The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel (1951) Poster

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history's mysteries
marcuswebb12 September 2003
Wonderful performances, first-rate script and direction (moving musical score in key places, as well), plus a well-structured theme about moral dilemmas of patriotic soldiers who realize they're obeying evil orders, make this a little-known gem.

Did Rommel really participate in the plot to kill Hitler? Hitler sure thought so. He had his favorite general poisoned; about that there is no question.

Did Rommel know Hitler before the war? Not sure when they became acquainted but Rommel ran AH's bodyguard unit for a while, then became one of Hitler's favorite generals when he helped sweep the British to Dunkirk in 1940.

Was Rommel aware of and morally responsible for the Holocaust? A recent award winning Rommel biography cites one scene I wish they could have included in this film: Rommel around 1941 advised Hitler that he was concerned by Allied carping on German anti-semitism. "Why don't we put some Jews into prominent leadership positions and shut them up?" Rommel suggested. Hitler told Rommel to stick to military matters and, after the general exited the room, told associates: "That fellow has absolutely no understanding of what we are trying to accomplish."

The movie does generally succeed in portraying the theme of a soldier so single-mindedly focused on the professional technique of his job that he only slowly awakens to the moral horror and self-destructiveness of the leader he serves.

The Churchill quote used at the film's ending is meant to address (and answer) the questions about whether it is morally proper to make a film that glorifies a Nazi general. If Churchill could say such magnanimous things about him...and it's an accurate quote...then so could Hollywood.

(Interesting historical note: British film audiences in the early 1950s were not in such a generous mood. The studio quickly churned out the much-inferior "Desert Rats" film, featuring Mason as a more-villainous Rommel, to mollify outraged critics.)

Where did the quote come from that is spoken in this film by von Reunstadt: "Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan"? Yes, JFK used it, famously, after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Many newsmen of the time mistakenly credited the president with originating it, but JFK didn't claim credit for it. The line has since been traced back to some Italian count in the 1500s. His name was Ciano or something like that. But JFK was a big movie fan and, my guess is, probably learned this aphorism from "The Desert Fox" a decade before using it in his famous post-Bay of Pigs press conference!
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Continuiously watchable
al-eaton8 January 2005
I cannot count the number of times I've seen this excellent film. It is endlessly watchable. James Mason plays a very believable Rommel (at least he looked the proper age unlike the actor who played him in PATTON). True, this is an idolized portrait of Rommel, whose reputation in history (after all he was Hitler's favorite general, an autocratic and egotistical warrior who served his Furher with skill and zeal) was salvaged because of his final opposition to Hitler, an action that caused his death on Hitler's orders. It would be interesting, as one reviewer wrote, to see a German filmmaker's take on Rommel's life.

The script is tight, giving the cast excellent opportunities to create intelligent and believable characters. To the film's credit, the historical events are generqally presented with fairly good accuracy. As a side note: the voice of British General Desmond Morris (upon whose biography the film is based and who gives a running narration throughout) was dubbed by actor Michael Rennie (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL), but who is not credited.

Despite flaws that mark all historical movies of any age, but especially biographies, I highly recommend THE DESERT FOX, especially for it's acting.
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A sensational James Mason as the most popular German general
ma-cortes27 September 2006
The film is a Rommel biography written by Lt.Colonel Desmond Young and screenwriter Nunnally Johnson . It's based on true events and real characters . In WWII Field Marshal Erwin Rommel won reputation as Germany's most popular General but he played an important part in the invasions of central Europe and France . At the same time he was regarded by many Allied officers as a master of desert warfare and as a fair-minded professional . Erwin Rommel (James Mason) really achieved fame as the commander of the German Afrika Korps , operating against the British in North Africa and he captured Tobruk ,the key to the British defenses . Quick to see advantage and profit from it , he ran rings round the British for almost two years before being stopped at Alamein and then driven out of Africa by General Marshal Montgomery . Later on , Rommel was given command of Army in northern Italy to prevent an Italian defection and to counter an Allied invasion of Southern Europe . In 1944 he was transferred to command of an army group in northern France.On two occasions,Rommel and Von Rundstedt (Leo G.Carroll) saw Hitler and attempted to convince him that he should end the war while considerable German forces still existed.The pale and shaken Fuehrer met their frankness with angry diatribes.After the Allied invasion of Normandy (June 6,1944) , Rommel was severely injured when his automobile was strafed by a British plane,and he was sent home to Ulm to recover along with his wife Frau Lucie Marie (Jessica Tandy) , his personal assistant Capt.Hermamn (Richard Boone) and military son. By this time , he had become increasingly disillusioned not only by Hitler's unrealistic military leadership but also by the worldwide reaction to Nazi atrocities . He opposed the project assassination attempt on Hitler's life on the ground that this action would only create martyr . Rommel never took an active role in the July Plot executed by Colonel Klaus Von Stauffenberg (Edward Franz) , although the conspirators wanted him as Chief of state after the elimination of Hitler.However the plot failure ,one of the conspirators , before he died in agony on a meat hook , blurted out Rommel's name to his tormentors and his doom was sealed , offered the choice of a court-martial or reprisals against his his family or suicide.

