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A Timeless Hollywood Classic !
jpdoherty1 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The films of writer, producer director Billy Wilder are regarded as some of the finest works of cinematic art in the history of motion pictures. Wilder, who with a handful of film pioneers such as John Ford, Howard Hawks, Anthony Mann, John Houston and Henry Hathaway et al forged and created a unique style in the production of films that today are looked upon as enduring, inspired and unsurpassed classics. In the case of Wilder such dramatic and sublime fare as "Double Indemnity" (1944), "Ace In the Hole" (1951) and Hollywood's greatest film about itself "Sunset Boulevard" (1950). Plus his comedies like "The Apartment" (1960) and "Some Like It Hot" (1959) - regarded by many to be the funniest film ever made - can never, let's face it, be equalled. There is a timelessness and ageless quality about them that reaches out to anyone who watches them regardless of their generation. Contemporory film maker Cameron Crowe observed "Wilder's work is a treasure trove of flesh and blood individuals, all wonderfully alive".

It is hard to believe that one of Wilder's earliest Hollywood efforts FIVE GRAVES TO CAIRO was made in 1943. It seems to be a much later film in look, approach and concept. Yet this quite intriguing spy drama was the result of the day's headlines being utilized by Wilder for the movie's scenario. Based on Lajos Biro's play "Hotel Imperial" it was superbly written by Charles Brackett and Wilder and sharply photographed in monochrome by John Seitz. It was produced by Brackett for Paramount Pictures and was masterfully directed by Wilder.

Franchot Tone is British tank Corporal John Bramble who stumbles into a Sahara oasis hotel after crawling through the desert during the North African campaign in 1942. The Germans also arrive at virtually the same time headed by none other than the infamous German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel (Erich Von Stroheim). Rommel and his command take up residence in the hotel run by nervous local Arab Farid (Akim Tamiroff) and an attractive Alsatian maid Mouche (Anne Baxter). To conceal his identity Bramble pretends to be the hotel waiter and as such tries to find out from the formidable quest exactly where on the map the German arms dumps are located. With help from Farid and the maid and gaining Rommel's confidence he eventually acquires the information but not before Mouche sacrifices herself so that Bramble can leave and get back to the British lines.

Performances are uniformly excellent! Tone gives an engaging portrayal of a reluctant spy. Anne Baxter has rarely been better than here in the role of the ill-fated Mouche and the amusing Akim Tamiroff as the ever fearful and stammering Farid is as appealing as ever. But the picture belongs to Von Stroheim! His striking performance just steals the show. Although the actor didn't resemble Rommel in the slightest his embodiment of the character is exactly what you would imagine the great German battlefield strategist should have, perhaps, looked like. Rommel himself died in 1944. It is interesting to ponder if he ever saw the picture and what his thoughts on Von Stroheim's flamboyant portrayal of himself might have been.

Complimenting the picture throughout is the terrific score by Miklos Rozsa. Rozsa was one of Wilder's favourite composers and wrote the music for some of the director's best films like "Double Indemnity" (1944), "Lost Weekend" (1945) and "The Private Lives Of Sherlock Holmes" (1970). For FIVE GRAVES TO CAIRO he wrote a spirited and heroic march to point up the British forces movements and a reflective and ravishing character theme for the maid Mouche which is given lovely renditions on solo violin.

FIVE GRAVES TO CAIRO is a superb and suspenseful spy thriller set in an atmospheric war background. And thanks to the great Billy Wilder it's a great movie that simply refuses to age in its appeal.

Classic moment from FIVE GRAVES TO CAIRO:

Rommel, sitting up in bed as Mouche (Anne Baxter) enters with his breakfast, "I don't like women in the morning" he declares and when she pours his coffee and with a gesture of the back of his hand he instructs her to "take two steps back please".
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If Erich Von Stroheim didn't exist Hollywood would have had to invent him
bkoganbing10 August 2004
This 1943 World War II film is Billy Wilder's second directorial effort and it's a pretty good outing. According to a recent biography of Wilder, Cary Grant was offered the lead and turned it down, saying he didn't feel like going on location in the desert near Yuma, Arizona in August. The part then fell to Franchot Tone who gave a good account of himself as did Anne Baxter and Akim Tamiroff.

