Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cracker? "Five Graves to Cairo"

This is the first in my series of war movies that might deserve entry into the Top 100.  I call them "crackers?" because they might crack the Top 100.  I start with "Five Graves to Cairo" because it happened to be on TCM tonight.  I had heard of it, but had never seen it and had no idea what it was about.  I'm glad I watched it, but...
      The movie is legendary director Billy Wilder's second movie and he was already in fine form.  The film was released in 1943 and is set in 1942 North Africa with the British army on retreat after the fall of Tobruk.  It begins far-fetched and seldom strays from it.  The main character, a British corporal named Bramble, is the only survivor of a tank that is plowing across the desert.  He ends up in a hotel in a "ghost town" which soon becomes the headquarters for Rommel.  Rommel is protrayed by Erich Von Stroheim as pompous, domineering, yet charismatic.  It is a jarring portrayal after seeing James Mason's iconic Rommel.  The real Rommel is probably somewhere in between, but I suspect closer to Mason's.  Keep in mind this movie was made when Rommel was still our enemy instead of a defeated worthy foe.
      The movie revolves around Bramble masquerading as a German spy/waiter who is trying to ferret out information about Rommel's plans.  In particular, he is determined to uncover (get it?) the location of Rommel's five buried supply caches (the five graves).  Complicating matters is the hotel maid (Anne Baxter as a French woman named Mouche) who wants to wrangle the release of her POW brother.  She ends up doing the right thing by taking responsibility for Bramble's killing of a German officer who had discovered his identity so Bramble can get the plans back to the British.  Not to worry, once he's gone evidence will be provided to exonerate her.  A good montage of future events has the British defeating Rommel (because he doesn't get his supplies) and counterattacking so Bramble is able to return to the town carrying a parasol as a present for his future wife Mouche.
       You have to swallow a lot in this film, but it goes down easy.  It is not meant as a history lesson and no one could mistake it for one.  The idea that the Germans would have buried massive supply depots long before the war is ridiculous, but not laughable.  Bramble taking on the identity of the German spy is unbelievable, but this is Hollywood 1943.  Audiences bought stuff like that.  The acting is good and Baxter is lovely.  There's an Italian general who is stereotypical - the buffoonish lacky.  He sings songs because this is a 1940's movie (it was required).
      The movie is distinguished by two scenes.  First, Rommel hosts some captured British officers and allows them to ask 20 questions.  He discusses strategy, tactics, and why he is winning.  It's "Dinner with Erwin" and pretty cool.  Where are the caches happens to be question #21!  Rats!  Totally implausible scene, but neat.  Second, the ending which breaks the Hollywood mold, but should not come as a surprise if you figure in the propaganda nature of a 1943 movie.  Still, kudos to Billy Wilder.
      Worth a viewing, but not Top 100 worthy.


  1. I think I wouldn't mind watching it and see how it compares to other Billy Wilder movies. It is always interesting. I don't know about you but I love all sorts of movies and still think I watch war movies at a 2 out of 4 rate. I just never wanted to write a blog without a specific theme. For me this is like research. One movie leads to another. I was even tempted to watch by themes.
    One theme I will have to explore as I did neglect it totally, shame on me, is the Korean war.
    I found this page today, no clue who the guy is and if his book is good, but you will know him and he stated Broterhood to be his favourite and Steel Helmets to be one of his favourite movies. I know Brotherhood but that's if for the Korean war for me. Unless I forget one or the other.

  2. I too watch a variety of movies, even old black and white ones. Right now I have war movies alternating with regular movies on my Netflix queue. I do have certain genres that I avoid however - horror, romances, depressing dramas. As far as the Korean War, there are some excellent forgotten movies out there - Pork Chop Hill, Steel Helmet, Time Limit, Fixed Bayonets. And of course, the big two - Bridges at Toko-Fi and Manchurian Candidate. Is Brotherhood the same as Tae Guk Gi? If so, I saw it a while back (and need to see it again), it is definitely interesting and may make my Top 100.
    I really enjoy the way your blog works. Don't change it. It forces me to look through all the posts because there is no set pattern.

  3. Yes, Brotherhood and Tae Guk Gi are the same. Thanks for what you said about my blog. I am not the type who can follow too rigid a pattern although I think it is admirable. And then I publish almost daily. I do sort of follow a patern too, I try to be inclusive, meaning as broad as possible regarding the countries of origin of my movies. I start to believe that German might be one of the most adept countries when it comes to war movies. I am abit disappointed in the French productions. Where is the great French WWII movie. I have my theories on this and am sure you will enjoy reading them, but I am still collecting thoughts.
    However I see you stray a little bit from your path as well.
    The problem in the blogosphere is that people do not wan't to read longs posts. They want quality but not read too much. You will see , when you track the views, that lists and shorter entries will draw much more attenton. But continue the long reviews. People like me enjoy them. I see material for a book, really.


Please fell free to comment. I would love to hear what you think and will respond.