Rommel has the British in retreat on his way to the Suez Canal. All that stands in his way is Tobruk, held by a vastly out numbered force of Australian troops. Richard Burton leads these troops on daring raids against Rommel, keeping him off balance as they earn the nickname 'The Desert Rats'. Written by
Derek Picken <email@example.com>
In light of postwar revelations that Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had been complicit in the attempt to kill Adolf Hitler, there emerged a reassessment of him as a dashing and gallant officer, and this is how James Mason played him in "The Desert Fox"--in contrast to the portrayal of Rommel by Erich von Stroheim in Paramount's Five Graves to Cairo (1943), which was Billy Wilder's first film as a director. After "The Desert Fox" came out, criticism came from veterans who had strong opinions about Rommel based on their experience of his actions during the war. In making "The Desert Rats" two years later, in reaction to this criticism, Fox brought back Mason in a cameo, and he plays Rommel more villainously than he has in "The Desert Fox", though not as much as von Stroheim. See more »
The lobby cards state "Here are the guys who slugged their way from Tobruk to the sea!" but Tobruk is in fact a port, which is why it was a war objective in the first place. See more »
Original music by Christina Macpherson (1895)
(Based on the Scottish tune "Craigielee", music by James Barr, with words by Robert Tannahill)
Revised music by Marie Cowan (1903)
Lyrics by A.B. 'Banjo' Paterson (1895)
Played during the opening credits and often in the score See more »
Before Australia and New Zealand were threatened with attack on the home front, they sent as they did in the First World War, an expeditionary force to help Great Britain protect the Suez Canal, the lifeline of the British Empire. Aussies and Kiwis made a great deal of the army that General Wavell was commanding from Cairo.
They have always had a reputation as an informal people and it's with a bit of surprise that spit and polish Scots officer Richard Burton is put in charge of a batallion in a forward area of the defense perimeter surrounding Tobruk. The men and Burton don't take to each other too readily, but gradually the troops grow to respect Burton as a courageous fighting man.
Burton as it happens gets a bit of assistance from an unexpected quarter. His old schoolmaster Robert Newton had immigrated to Australia and enlisted in their army at the start of World War II. When not focusing on the battle sequences, The Desert Rats is about the relationship between Burton and Newton. All the rules about army discipline and separation of officers and enlisted men go by the boards here. Burton who's been under a strain like everyone else under siege at Tobruk gets a safety valve in Newton. An old friend from the past, a father figure if you will, gives Burton someone he can confide his innermost thoughts and fears to.
Sad to say the alcoholic Mr. Newton gives a refrained and dignified performance as a middle aged alcoholic schoolmaster. A role he could understand all too well from real life. He complements Burton's performance every step of the way in this film.
Look for some good performances from Australian actors Charles Tingwell and Chips Rafferty. Though this is a film about the Allied forces at Tobruk in 1941 and no Americans were officially fighting, this is an American production. So these two guys made their American cinema debuts. Tingwell never made another American film, but Rafferty came back a few times and his presence makes every film he's in just a bit better.
You might recognize Michael Rennie's voice doing the offscreen narration for The Desert Rats. The Desert Rats is a timeless wartime classic about the strain of command at every level of the Armed Services.
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