The film though really revolves around Von Stroheim and his portrayal of Erwin Rommel. In 1943 all that was known of Rommel was his military prowess in the desert. After the war we learned about his part in the plot to assassinate Hitler and the real story of his death. That's all covered in The Desert Fox and in James Mason's outstanding portrayal there.

What we get here is a portrayal of a cold, merciless, military machine Hun and no one did that better than Erich Von Stroheim. You watch this as did so many in the theaters in 1943 after the North African campaign was over and he became the man you love to hate.

Because of what later came out about Rommel this film became immediately dated. Yet it's still a curiosity and worth a look.
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Billy Wilder Looks At Erwin Rommel
theowinthrop25 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
In 1941, in the middle of a long list of bad news items from North Africa, Prime Minister Winston Churchill did something very unusual for wartime. In addressing the House of Commons , Churchill admitted that the British were facing an enemy led by a brilliant general. It was the first time in modern history that an enemy leader gave a wave of approval (in it's way) to an enemy commander. That leader was, of course, Erwin Rommel, the Nazi German commander of the fabled Afrika Corps.

Churchill's note of admiration was one more element in the creation of the legend of "the Desert Fox" who defeated one British Army after another, until defeated finally at El Alamein by a plan created by General Auchenleck, but carried out by his replacement General Bernard Montgomery. Actually El Alamein simply stopped Rommel's drive to the Suez Canal - he and his men remained a viable opponent to the Allies in North Africa for another year, even winning a humiliating defeat of American forces at Kasserine Pass in 1943. Then Hitler ordered Rommel back to Europe, and his replacement, lacking Rommel's genius, was finally defeated. Rommel, sent to stiffen the "Western Wall" in France from invasion, eventually got involved in the 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler, and would be forced to commit suicide or find his family endangered by a vengeful Fuhrer. By the actions of 1944 Rommel, the best known German military genius the Second World War produced, gained a posthumous place as an eleventh hour member of the Allies.

Rommel would, of course, be the first Axis figure to be honored by a film biography from Hollywood - THE DESERT FOX starring James Mason. But in 1943 he represent Prussian militarism. So, when Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett made FIVE GRAVES TO CAIRO, they did not water down the nastiness of Rommel. Eric Von Stroheim, former silent film director, and now widely respected character actor, was chosen to play Rommel, and the character fit the brutal caricature (with some light touches fortunately) that Von Stroheim had developed a quarter century earlier when he played German soldiers in World War I films, or when he played the commandant of the prison camp, in Jean Renoir's LE GRAND ILLUSION.

The plot begins when a British tank appears that has just been in battle with the Germans. It's crew is dead, but for one man - Franchot Tone. Tone manages to stumble into a desert hotel that is run by Akim Tamiroff, where there are two members of the staff. One is Anne Baxter, a French girl, and the other is a male servant who is not around. Subsequently Tone finds that the male servant has been killed in a bombing of one of the hotel's supply buildings. He assumes the identity of the dead man. Tamiroff is doubtful about this act of duplicity, but remains silent out of a sense of pity for Tone's safety. Baxter is more openly hostile - she has lost family to Allied bombings in France, and has been reduced to working in this backwater. But she keeps a watchful quiet on the scene - leaving Tone wondering if she will betray her or not. As she soon is taking up with German Lieutenant Peter Van Eyck Tone's his concerns for her increase.

He realizes as the number of German troops coming grows that there is something big here. Soon he learns that Rommel is coming to the hotel for a brief rest before resuming his stunning sweep across North Africa. We see Rommel arrive, but do not hear anything until later - when we see Rommel dictating a letter to High Command in Germany. He is standing like a colossus with his back to us, playing with a swagger stick. He ends the letter comparing the speed of his advance through the desert with the forty years in the desert of Moses.

When Von Stroheim learns that Tone is in the hotel, he starts talking somewhat archly to him. Tone realizes that the servant was actually a gifted German spy. He keeps up the pretense to see what Von Stroheim might tell him. It's all centers on what the German calls, "the Five Graves to Cairo", and Tone tries to figure out what it all means.

I won't go into the rest of the story, but Wilder does very nicely with it. His Rommel is not the future ally that Mason created in the 1950s, but the cold, ruthless, brilliant enemy. He is a little arrogant , giving a military lecture to captured British officers (led by Miles Mander), but also capable of regretting the loss of promising German officers.

