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"The Desert Fox" (1951) I judge to be a dignified, highly-intelligent and thoroughly absorbing account of the last days of Erwin Rommell . He was of the officer class of Germany who with extreme care divorced themselves from "politics". Their job, as Rommell, in the person of James Mason in the film states, they considered to be to fight for their country. The film is in fact as much about his battle with his own perception of the Hitler gang and their interferences in his conscience, his command and his freedom to do his assigned tasks as it is about his soldiership. Producer Nunnally Johnson's brilliant dramatic script, based upon Desmond Young's investigation of Rommel's death performed only a few years after WWII, is narrated by Michael Rennie, as Young. For a recent critic to quibble at celebrating Rommel's humanity after the recent attempts by politicians to sell the idea of "executive infallibility" would have to rank as a treasonable opinion or worse. As this mostly-accurate film proceeds, we become aware that Rommel should have done more and done it sooner to try to save the wartime situation for his soldiers and for all Germans; but that is hindsight. What we are given is the rare opportunity to live this bright man's gradual disillusionment with the old maxims of warfare and political leadership, as we learn the truth along with a man who eventually dies for his errors both of omission and of brave commission. Solid veteran director Henry Hathaway keeps events moving with vigor and extreme clarity from the riveting opening raid scene on Rommel's headquarters (it should have happened that way) to the unforgettable final scene as the General is taken away by Hitler's emissaries. The brilliant music for the film by Daniele Amfitheatrof and the cinematography by Norbert Brodine in B/W are both far-above-average. Set decorations supplied by Thomas Little and Stuart Reiss add a great deal to the story's atmosphere as well. Art directors Lyle Wheeler and Maurice Ransford and editor James B. Clark are to be commended for matching WWII footage with original shots with uncommon skill. But this is an actors' movie, I claim; and it is the cast who brings this sobering and powerful tale to life. The center of the film is James Mason as Rommel; here this sensitive actor delivers one of his best early performances, certainly Oscar caliber. As Von Runstedt, his enemy and later his friend, Leo G. Carroll is unquestionable and riveting, as always. Richard Boone as Mason's subaltern, Jessica Tandy as his wife, and stalwarts such as George Macready, Paul Cavanagh, John Hoyt, Everett Sloane, Luther Adler (playing Hitler), Eduard Franz, Cedric Hardwicke and Michael Rennie are all more-than-adequate or better by my exacting standards. Several scenes may be true standouts--Hardwicke and Mason's second scene arguing the case for removing the Fuhrer, Carroll's two scenes with Mason enlarging on the enormous cost of the mistakes being made by Berlin's amateurs that has already lost the Reich two armies, and the early scene in the Desert when Rommel refuses to lose his entire army to a "victory or death--no retreat" order are among the best by my lights. The movie humanizes Rommel, but also gives evidence of his hesitation, his overly- loyal service to a monstrous regime and the web of danger he finally sees being spun about him. This is a moving, and I find, an extraordinarily-memorable film; the action scenes under director Hathaway and assistant director Gerd Oswald are brilliantly done. In any era, a literate and compelling script that shows the cost to a great man of adherence to the cult of the infallible leader--explicitly religious or clandestinely so as here--carries forward a message of eternal importance in the unending struggle between the advocates of the individual and the advocates of the collective. This is by my lights as writer, actor and philosopher, a great film. It stands head and shoulders in my estimation above almost every other film of its fictionalized biography genre relating to war.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
James Mason is Rommel, the famed Desert Fox of the German Army who commanded respect from his Allied enemies for his skill as a general in Africa in WW2. He also came to despise Hitler, which is why this film from Fox studios shows him in a more sympathetic light than most Nazi figures being portrayed on the screen back then. This is sort of a forerunner to the sympathetic Nazi figure portrayed by Marlon Brando in the excellent "The Young Lions" (1958) Director Henry Hathaway handles the action well, with the story a solid one taken from a novel about Rommel. Mason gives authority and humanity to his role, and the supporting cast is uniformly good.
