemen from his time being a liaison officer with the Ninth Division in New Guinea, after its withdrawal from the Middle East in 1942. Several genuine Australian actors were cast, including Chips Rafferty, Charles Tingwell, Michael Pate and John O'Malley. Tingwell and Rafferty were flown to Hollywood from Australia.
Australian journalist Alan Moorehead was used as a consultant and the technical adviser was an Englishman now in the Canadian Army, Lieutenant George Aclund, who took part in the defence of Tobruk.
The battle sequences were shot near Borrego Springs, a Californian desert town. Some background scenes were taken from the documentary Desert Victory (1943).
The film received generally good reviews from British critics, although they complained the British contribution to the campaign had been minimised. Australian critics were also positive despite the historical inaccuracies.
The film was banned in Egypt.
During production, 20th Century Fox offered Charles Tingwell a seven-year contract but he turned it down because he wanted to keep working in Australia.
The title of the film is a misnomer. The "Desert Rats" were actually the British 7th Armoured Division, the name coming from their jerboa shoulder flash. The Australian 9th Division besieged at Tobruk were denigrated as being "caught like rats in a trap" by German propaganda, the Australians calling themselves "the Rats of Tobruk" with pride as a result. The most flagrant error in this film is the rank of Rommel in 1941. The film presented him as a "field marshal", when he was actually holding the rank of lieutenant-general. Rommel would become a field marshal only in June 1942 after the fall of Tobruk.
A German panzer attack shows a short clip of an Allied M3 Grant tank as a participant in the attack. Later, An Allied armoured attack includes Crusader tanks, then, again erroneously, a Churchill tank, which first saw action a year later in the ill-fated Dieppe Raid. The Churchill's first combat use in North Africa was at Second Battle of El Alamein in October 1942. German infantry are often seen carrying British and American weapons, including Thompson sub-machine guns.
The Australian troops wear Canadian Army uniforms and South African hats.
Chips Rafferty and Charles Tingwell had both served in the army and said they tried to correct inaccuracies in the script, but only been partly successful. "The script was full of Cockney idiom," said Rafferty. "I was invited to look over it a week before shooting began, and managed to get some of it changed into Australian slang."
A key plot point involved the Australian general deliberately letting German tanks through defences. "To my knowledge there was no such plan to let the Germans in through the outer defences," said Tingwell. "But whenever difficulties of that sort were mentioned the Hollywood experts claimed to be working on a script based on the actual battle plans of the campaign."
"There's one scene in which the sergeant - myself - refuses to obey the colonel's order, while two lieutenants stand idly by," added Rafferty. "That will raise some Ninth Division eyebrows."
Other criticisms made of the film include:
##no British officer was ever placed in command of an Australian battalion in Tobruk;
##there was no raid on the ammunition dump as depicted;
##there is no depiction of the British, Polish or Indian troops who were there.
Prior to the film being screened, Chips Rafferty admitted it was likely the film would be criticised by ex-servicemen. "To tell the truth, I think there's going to be a bit of a howl," he said.
This prediction proved to be correct. Lt-General Sir Leslie Morshead said that, "The story is wholly foreign to the Tobruk I knew, and to its force which comprised almost as many gallant, purposeful British troops as those of the Ninth Division, all of whom I had the honour to command."
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A soldier that no one wanted as a leader that soon gain respect from many men.
What a grand performance from Richard Burton, one of the greatest actors that had ever lived in Hollywood history. He had shown great leadership in this film from beginning to end.
There were a few flaws in today's standard of acting; such as the dramatic deaths and knowing when killing a man he does not make such much noise, but the story itself helped this film move along.
A war story that can not truly be missed!
Richard Burton is superb in the lead role.