Wilder stressed that not all of the enemy were bad. Fortunio Bonanova plays an Italian general who is a liaison to Rommel's army - and is extremely friendly and likable. Actually he is totally ignored and despised by the Germans, who had sent the Afrika Corps to North Africa in 1941 after Italy was smashed by General Archibald Wavell's men in Libya. Bonanova's appearance and personality resemble the then famous Italian Fascist Minister of Aviation, General Italo Balbo, who had wanted Italy to remain friendly to the Allies or neutral (as opposed to the views of Mussolini).

For a film meant to beef up America's war effort and will to fight, even while looking somewhat awe-struck at a remarkable enemy figure, FIVE GRAVES TO CAIRO is a surprisingly sturdy film sixty three years later. I recommend catching it when it appears on television.
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Making the most of a propaganda vehicle
Art Kaye (kayester)19 May 1999
Can Billy Wilder do no wrong? Except for the last few minutes, which are strictly WWII propaganda, this film is the goods. Franchot Tone's tone is at once sardonic and dutiful, a combination that brings out the irony of the situation he finds himself in when he stumbles into a bombed out hotel in the middle of the desert. It is the height of the war in North Africa, the British have retreated into Egypt, the German/Italian army is on the move, and there is intrigue in the air. There are other excellent performances by Anne Baxter and Akim Tamiroff and a scene reminiscent of "La Grande illusion," where Field Marshal Rommel, played with swagger and arrogance by Erich von Stroheim, entertains several British POW officers. Wilder handles the material deftly, his timing never falters, as the mystery and the tension build. As for those last few minutes, well, this film came out at the height of the war, so I'll forgive the propaganda excesses.
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Ahead of its time
paul2001sw-12 March 2005
Billy Wilder was one of the best directors of his era, so it's no surprise that, in spite of a certain amount of wartime propaganda, 'Five Graves to Cairo' has a fizzy plot, a strain of black humour and a lightness of touch that sets it apart from the majority of films made at this time. It's also interesting as a film made while the war was still going on: far from demonising the enemy, it provides a generous portrait of Rommel, an unpleasant but human German army and a comedy Italian general for light relief. The plot also features a cynical Frenchwoman and a slightly racist realisation of an Egyptian: in some ways it's surprising to see how little this almost-fresh picture differs from those made later (if anything, since we discovered Auschwitz, it's been harder to make a film that shows that humanises the Nazis). 'Five Graves to Cairo' isn't Citizen Kane, and of course today this sort of thing would be done with much more violence, sex, and swearing: but that's a kind of recommendation in itself.
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Warlike adventure with thriller , suspense and historic events
ma-cortes9 May 2008
This picture was a popular hit in the time, concerning about historical deeds, as well as intrigue, action and comedy. In June 1942 things looked black indeed for British Eight Army. It was beaten, scattered and in flight Tobruck had fallen and the rats of desert were besieged . The victorious General Rommel(Erich Von Stroheim) and his Africa Korps were pounding the British back and back toward Cairo and the Suez Canal. On July first 1942, Rommel and his Afica Korps reached El Alamein, as far east as they ever got. The film is set on an Arab Hotel called Hotel Imperial, where its proprietary Farid(Akim Tamiroff) accords to let a British soldier named Bramble(Franchot Tone) assume the identity of a deceased barman. There finds a French chambermaid named Moush(Anne Baxter) whose interest is in obtaining her brother out of a Nazi POW camp . Then, she asks to German lieutenant(Peter Van Eich) to win her brother's release. But the dead waiter results to have been a German spy , so Bramble tries to know where the Nazi supply depots have been stashed. Later Bramble is assigned one mission in Cairo, and on September seventh 1942, a new made Lieutenant bought a parasol at a little shop in Cairo. On October twenty fourth to the skirt of a bagpipe General Montgomery's Eight Army launched its counter offensive .

