A group of army personnel and nurses attempt a dangerous and arduous trek across the deserts of North Africa during the second world war. The leader of the team dreams of his ice cold beer when he reaches Alexandria, but the problems just won't go away. Written by
In the bar scene in Alexandria, John Mills was drinking real beer because ginger ale and other substitutes didn't look real enough on film. In the final cut (the 14th take) he actually was quite drunk. See more »
In the second encounter with the Afrika Korps, the German troops have what appears to be a modified Sherman Tank, and whilst this is correct to the era, it is an American tank, not German. See more »
You Taste and Feel the Sand in Your Mouth and Eyes
This taut, engrossing and exciting war drama is more a fascinating character study than just another WWII film. Made in the sweltering heat of the northern Sahara Desert of Libya, I found myself sitting up until 2 am to see it through to the end, enjoying every minute of it, feeling like I was experiencing every task of the events in the story along with the characters.
The story tells of ambulance corps officer played by John Mills named Captain Anson, whom the war has driven to drink, who is unwillingly ordered to leave besieged Tobruk before the Germans break through and take the strategically important town over. In his ambulance he takes with him two young nurses, along with the stalwart Sergeant Major Tom Pugh played by Harry Andrews, and heads out across the desert for Alexandria in Egypt. Their journey leads them through many obstacles, and along the way they pick up the enigmatic South African army officer, Captain van der Poel (van-der-POO-el he corrects them in his distinctly Afrikaner accent) played by Anthony Quayle, who has become detached from his unit and is looking for a lift. Can they beat the elements of the desert and make it to Alexandria, where Anson knows of a certain bar that serves the ice cold lager he so longs for and promises the others?
In height and build Mills is a much smaller next to big men like Andrews and Quayle, but I was very impressed with how his strong acting and personal inner character make him seem as tall and broad shouldered as the other two. I also admired how the whole cast put their all into the many no doubt very difficult scenes, obviously having to deal with the physically exhaustive work that was asked of them, the tortuous heat and sand fleas nipping at their legs. I could see they were feeling the affects and that adds to the realism of the whole film. Note even the lovely Sylvia Syms as the seemingly unshakable nurse Sister Diana Murdoch, didn't avoid having to look hot, sweaty and bothered like her male co-stars, unlike some Hollywood actresses of that time who I will not even mention. That and the ambulance must have been an oven during the whole shoot.! A truly unique film and worth the whole gripping two hours.
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