This film's title actually refers to the British 7th Armoured Division who were "The Desert Rats" in North Africa and not the Australian 9th Division who were part of the siege at Tobruk and were known as "The Rats of Tobruk", not the Desert Rats.
The character Bartlett (MacRoberts' former schoolmaster) is portrayed as an alcoholic whose drinking caused him many troubles. Sadly, this was actually the case for the actor playing him, Robert Newton. He became increasingly unemployable due to his drinking, was declared a bankrupt in absentia, and would die just 3 years after this film. The cause of death was announced as a heart attack but was widely believed to be multiple alcohol-related causes.
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.
This was among the last films produced by 20th Century Fox in the standard academy format. Only four months later they would begin releasing films in their CinemaScope format, starting with "The Robe" (1953) which also starred Richard Burton.
Legendary Australian actor Chips Rafferty appears in this movie as Sergeant 'Blue' Smith. About a decade earlier, Rafferty appeared playing Milo Trent in another movie featuring "The Desert Rats" entitled The Fighting Rats of Tobruk (1944).
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.