The film displays suspense, intrigue, action as well as lots of humor and wartime feats. Excellent performances, special mention Erich Von Stroheim as one of his prestigious roles as Nazi general and Fortunio Bonanova as an Italian singer official. Interesting script by Charles Brackett; Billy Wilder also collaborated on the screenplay and is based on the play 'Hotel Imperial' by Lajos Biro. In 1938, started the famed friendship between Charles Brackett and Austrian born Billy Wilder, following his initial hit there the former year with very funny 'The major and the minor' and prospered on such movies as 'Hold back the dawn, Ball of fire and Ninotchka', before they became a director-writer-producer tandem with Billy Wilder doing the film-making . The movie packs an evocative cinematography in black and white by magnificent cameraman John B. Seitz. Atmospheric musical and appropriate musical score by the master Miklos Rozsa. This highly successful motion picture is perfectly directed by the classic Billy Wilder. Rating : Better than average, well worth watching.
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Amazing this film is so neglected in the U.S.
metalunar12 June 2007
I'm lucky to live very close to a wonderful video store which has an incredible stock of VHS films. I read a description of the film here at the data base and put it on my list. It blew me away from the very first moment. Sadly , I've been unable to show it to many people since it seems to exist on DVD only in a PAL version although it has made its way to Divx recently . I can only compare it to Casablanca and The Desert Fox in terms of plot and the quality of the writing and acting. It was a pleasure to watch this actor Tone who was a complete novelty for me walk the tightrope that this story truly is. His history seems to suggest he lived life as he wanted to without much regard for fame .For once I'm glad not to see Cary Grant in a film (I never thought I would say that!).
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offbeat war flick
didi-513 May 2002
Not your usual action battle movie, but a thoughtful, well-cast and well-written piece of propaganda. Worth watching for a multitude of reasons - the opening shots of the desert, the end sequences of pure war-worship, Anne Baxter's well-drawn and bitter maid, Stroheim's compelling and scene stealing portrayal of Rommel, the comic Italian general (I think this works as a bit of light relief despite being just that little bit xenophobic). Keeps the interest. Excellent.
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A fine war film
Brian Ellis6 September 2001
I really enjoy WWII films made during the war because the movies always end with the future unknown except that the Allies will keep fighting to save the world. In "Five Graves to Cairo", there is that spirit but Billy Wilder also showed the cost of the fight. The film also shares with "Beau Geste" the most eerie of beginnings. The only sore spot is that I think the ending should have been left unknown, to me that is more like war. Just memories. Other than that one the best WWII movies ever made.
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Among the Best WW II Films
rkbing9 May 2001
As a teen, during WW II, I saw nearly every war film released. This one is in the top 5. The fact that most of the story was in one locale allowed the various characters to expand. The plot twists were fascinating and the "5 graves" idea was quite believable. I was particularly swept away by Ann Baxter and Peter van Eyck. From that point on I followed her career up to her death. I would have given anything to look like Peter an Eyck. Too bad they nearly always made him the heavy in his movies. I think he had a lot of sex appeal and would have made a terrific love interest in certain films.
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Excellent WWII adventure from Billy Wilder, exciting, literate and clever
Terrell-415 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This WWII movie is an unexpected delight, although coming from Billy Wilder the unexpected should be expected. The action in Five Graves to Cairo takes place in a flea-bitten, mud- brick hotel on the edge of the North African desert. It's 1942 and Tobruk has fallen. Rommel and the Afrika Corps are driving toward Cairo and the only thing that can stop them is a lack of supplies. The English are worried. The Egyptians are testing the wind. And Rommel seems to be supremely confident. "We shall take that big cigar from Churchill's mouth and make him say 'Heil'!" he says with a smirk. He has reason to be confident. "It's not the supplies which reach us," he says. "It's us who reach the supplies...thousands and thousands of gallons of petrol..." and water, ammunition and food. The only things that can stop him is a British tank corporal, John Bramble (Franchot Tone), the fearful Egyptian owner of the hotel, Farid (Akim Tamiroff), and the angry, resentful hotel maid, Mouche (Anne Baxter).

Bramble stumbled into the hotel after a tank battle that left the rest of his crew dead. Farid took him in reluctantly. Hours later Rommel and his army roared up and took over the hotel. Bramble had to disguise himself as Davos, the club-footed waiter who had been killed in an air-raid and whose body lies buried in the hotel's basement. Rommel (Erich von Stroheim) arrives, imperious and dynamic, and suddenly greets Davos by name. It seems Davos had been a German agent. John Bramble now has to play a very careful game for his life...especially when Rommel brags about the work of a German archaeologist, Professor Cronstettler, who in the late Thirties supervised a number of digs...five to be exact...along the North African coast between Tobruk and Alexandria. Rommel shows Davos his map of Egypt. Could it be, Bramble suddenly realizes, that where the five letters...E, G, Y, P, T...are placed might also be the locations of...? Bramble must escape to Cairo. His information could prove the tipping point in Montgomery's plan to defeat Rommel. And Rommel, believing Davos is a German agent, decides to send Davos to Cairo to prepare the way for Rommel's triumphant entrance to the city. He wants no bombs thrown at him hidden in bouquets, he says. He'll require a Luke-warm bath in the imperial suite. Oh, yes, and a command performance of Aida "in German...omitting the second act, which is too long and not too good." And then an ambitious German lieutenant discovers the real Davos' body in the basement. Now, Bramble must leave before he is discovered. Farid must think of some plausible excuses. And Mouche must deliberately become a distraction.

