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The Desert Rats
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The Desert Rats (1953) More at IMDbPro »

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The Desert Rats -- Richard Burton plays a Scottish Army officer put in charge of a disparate band of ANZAC troops on the perimeter of Tobruk with the German Army doing their best to dislodge them.


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Richard Murphy (written by)
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Release Date:
20 May 1953 (USA) See more »
They crawled their way across the blazing sands of Africa... to turn disaster into victory!
Richard Burton plays a Scottish Army officer put in charge of a disparate band of ANZAC troops on the perimeter of Tobruk with the German Army doing their best to dislodge them. Full summary » | Add synopsis »
Plot Keywords:
Nominated for Oscar. Another 1 win See more »
(2 articles)
Irish Actor Davis Dies
 (From WENN. 21 December 2009, 4:01 AM, PST)

Desert Rats Star Tingwell Dies
 (From WENN. 21 May 2009, 2:55 PM, PDT)

User Reviews:
One of the most realistic and best of the fifties war movies with excellent direction by Robert Wise See more (26 total) »


  (in credits order) (verified as complete)

Richard Burton ... Capt. 'Tammy' MacRoberts

James Mason ... Field Marshal Erwin von Rommel

Robert Newton ... Tom Bartlett
Robert Douglas ... General

Torin Thatcher ... Col. Barney White
Chips Rafferty ... Sgt. 'Blue' Smith
Charles 'Bud' Tingwell ... Lt. Harry Carstairs (as Charles Tingwell)
Charles Davis ... Pete
Ben Wright ... Mick
rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Patrick Aherne ... English Officer (uncredited)
John Alderson ... Corporal (uncredited)
Frank Baker ... British Officer (uncredited)
John Blackburn ... Sergeant (uncredited)
Robert Boon ... German Lieutenant (uncredited)
Frederic Brunn ... German Gunner (uncredited)
Arthur Brunner ... German Radio Man (uncredited)
Paul Busch ... German Orderly (uncredited)

Paul Cavanagh ... Colonel (uncredited)
Frank Chase ... Commando (uncredited)
Tony Christian ... German Sentry (uncredited)
Trevor Constable ... Ginger (uncredited)

Nicolas Coster ... Medic (uncredited)
Ashley Cowan ... Corporal (uncredited)
Gene Darrell ... Aussie (uncredited)
Noel Drayton ... Captain (uncredited)
Harold Dyrenforth ... Observer (uncredited)
Charles B. Fitzsimons ... Fire Officer (uncredited)
John Fraser ... Artillery Man (uncredited)
Arno Frey ... Kramm (uncredited)
Ray Harden ... Hugh (uncredited)
Charles Keane ... Sgt Donaldson (uncredited)
Lester Matthews ... Foreign Secretary (uncredited)
Clyde Morris ... British Communications Man (uncredited)
Gavin Muir ... Captain (uncredited)
James O'Hara ... Communications Man (uncredited)
John O'Malley ... Riley (uncredited)
Pat O'Morre ... Jim (uncredited)
Peter Ortiz ... Wireman (uncredited)

Michael Pate ... Cpl. Currie (uncredited)
Richard Peel ... Rusty (uncredited)
Guy Prescott ... Maj. O'Rourke (uncredited)
Jack Raine ... C.I.C. (uncredited)
Otto Reichow ... Gunner (uncredited)

Michael Rennie ... Narrator (voice) (uncredited)
Jerry Riggio ... Commando (uncredited)
Per Skavlan ... German Guard (uncredited)
Frederick Stevens ... German Major (uncredited)
Gilchrist Stuart ... Captain (uncredited)
Albert Taylor ... Jensen (uncredited)

John Wengraf ... German Doctor (uncredited)
Alfred Zeisler ... von Helmholtz (uncredited)

Directed by
Robert Wise 
Writing credits
Richard Murphy (written by)

Produced by
Robert L. Jacks .... producer
Original Music by
Leigh Harline 
Cinematography by
Lucien Ballard (director of photography)
Film Editing by
Barbara McLean 
Art Direction by
Addison Hehr 
Lyle R. Wheeler  (as Lyle Wheeler)
Set Decoration by
Fred J. Rode (set decorations)
Makeup Department
Ben Nye .... makeup artist
Second Unit Director or Assistant Director
Richard Maybery .... assistant director (as J. Richard Maybery)
Sound Department
Alfred Bruzlin .... sound
Roger Heman Sr. .... sound (as Roger Heman)
Visual Effects by
Ray Kellogg .... special photographic effects
Fritz Ford .... stunts (uncredited)
Costume and Wardrobe Department
Charles Le Maire .... wardrobe director
Music Department
Alfred Newman .... musical director
Edward B. Powell .... orchestration (as Edward Powell)
Leo Arnaud .... musician: drums, percussion (uncredited)
Frank Beach .... musician: trumpet (uncredited)
Morris Bercov .... musician: clarinet (uncredited)
Noel Boggs .... musician: guitar (uncredited)
Morris Boltuch .... musician: trumpet (uncredited)
Danny Borzage .... musician: accordion (uncredited)
Benny Carter .... musician: saxophone (uncredited)
John Clyman .... musician: trumpet (uncredited)
Lois Craft .... musician: harp (uncredited)
Don Cristlieb .... musician: bassoon (uncredited)
Joseph Eger .... musician: french horn (uncredited)
George Fields .... musician: harmonica (uncredited)
Fred Fox .... musician: french horn (uncredited)
John Fresco .... musician: clarinet (uncredited)
Anthony Galla-Rini .... musician: accordion (uncredited)
Gene Garf .... musician: accordion (uncredited)
Conrad Gozzo .... musician: trumpet (uncredited)
Earl Hatch .... musician: drums, percussion (uncredited)
Skeets Herfurt .... musician: clarinet (uncredited)
Carl Jeschke .... musician: bassoon (uncredited)
Glen Johnston .... musician: clarinet (uncredited)
Sam E. Levin .... musician: trumpet (uncredited)
Matty Matlock .... musician: clarinet (uncredited)
Abe Most .... musician: clarinet (uncredited)
Vito Mumolo .... musician: guitar (uncredited)
Eugene Ober .... musician: french horn (uncredited)
Dave Pell .... musician: clarinet (uncredited)
Edward Rebner .... musician: piano (uncredited)
Sam Rice .... musician: tuba (uncredited)
Dick Roberts .... musician: guitar (uncredited)
Meyer Rubin .... musician: bass (uncredited)
Sylvia Ruderman .... musician: flute (uncredited)
Babe Russin .... musician: clarinet (uncredited)
Harry Schmidt .... musician: french horn (uncredited)
Paul Shure .... musician: violin (uncredited)
Felix Slatkin .... musician: violin (uncredited)
Jack Sperling .... musician: drums, percussion (uncredited)
Murray Spivack .... musician: drums, percussion (uncredited)
Urban Thielmann .... musician: piano (uncredited)
Crew verified as complete

