Five Graves to Cairo - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Five Graves to Cairo Reviews

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February 4, 2017
I went into Five Graves to Cairo only knowing that this was Billy Wilder's attempt to make some pro-ally style war movie, and that it was one of Quentin Tarantino's favorite films - anyone with two eyes and ears can tell it's a big influence on Inglourious Basterds - and finally seeing it, it holds up, as far as it goes. It's not something that is reliant on a lot of battles or action in the sense one might expect from a lot of war films. The Tarantino connection is a lot thicker than one might expect; Wilder in 'Cairo' is all about mounting suspense and keeping up the rouse of Franchot Tone's JJ Bramble turned German spy turned English hotel waiter Paul Davros around a bunch of German officers occupying the hotel while planning an offensive maneuver in North Africa.

Every moment is tense and taut when this man is around these officers, and while Tone is not the best or most expressive actor of his time he does enough for what the role and Wilder ask of him, giving some charm and personality to a character who has to be different things at different moments. Part of it also comes from who knows what piece of information, the fact that from the start some p-eople know more than others (as, in a fantastic opening that sets much of the tone, Bramble stumbles sun-baked into the hotel after leaving his blown-apart tank, and Tamiroff and Anne Baxter have to do their best to make sure the Germans don't see him behind the bar, which does get moved mid-scene), and that there is other stakes going on, like with Baxter's man in a prison camp.

All the while, Wilder gives some wonderful scenes for Peter van Eyck, who's the Lieutenant overseeing the operation, and his commanding officer especially Erich von Stroheim. Von Stroheim is the strongest part of the film, as every time he gives this character dimension and presence, and how every line is delivered makes him a man who is clearly out to do his duty as a Nazi officer on the move towards Egypt (and those 'five graves', which becomes a plot point but isn't as important as seeing what the characters do about it), but is also a sort of a human villain, if that makes sense. I'd almost go as far as to say he makes this field Marshall cunning but also someone who you understand completely: he's doing his job the way he's been trained, and his ambition (some of his officers are astounded he wants to go as far as he plans, with salt shakers on a table demonstrating), and there's some of that same dimension he brought to Grand Illusion. We know he's the villain of the piece, but you can't take your eyes off of him from the moment he's on screen - and Wilder opens on him from behind his head giving orders!

I don't know if Tamiroff came off the best here, as he is sort of one-note through most of the run time as the nervous nellie (over?)reacting to every little or big move. And it does still operate on the wave of it being made during the war, with the side clearly drawn (though, again, the Germans are made to not be simply automatic monsters, but people you are meant to understand their motivations, cruel as they end up being, like Rommel's 'papers in triplicate' command to Anne Baxter). But aside from that, it's a generally smart and intense film that relies all on character motivation and that dialog IS the plot, in a sense here. It's a bottle-movie as about 90% of it takes place indoors, but it doesn't operate like a play, despite it being adapted from one. And the ending, or denouement I should say, packs a good emotional wallop redeeming any slow moments.
½ August 22, 2016
Suspenseful ww2 drama based in North Africa.
June 11, 2016
Terrifically fun second film written and directed by Billy Wilder. Wilder quickly established himself as a versatile writer/director by following up his successful comedy "The Major and the Minor" with a tight, suspenseful WWII thriller about a lone allied soldier who discovers five secret caches of German supplies scattered across the county to conquer Egypt. Erich von Stroheim plays Field Marshal Rommel and is a terrific villain for the film. For a director who has several undisputed film classics, this one is not in his top tier of films, but Wilder's bar is significantly higher than most filmmakers and this film certainly an above average wartime thriller. Well worth watching!
½ June 4, 2016
Superb early work by the all time great Billy Wilder, who handles this little play-like espionage flick with an already mature hand. It doesn't reach the same heights that even the very next film he made did (Double Indemnity), but you can see an already special talent at work here.
June 16, 2015
Fantastic opening that the rest of the film never really tops. But this nice little wartime thriller works on multiple levels. Propaganda film, yes, with some "end justifies the means philosophy" but also a decent spy thriller with a mistaken identity twist. Tone strikes an slightly imperfect tone (sorry) - he's ok but a tad generic/forced as the hero. But the rest of the cast excel, especially von Stroheim hamming it up as Rommel, and Tamiroff as the flustered, decent hotel owner.

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.
½ September 19, 2014
This early Billy Wilder film (written with Charles Brackett) takes place in Egypt during WWII with Stroheim as Rommel. He makes a tough egotistic and possibly neurotic Nazi. Franchot Tone plays the Brit who gets mistaken for a double agent and finds himself able to find out about Rommel's secret plans and pass them along to the Allies. The whole story takes place in a run-down old hotel in the middle of the desert run by Akim Tamiroff (playing Egyptian) and Anne Baxter (playing French). It's more fun than suspenseful but it is also pointed propaganda (allowing Wilder to avoid the sappy happy ending that seems to be coming). Uh, spoiler (but not if you know Wilder).
February 6, 2014
Lots of propaganda, but still a decent story.
½ February 16, 2013
A bit disappointing, but atmospheric.
January 24, 2013
My choice of Wilder films I'm watching is indeed a thing of curiosity. At this point, I've only seen some of his mediocre work and beside The Apartment left out the good stuff.

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).
½ January 3, 2013
The fate of Cairo is in the hands of a British corporal undercover in Rommel's headquarters
Super Reviewer
½ December 4, 2012
fun wartime espionage thriller set in the sahara. franchot tone makes a fine dashing lead, a british soldier stranded in the desert and overtaken by the nazi high command, with anne baxter as his haughty love interest, a french hotel maid desperate to make a deal with them. and how can one go wrong with erich von stroheim as field marshall rommel. akim tamiroff is a wee bit over the top but there's suspense, comedy, romance, really something for everyone. watch the first scene and see if you're not hooked
½ October 9, 2012
wilder's take on 'grand hotel"
½ August 17, 2012
Wartime adventure with thriller, suspense and historic events--Offbeat war flick!!
March 3, 2012
An early Billy Wilder gem, 'Five Graves to Cairo' doesn't have the tightness and supreme perfection of the master's later works, but it is still a tremendously entertaining and gripping film.
December 5, 2011
It's not badly acted or directed, but Wilder made a war movie look like a mix of a James Bond film and a bad children's cartoon, with the worst elements of each. Everyone is annoyingly charicaturesque, the mystery is obvious and the abuse of stereotypes is revolting. Besides, the Desert Fox's portray is one of the most ridiculous, unfunny, rioting and historically innacurate ever. Old bad nazi, good ally flick with charm for people who like shallowness, bad vaudeville comedy, and dislike solid war themed movies.
½ February 16, 2011
A pretty good classic spy-drama from Billy Wilder.
½ September 23, 2010
A good early film by Billy Wilder. Made in 1943, I suppose the propagandistic ending was inevitable. Other than that, an interesting entertaining film.
September 22, 2010
another winner fron Wilder just re-watched and upgraded great WWII movie
August 8, 2010
Terrific stuff. Preachy at times, but Wilder maintains a good pace and some solid suspense, allowing the film to function without the context of war. Franchot Tone and Anne Baxter aren't the most nuanced performers, but I enjoyed watching them here, and Erich von Stroheim brings his usual level of awesome. And there was a young Peter Van Eyck as well, which was nice to see. The standout though, as he so often is for me, was Akim Tamiroff. Hilarious comic relief throughout the film, but the look on his face in the penultimate scene is heartbreaking. Wilder still seems to be finding his feet as a director, but I think this is a very solid early entry in his canon.
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