What is Mouche's role? Is there a romance? Not exactly. When the German's arrive she wants to turn Bramble in. Just give me five seconds before you do, he asks her, "five seconds before you call the Germans. Just five seconds." "What do you want to tell me about," she asks cynically, "blood, sweat and tears?" Instead, he scribbles something on a piece of paper and hands it to her. "This is the address of my wife in London," he says. He wishes he had something to give his wife and his son. Mouche looks closely at him, then does not turn him in. Mouche, however, has a younger brother in a German concentration camp. She's prepared to do almost anything to save him. When it turns out to be too late, she proves to be braver than almost anyone else.

Five Graves to Cairo is a literate, amusing and exciting war adventure. It works in part because of the clever script by Wilder and his partner, Charles Brackett. It also works because of the performances of Franchot Tone and Erich von Stroheim. Tone was a fine actor, undone by time and a messy personal life. He might not have been anyone's first choice as an action hero, but in this movie we need a hero who is as clever as he is brave, who is believable in being able to out-fox Rommel and resourceful enough to get away with it. That he and Anne Baxter as Mouche do not fall into each others arms only adds to the sophistication of the film. von Stroheim dominates every scene he's in, except when he comes up against Tone's underplaying. As Rommel, von Stroheim sports a shaved head, a horse-hair fly whisk and an ostentatious German officer's hat. He's charming and he's imperious; he's calculating and he's cynical. When Mouche pleads with him to intercede for her brother, he simply stares at her and says, "This is a familiar scene, reminiscent of bad melodrama."

Billy Wilder delivers an unconventional war movie which remains entertaining and moving.
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A nice propaganda movie
Christophe Chohin3 January 2002
Shot in 1943, this movie gives you what you deserve : some sort of propaganda. But at that time, how many movies could afford to be so unrespectful ? Even if the allies are good and the axis forces evil, they are not depicted as a cliché. For example, Rommel, who was certainly the only "healthy" German general, is full of spirit, always has a good word and is well educated. Erich von Stroheim gives a nice shape to this character. In the meantime, Mouche, the little French maid, is tortured between Pétain and the image of allies. She remembers that "French soldiers were left behind by English ones in Dunkerque and captured or killed". What a stupifying sentence in 1943. But Billy Wilder is cunny enough to say what he had to say owing to his humour. And the screenplay is so clever that for anybody interested in the period (and even if you're not), this movie is worth seeing.

"We shall take that big fat cigar out of Mr. Churchill's mouth and make him say Heil." Erwin Rommel in Five graves to Cairo !
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an excellent movie,with excellent actors
pwf225 August 1999
a good picture of war time,without much blood and guts.i saw this movie when it was released in 1943,and have seen it on amc this past january.all of the characters in the picture were class actors.franchot tone was my favorite actor.
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"Our complaints are brief. We make them against the nearest wall".
classicsoncall20 June 2016
Warning: Spoilers
It's remarkable how interesting a war time espionage film can be, while at the same time requiring major suspension of disbelief throughout the story for various reasons. The major one here for me related to the character of actor Franchot Tone impersonating a German undercover spy. Throughout the entire film, not one German officer or soldier thought it appropriate to address him in the mother tongue. There were plenty of opportunities, as German was used sporadically in the story at various times. At least in the interest of being cautious with captured British officers around, one would think Field Marshal Rommel (Erich von Stroheim) or Lieutenant Schwengler (Peter van Eyck) might have addressed Bramble/Davos in German, especially in the early going when all the characters at the Hotel Empress would have come under suspicion.