Production CompaniesDistributors

Additional Details

Also Known As:
88 min
Aspect Ratio:
1.37 : 1 See more »
Sound Mix:
Mono (Western Electric Recording)
Argentina:13 | Australia:M | Australia:PG (Cable TV rating) | Australia:G (DVD rating) | Canada:G (video rating) | Egypt:(Banned) | Netherlands:16 | New Zealand:PG | Sweden:15 | UK:U (passed with cuts) | UK:U (tv rating) | USA:Approved (PCA #16243) | West Germany:16 (f)
Filming Locations:

Did You Know?

Richard Burton was obliged to make the film as part of his short-lived contract with 20th Century Fox. He later said every line of dialog sounded as though it had been taken directly from an army training manual.See more »
Revealing mistakes: During the German tank/infantry attack mid-way into the film, a German throws himself on the barb-wire. When you see him getting up, he throws his rifle with a bayonet backwards, and you see the weapon is just rubber as it wobbles uncontrollably.See more »
Field Marshal Erwin von Rommel:Now, MacRoberts, l respect your pride in this little rat hole you call Tobruk, but don't insult my intelligence by telling me that if it stood in my way, l couldn't crush it like that!
Capt. 'Tammy' MacRoberts:lf you can crush Tobruk, crush it. But don't tell me it isn't a constant threat to your supply line, that it isn't an open sore in your side, or that you can take Egypt without first smashing it.
See more »
Movie Connections:
Referenced in Modern Problems (1981)See more »
GreensleevesSee more »


Chicago Openeing Happened When?
See more »
16 out of 18 people found the following review useful.
One of the most realistic and best of the fifties war movies with excellent direction by Robert Wise, 20 November 2007
Author: ma-cortes

1941 Lybian desert, North Africa. German forces are pushing through to Suez, the key to the Middle East , only Tobruk is still holding out, there's a considerable unit there. With the British in full retreat, nothing stood in Rommel's way but the tiny garrison of Empire troops cut off in the fortress won of Tobruk.Meantime, Germans dropping leaflets captioning : Surrender! German forces have surrounded Tobruk, it is useless to try to escape. Single soldiers waving handkerchiefs will not be fired upon. not sacrifice yourselves needlessly. Lay down your arms. Surrender! . The picture is the story of Tobruk and the men who made up its garrison, of the fight they made against the pick of Hitler's troops and of the nickname they won with blood and bore with pride: ¨The Deser Rats¨. British headquarter Cairo's ordered to take up defensive positions for two months ,reunited the officers(Robert Douglas, Torin Thatcher, among others) deal the Tobruk 's defense : the positions are the following, the first line of defense ,using the old Italian perimeter, the second line by Colonel White's supporting artillery and the inner fortification. The British plan of defense is based chiefly on the belief of a Bilzkrieg by Rommel(a splendid James Mason reprise his role from ¨The Desert fox¨). The general proposes to let Rommel's tanks come through here unopposed, leaving the tanks to proceed up this avenue alone. Colonel White will have moved artillery to line both sides of the avenue.Meanwhile the soldiers are already digging positions for the captured Italian field-pieces. So, the longer we hold our fire, the deeper Rommel's tanks will advance into this box and the easier they will be to destroy. The General assigns to McRoberts, an infantry captain with battle experience, twice decorated, he must put into the line.The crusty captain( a stiff but sensitive acting by Richard Burton) takes a charge of an Australian division formed by valiant soldiers and a kind-hearted schoolmaster alcoholic(sensible performance by Robert Newton steal the show as drunk turned reluctant soldier) fighting a desperate rearguard action against overwhelming German forces.

This reconstruction of a phase in the battle of Tobruk(deeds also filmed by Arthur Hiller in ¨Tobruk¨ with Rock Hudson) is correctly based on true events, though excessive importance for the Aussies. The actual deeds are based on series of engagements between British and Axis forces over Libyan port. Occupied by Italy 1911, Tobruk was taken by Britain in Operation Battleaxe 1941.It was captured by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel June 1942 after the retreat of the main British force to Egypt, and this precipitated General Sir Claude Auchinleck's replacement by General Bernard Montgomery as British commander. Montgomery recovered it after the second of Battle of El Alamein and it remained in British hands for the rest of the war.

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