A frustrated former big-city journalist now stuck working for an Albuquerque newspaper exploits a story about a man trapped in a cave to re-jump start his career, but the situation quickly escalates into an out-of-control circus.
June, 1942. The British Army, retreating ahead of victorious Rommel, leaves a lone survivor on the Egyptian border--Corporal John Bramble, who finds refuge at a remote desert hotel...soon to be German HQ. To survive, Bramble assumes an identity which proves perilous. The new guest of honor is none other than Rommel, hinting of his secret strategy, code-named 'five graves.' And the fate of the British in Egypt depends on whether a humble corporal can penetrate the secret... Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Wilder's first choice as composer was Franz Waxman, but Warner Bros. would not release him. Wilder was happy with Rosza's score but Paramount Music Department boss Victor Young was not, Wilder ultimately prevailed. See more »
In different shots, the pepper and salt shakers on the table in front of Rommel change positions, inexplicably, as he taunts his captives with his plan. See more »
[checking his guidebook entry about the hotel]
You have a native cook by the name of Berek.
Terek, sir. Terek. Yes, sir. But he ran away this morning. With the British to Alexandria.
[checking the guidebook]
You have a wife.
Oh, yes, sir. Yes. But *she* run away. Yes, sir.
With the British to Alexandria?
No, sir. With a Greek to Casablanca.
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Probably one of the best US propaganda movies made during the war, this film boasts director Wilder's superlative talents in every scene, from the eerily effective opening sequence (a tank manned by the dead rumbles aimlessly through the desert, the sole survivor talks to imaginary people in the foyer of the Empress of Britain hotel but cannot see the real people there) to even the final chest-beating postscript, tacked on to ram home the obligatory propaganda message.
FIVE GRAVES TO CAIRO is a compelling movie that grabs the attention from that opening scene and never lets go. The tightly plotted screenplay is packed with often cynical dialogue, and is complemented by spot-on performances by most of the cast (only Akim Tamiroff as the hotel owner is, perhaps, a little too overwrought). Erich von Stroheim gives an outstanding performance as Field-Marshal Rommel which, while it probably isn't very accurate, is a joy to watch. In fact, Stroheim dominates whenever he is on screen. While some of the depictions of the various nationalities involved are somewhat stereotypical (Fortunio Bonanova's Italian general is an opera-singing coward; all the German's are arrogant, although, it has to be said, are never portrayed as downright evil), this fortunately never diminishes the quality of the storytelling. Perhaps the only real fault in this movie is the occasional use of humour which is very hit-and-miss, and not really necessary.
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