Which brings me to my next point. You probably wouldn't need to know a thing about General Rommel to question why he would speak freely of German military strategy in the presence of English officers. I don't think so. As for the casting of Erich von Stroheim as Rommel, there was no physical resemblance to speak of. My idea for the role would have been someone like Conrad Veidt who portrayed Major Strasser in the Bogart film "Casablanca". Although with the timing of this picture, shooting schedules might have overlapped between the two.

One more thing before I'm through. I thought the gimmick with the map and the letters spelling out 'EGYPT' was a fairly clever plot element, but there again, a bit of thought brings a big question mark. Given that any of the letters on the map might have represented an area covering hundreds of square miles, the resolution for the Allies wouldn't have been as precise as the story suggests. Even given a general area in which to unearth the hidden military supplies, a fair amount of time would have been needed to discover a weapons cache.

Still, even with all the perceived glitches in the story, I fond the story intriguing enough to hold my attention. All the principals did a good job, and I particularly liked the character of Farid (Akim Tamiroff), who was downright hilarious at times under stressful circumstances. I was also moved by Bramble's response to the Alsatian maid Mouche (Anne Baxter), who had an overbearing concern for her younger brother who was a prisoner of the Nazis. It appeared Bramble made his point when he stated - "It's not one brother that matters. It's a million brothers".
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Alex da Silva7 May 2016
It's WW2 and British corporal Franchot Tone (Bramble) is unconscious inside a runaway tank somewhere in the Sahara. He stumbles across a bombed hotel where he is met by the owner Akim Tamiroff (Farid) and the chambermaid Anne Baxter (Mouche). Minutes later, German troops arrive under the leadership of Peter van Eyck (Lt. Schwegler) who takes over the hotel to accommodate his troops and a special guest yet to arrive – none other than the main man Erich von Stroheim (Field Marshal Rommel). Tone is in trouble at this point – what to do? Anne Baxter doesn't particularly like him and threatens to betray him to the new guests. He has to do something bold.

I enjoyed this film. It has a different setting to most war films and it doesn't involve any battles apart from the flag-waving nonsense at the end, which, unfortunately, knocks a point off this film as it goes on for too long. The actors do well, especially von Stroheim and Baxter, although her name in this film isn't very complimentary! Both these actors give their characters a depth that brings them to life. The comedy characters of Tamiroff and Italian General Fortunio Bonanova are OK for what they need to do although Tamiroff can be slightly annoying and Fortunio Bonanova is as unrealistic as his name. It doesn't matter too much as we get a film that keeps the viewer watching with tense scenes and an interesting storyline that ends on an emotional note.
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Whatta Pedigree! Whatta film!
A_Different_Drummer27 November 2013
Warning: Spoilers
You need to remember that for a certain period almost every film out of Hollywood was either about the war or about something that took place with the war as a backdrop. In that context, this film -- directed by Billy Wilder, who would become a legend in later years -- is one of the best of the genre. It is not merely about the war in North Africa, it is not merely about what it is like having to fight against the Nazi machine, it is not merely about being a spy for the "good guys", there is a secondary plot arc about maps and secret caches of materiel which I prefer not to give away. Of the many films of this type done in this period, one of best. Entertaining, and a little piece of history, to boot.
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Billy Wilder shows them Nazies
Petri Pelkonen16 March 2008
Franchot Tone plays a British tank commander, corporal John Bramble who survives Erwin Rommel's (Erich von Stroheim) Afrika Korps in the North African desert.He walks into a small desert hotel.There he meets the hotel owner Farid (Akim Tamiroff) and Mouche (Anne Baxter).Bramble takes the identity of the former hotel worker and now deceased Davos after the Germans take over the hotel.Billy Wilder's wartime thriller Five Graves to Cairo (1943) is a really fine movie.This movie has many intense moments.I could mention the fighting scene between two men in a dark room with only the flashlight bringing some light.Franchot Tone is perfect in the lead.He does at least as good job as Wilder's first choice Cary Grant would have done.Anne Baxter was a woman blessed both with good looks and talent.Akim Tamiroff as the nervous Farid is great.Erich von Stroheim, the great director and the great actor does a real good performance as Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.Billy Wilder was a fantastic director.They're showing his movies on Sundays here in Finland right now.This one is a real good movie from his production.All you Wilder fans out there- don't miss it.
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Deceptive Billy Wilder's War Propaganda
Claudio Carvalho5 July 2010
In June 1942, the 8th British Army Corporal John J. Bramble (Franchot Tone) is retreating from Rommel's Afrika Korps and has sunstroke, reaching a remote hotel in Sidi Halfaya. He is helped by the Egyptian owner, Farid (Akim Tamiroff), under the protest of the French chambermaid Mouche (Anne Baxter) that is afraid with the imminent arrival of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (Erich von Stroheim) and the Germans that are heading to Alexandria and Cairo. John assumes the identity of the deceased Alsatian lame waiter Paul Davos that has clubfoot to survive, but he discovers that Davos is a German spy. Further, he needs to disclose the secret about Professor Cronstraetter and the five graves mentioned by Rommel to Lieutenant Schwegler (Peter Van Eyck) that can change the fate of the British Army in Egypt.