In the film appears famous Nazi characters who are well interpreted by awesome actors , as Hitler featured by Luther Adler gives an excellent performance (but doesn't reach to Bruno Ganz in ¨The downfall¨) , Edward Franz as a magnificent Von Stauffenberg , Leo G. Carroll as Von Rundstedt , Everett Sloane (Gen. Wilhelm Burgdorf) , George Mc Ready (Gen.Fritz Bayerlein) , John Hoyt (Gen.Keitel) and of course Rommel's James Mason who displays a first-rate interpretation and he'll repeat role in ¨The Desert Rats¨ (1953) by Robert Wise . The motion picture was professionally directed by Henry Hathaway . Rating : Good , above average and well worth watching .
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If I may remind you, sir, here in the field, these men are yours, not his.
Spikeopath21 January 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Out of 20th Century Fox, The Desert Fox is directed by Henry Hathaway and adapted for the screen by Nunnally Johnson (also producing) from the biography of Erwin Rommel written by Brigadier Desmond Young. It stars James Mason as Rommel who in turn is supported by Cedric Hardwicke, Jessica Tandy, Luther Adler, Everett Sloane, Leo Carroll, George Macready & Richard Boone.

Possibly the first mainstream film to boldly humanise a German military leader, The Desert Fox is propelled by a mesmerising performance by Mason and backed up by Johnson's literate script. It condenses Young's biography into just an hour and half of film, but in that relatively short running time the makers have done enough to give decent insight into a man who the opposition had much respect for. The plot basically takes us on Rommel's journey from victories in North Africa, where he is loyally followed by the Afrika Korps, to his defeat at El Alamein (infuriating Hitler by disregarding orders), to French coastal defences, his role in the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler and his subsequent death by military command. Shot in a sort of semi-documentary style by Hathaway, with stock war footage flitting in and out of the film, it's credit to Hathaway that the direction is pacey and doesn't get bogged down by the necessary long passages of dialogue exchanges. The support cast all do fine work, with Adler's cameo as the Fuhrer particularly memorable, while the overriding satisfaction comes from finally seeing a Hollywood production capable of an even handed and sympathetic portrait of a opposition leader.

Good adult cinema. 7/10
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On some inaccuracies and trivia...
patrick.hunter4 June 2003
While a highly rewatchable war movie, with a corker of a performance from James Mason, this motion picture does have its inaccuracies--beginning with its memorable opening. In truth, British commandos did not sneak or charge in, outfitted in nightfighting fatigues; they simply walked in, disguised in Axis uniforms with fake ids. Though the covert mission proved a fiasco, Rommel, in true chivalrous tradition, had these would-be assassins buried with full military honors. However, cinematically-speaking, it's a gripping moment, and it's considered the first true pre-credit movie sequence, a trick one would see quite often in later movies, such as the Bond films and others.

The movie focuses largely on the Field Marshall's involvement with the attempted assassination of Hitler, but just how much (or how little) Rommel was involved is still arguable. Curiously, James Mason once mentioned how he was up for the part of Rommel and was competing with another Fox contract-player, Gary Merrill (best known as Bette Davis's love interest in ALL ABOUT EVE). Mason was impressed by how well Merrill marched and strutted, doing bits of military-like physical action that didn't come easily to the urbane Mason. Even though Mason ultimately won the part over Merrill, he self-critically felt he didn't fully do the role justice (though many, including myself, wouldn't agree with him). Perhaps the studio opted for Mason to bring out a sympathetic quality, because viewers do tend to forget the numbers of Allies who died directly because of the main character! Rommel was a great general for his energetic and ingenious tactics, not for (possibly) wanting Hitler killed.

Don't get me wrong; this movie is still a joy.
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daddynowsir13 June 2006
It wasn't simply the way Mason captured the screen with a class that few if any actors could handle today. Sometimes, it only takes one scene to make a movie great. The scene between Rommel and Hitler (Mason and Adler) is that scene. You forget that these are actors and immerse yourself in the moment as Rommel becomes the one man who dares confront Hitler about his battle plans. He refuses to back down to the most evil man of our time and it makes this movie one of the best WWII movies ever made.