Edwin Rommel is possibly Germany's most capable general, not only
winning respect with the German military and the Nazi Party, but also
with British and American forces. This film is an early attempt at
making a bio-pic about the military man. The Desert Fox focuses on
Rommel's disillusionment with Adolf Hitler, focusing on three main
points in his military career: the Battle of El Alamein, the run-up to
D-Day and D-Day itself and the assassination attempt on Hitler. It
offers a interesting look at Rommel, showing how he went from
respecting Hitler (he did make the German military great again) to
seeing that he was really a lunatic. Jason Mason offered a good
performance and so was Luther Adler as Hitler. Other actors were
decent. This was a film done on a budget, the battle scenes were just
stock footage. There was a fun commando mission at the beginning of the
film but the extra really did overact when their were killed. If a film
about Rommel was made now it would be a 2 and half/3 hour long bio-pic
with epic battle scenes, and a full look at Rommel's life, from
childhood, the First World War, the Rise of the Nazi and WW2. I would
like to see that film. This film is too short in my opinion.
It's solid, 3 out of 5 film, but you don't have to knock yourself out to see it.
It is now 55 years since this film was made. It presents a realistic
view of the main characters and even portrays Hitler in a human light,
joking about Goerings weight and being prepared to exchange small talk
with soldiers, such as Von Stauffenberg, who was about to attempt to
kill him. It is often a fault of later war movies that they demonise
the Germans, and glorify the British.
The film starts with the famous Keyes (postumous VC) raid, which is often presented as a "boy's own" adventure by the army, but was really a foul-up, as they attacked the wrong building! The film is also in black and white, which makes it easy to interchange actual war footage with the action, especially the battles of El Alamein and Overlord. The film has the feel of a documentary, with the main characters reminiscing. James Mason definitely looks the part in the role playing Rommel.
The whole film shows the respect that both sides of the conflict had for Rommel. It is interesting that Churchill has so much respect for him. Probably excusing the fact that Rommel was beating him in the earlier stages of the war.
For historical buffs, I can definitely recommend this film.
At the beginning of this one, the narrator says, sounding a bit pretentious, that we'll see the true life of Rommel and what truly happened to him. I wonder if an American movie made just 6 years after the war can actually do that accurately. I would like to see the same movie coming out of Germany, just to compare. Still, it was a good movie. James Mason, even if he doesn't look like a German, is excellent in the role of Rommel. Look also for beautiful Jessica Tandy who plays his wife. Another actor that I like is Leo G. Carroll. In this one, he plays with success the role of Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt. 7 out of 10.
This film was made just a few years after World War 2 ended and
Rommel's wife acted as a technical consultant which lends an
authenticity to the film.
Field Marshall Erwin Rommel was respected by the Allies especially with his daring campaign is North Africa but the reality was that he gained knowledge due to the breaking of the coded messages from a British soldier.
The disappointment I felt that despite some use of archive footage we never see this side of Rommel, the desert fox.
What we get is a stricken soldier fighting ill health and fighting his doubts about Hitler which leads to a tenuous link with the attempt to assassinate Hitler, events which were later dealt with in the Tom Cruise film, Valkyrie.
James Mason gives a respectful portrayal of a soldier that was admired in some quarters by his enemies. Its a daring film to be made so soon after the war. There is an early film appearance by future Oscar winner, Jessica Tandy who plays his loyal wife.
I felt the film could had been better with more substance and more insight of this tactician of desert warfare.
I bought this film on DVD recently. I probably saw most of it, or at least bits of it while growing up. Being an avid war film buff, I watched any/every movie on WW2 I could get my hands on. Aside from the military history interest, and the great general Erwin Rommel, I was looking forward to see James Mason interpret the historical role/character. Unfortunately, the results are mixed to say the least. The opening 'teaser' scene, which is based on historical fact, is very good. Going on very little dialogue, the final line from the dying commando, "Did we get him?" is superb. The film then adapts a semi-documentary style, telling of Rommel's stature and exploits. It then picks up after the Allies took back Northern Africa, when the seeds for the plot to assassinate Hitler were sown. And, the inner conflict regarding Rommel's decision whether to take part in the plot forms most of the drama. However, this is dramatized too mildly. The characters who're at stake for Rommel namely his wife and son Manfred are almost non-entities in the film. The brilliant actress Jessica Tandy is shoved to the background for the most part. It might've made for incredible drama to see them discussing the morality and inevitable consequences of taking part in the plot. In lieu of this thought, it might've been more suspenseful for his wife to know ahead of time about the plot, rather than 'drop the bomb' on her at the last minute. In hindsight, her most emotive moment comes at the end of the film, where she whispers 'Goodbye my darling' as they take Rommel away to his fate. Manfred's character is reduced to a simple hero-worshipper, with a complete 'gee-whiz' persona. Hence, his character is almost a total waste of time. This was yet another chance for the screenwriter to exploit the situation, develop their relationship, and hopefully touch on supporting themes for the story. The only scene with Adolf Hitler is far too clichéd. The Fuhrer is portrayed as a frothing maniac, who's of course looking down on all his generals. Of course, Hitler sometimes appeared just like that but for the purposes of this drama and/or situation, the scene demanded to be written differently. The way he wrote Hitler was the easy way out for the writer. It just makes Rommel's decision to take part in the plot more easy but if anything, it should be DIFFICULT for Rommel to help push the button. The D-Day invasion sequence is spoiled by a lot of American patriotic songs playing in the background, i.e., "Anchors Aweigh", the Air Force's signature song, etc. These songs are simply out of place. The denouement of the film is another letdown. A simple scene with the staff car riding into a forest, disappearing, and then a single gunshot ringing out would've sufficed; but instead the film goes back in time to recount Rommel's exploits and quote Churchill.