The makers of Pearl Harbor should take note: When you have the people like Rommel and Hitler (Or Roosevelt and Yamamoto) as your characters, you don't need to invent a silly story line. History is the best story teller of all. This movie is about history.
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Not A Fully Reliable Portrayal
sddavis6330 April 2010
This is a pretty solid attempt to portray a soldier's great dilemma - balancing loyalty to the state and obedience to orders with the higher calling of loyalty to what's right and just. Erwin Rommel was one of the great German generals of World War II (a hero in Germany and respected by the Allies.) In the end, he also became involved with the conspiracy against Hitler. The movie shows us some of that development, beginning with his incredulousness at Hitler's orders that the Afrika Korps stand and fight to the last man in Africa rather than withdrawing to fight another day. According to the movie, it was this "stand and fight to the last man" attitude of Der Fuhrer that finally pushed Rommel over the edge. That makes Rommel consistent with what I know of most of the leaders of the "resistance" (such as it was) to Hitler. The opposition wasn't political; it wasn't based on a rejection of Nazi ideology or distaste for Hitler's racial policies - it tended to be based simply on the belief that Hitler was leading Germany to defeat in the war. That's the overarching sentiment portrayed here. That being the case, Rommel may not have been the sympathetic character this movie makes him out to be - maybe he just had the smarts to realize that Germany was fighting a losing war. There's also no mention of his performance during the German invasion of France in 1940, in which Rommel - as a panzer commander - received some German criticism for both his tactics and his tendency to exaggerate his achievements.

James Mason was very good as Rommel. His portrayal was believable, although I wish there had been more exploration in the story of where Rommel came from rather than simply starting us abruptly in Africa. Made only 6 years after the end of the war, the movie is also somewhat courageous in presenting a German general (even one who was unsympathetic to Hitler) in such a sympathetic light. I didn't find this to be structured particularly well. There was too much narration involved, which seemed put an end to any flow the movie might have been trying to develop. Some scenes (particularly of the Allied landings on D-Day) featured a little too much patriotic American and British and French music as the troops went ashore (frankly, listening to the Marine Fight Song or The Marseillaise in a movie about Rommel seemed a bit silly.)

It's an interesting movie, but doesn't seem to completely capture the man it portrays.
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The Rommel Story
bkoganbing28 August 2006
Though The Desert Fox is good as far as it goes and James Mason is perfectly cast as Erwin Rommel, one would hope that a fuller biographical study might be done on the screen.

Erwin Rommel was one of a group of like minded military leaders in various countries who after World War I, rose to the top of their country's military establishment because they saw the value of the tank in any future war. Some of those people would be Charles DeGaulle in France, Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton in America, Marshal Tukachevksy in the Soviet Union and Rommel in Germany.

In 1942 Hitler as he was constantly doing sent Rommel in to bail out the Italians who up to that point had been running the desert campaign in North Africa. With less men and supplies, his tactical ability bedeviled the Allied command until The Second Battle of El Alamein.

The film starts with Rommel as desert warfare genius and then when he does become ill and is invalided out of North Africa, the Allies regain the initiative and beat his famed Afrika Korps. Rommel is then sent to Western Europe to supervise the defenses on the Atlantic.

There comes a point when Rommel does realize that his Fuehrer is destroying his country and becomes involved in the plot to kill him and overthrow the government. That is what most of the film deals with.

James Mason is a stalwart Rommel a perfect conception of the man they called The Desert Fox. In this mostly male film, Jessica Tandy has little to do but be loyal and supportive as Frau Rommel.

Luther Adler who among other parts he played in his long distinguished career was David Ben-Gurion. He goes the whole opposite way in his portrayal of a ranting and malevolent Adolph Hitler. How a man who took his Jewish heritage as seriously as Luther Adler did, prepare for the role of Hitler is beyond my scope. But then again, there were few actors as good as he.

Though Mason does a fine job given what limited material he had to work from, archives have been opened and we know a whole lot more about Erwin Rommel. Time for another biographical study.
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Fine Bio, but.....
tmills7771 May 2001
This is a fine biopic of a worthy and honorable opponent serving a despicable cause. Unfortunately, there is not enough North Africa Campaign in the film to satisfy a war film buff. When I first saw it in the theater, it did whet my appetite to learn more about this horrendous and costly war. I have been interested in it since. The acting is first-rate, and, unlike Enemy at the Gate, the British and American accents don't detract from the film, the British accents at any rate. As others have noted in their reviews of this film, Rommel probably wasn't anti-semitic. He deliberately ignored Hitler's orders to round up Jews during the invasion of France. He also never forgave Hitler for abandoning the Afrika Korps to their fate in 1942, not to Hitler's less than energetic attempts to keep the DAK supplied.
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A Good Docu-Drama
ross-h1 February 2001
As one very interested in the history of World War 2, I don't know how I missed seeing this before. I'm certainly not an authority on Rommel, but as far as I could tell (with a few exceptions, such as the DC3/C-47 made up to look like a German transport and the portrayal of von Runstedt as being more competent than is generally credited) it seemed to be historically accurate. This seemed to be one of the better docu-dramas, a type with a not-very-illustrious tradition. What I found particularly interesting was how a movie made 50 years ago could reflect what are considered to be "new" views today. I'm referring particularly to the statement that Hitler was seeking his own destruction (presented as new in the recent Ian Kearshaw biography "Nemesis") and the lack of total control by the Nazis over what Germans thought, said and where they went (also presented as a "new" view). This reflects well on Desmond Young's research and the film makers adherence to it.
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