James Mason portrayal of the legendary Rommel led to subsequent portrayals of a SS Nazi type in The Boys In Brazil,a cold blooded Prussian aristocrat in The Blue Max and a traditional German officer on the Eastern Front in Cross of Iron. They stem from his two portrayals of Rommel in the Desert Rats and this film the Desert Fox. This film began the Good German Soldier/Bad Nazi theme in subsequent "adult" WWII dramas, think Curt Jurgens as the U- boat commander in The Enemy Below. Well, the Cold War started that with the Western Allies looking for help in containing the Ruskies. Who better knew how to fight them then the survivors of the Eastern Campaigns? The early Bundeswehr (GERMAN ARMY our side)included as officers and senior NCOs former Wehrmacht and Waffen SS (under in some cases other names as the SS of all branches were considered EVILER than the de nazified Wehrmact and LuftWaffe veterans) soldiers. The most widely known German officer was Rommel the North African Campaign was fought outside of Europe so it was almost the perfect free fire zone. Plus he mainly got his slightly overrated reputation ( He was a brave soldier and an aggressive tactician,but so were many other lesser known German generals,his tendency to become a regimental or battalion commander at the time a general was needed,detracted from his overall effectiveness.)clobbering the Limeys. The films budget was probably cautiously modest so there could be no scenes of his Afrika Korp going head to head with some doomed Eighth Army unit during his his days of dominance. The narrator's opening speech on the effect on the British morale of his seeming ability to slap/stomp them at any given time was from an actual letter circulated by the higher ups. But the film is well acted with Leo G. Carroll one of Hitchcock's favorites giving a good performance as the acid tongued Field Marshal von Rundstedt. But the winners make the histories and make the films celebrating their favorite defeated foe. Remember in Patton: George beats Monty into the Sicilian city of Messina,but the film doesn't mention that the German troops successfully evacuated the island despite total Allied dominance of the air and sea. And neither does this film show Rommel's rise from Knights Cross winning junior officer in WWI or as someone who thought Hitler and his Nazis were just the things to retrieve Germany's rightful place in the Welt. Good Soldier/warrior/Killer serving an extremely Evil Cause that stains his and others accomplishments forever.
The reason for this movie was to tell the truth about Rommell. The first thing it does is answer the question why Hollywood takes so many liberties with history. Is history that boring? This being a post World War 2 venture, it is obvious why the movie was made, to let people know this German General was different than the rest and was the good German. That might be so, I won't argue the point. We were refreshed to see that Jessica Tandy was at one time young. The big surprise was the role of Leo G. Carroll as General Rundstedt. His sarcasm for Hitler was great and believable coming from the man who in a few years would be the lovable Topper. Not a movie I'd want to see more than once.
Filmed just a few years after WWII, the film is almost entirely free of the goose-stepping sillies many of the war films contained. An interesting footnote: One of Rommel's lines is "Victory has a hundred fathers;defeat is an orphan." This quote is usually attributed to JFK assuming responsibility for the Bay of Pigs fiasco.Most of JFK's stuff was written by others, but its appearance over a decade earlier makes one wonder who the true author was. Rommel?, the screenwriter? Does anyone know? If so' please share the info. Thanks
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