Billy Wilder is among my top four directors of all times, but "Five Graves to Cairo" is a deceptive war propaganda of this great master. This film could have been a great war movie, but the problem is that it presents Field Marshal Erwin Rommel as a stupid commander instead of one of the greatest and most respected military leaders of history. Further, a single British Corporal is smarter than German officers and together with an Egyptian owner of an isolated hotel and a chambermaid, they are capable to lure the German troops. But maybe the most ridiculous is the language spoken by people of different nationalities in this movie. The Alsatian Davos is performed by an American actor in the role of a British Corporal that speaks in English with the German officers. The American actress Anne Baxter performs the role of a French woman and speaks in English with the other characters. And Rommel switches from English to German like a clown. My vote is four.

Title (Brazil): "Cinco Covas no Egito" ("Five Graves in Egypt")
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much over-praised
deschreiber27 July 2011
I watched this film after reading several positive reviews of it. My expectations were raised, but watching it was a big disappointment. As an average little suspense story, it is OK, not particularly thrilling and with a rather simple storyline.

Why do some people praise Franchot Tone for his acting? Balderdash! This "Englishman" doesn't even have an English accent. But apart from that, he only manages to get the job done in a sort of uninspired way (Imagine what Bogart could have done with the role!). His portrayal of a meek, cringing, club-footed waiter is so unconvincing as to be almost laughable.

The Turner Classic Movies Network showed this movie as an example of a portrayal of Arabs in a positive light. Gasp! I can't believe somebody down there at TCM considers the character Fareed as a positive image. He's all cowardice, hand-wringing, forever flustered and running in circles, begging not to be hurt, in sharp contrast to the brave Englishman, the tough French woman and the strutting Germans. He borders on being a comic character, certainly a minor one who merely adds local colour and shows how superior the Europeans are. The only thing positive about his image is that he is working against the Germans, although he's pretty much forced into that position after the single act of hiding the Englishman behind the bar when the Germans arrive; afterwards he keeps begging the Englishman to go away and muttering to himself in a trembling voice about being shot against the nearest wall. The TCM presenter thought the Englishman's comment, "You're a great man, Fareed," was a great moment in American cinema, but in fact Fareed had done nothing wonderful at all, simply having opened a drawer and happening to notice that its newspaper lining had a familiar name on it. The Englishman called him great just out of his own excitement, meaning nothing whatsoever about the character of Fareed. It was a complete non-moment.

Most reviewers admit that, being made in 1943, it has propaganda elements. But the truth is that it's much worse than that, dealing in the barest stereotypes, so bad as to be cartoonish. An Italian general can't stop singing opera arias and shrinks like a sullen, scolded child when the Germans put him in his place for stepping out of line. The French chambermaid is pretty and offering to trade sex for favours (was that supposed to be a French accent Anne Baxter was speaking with?). The Germans are arrogant and dominating. The English officers are easy-going and likable. The Arab is timorous and cowardly.
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Memorable 'War" Movie
B-2589 August 1999
This film has one of the most arresting opening sequences ever made. A WW II tank seems to be aimlessly wandering across the desert. In fact, the crew is all dead but the accelerator is stuck. With a top-notch cast Billy Wilder spins a tale that takes off from that point. The German general (von Stroheim in one of his most telling roles) has been there before - as an archaeologist preparing for the desert campaign long before the war had begun. The notion that archaeologists make good spies (or, in this case, generals) seems to be a common misconception.
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Ridiculous and irritating propaganda work
dusan-2224 April 2010
It seems that Frank Capra was too busy when this movie was made back in 1943 otherwise this could have been a nice propaganda movie. Of course, goal of such films was to recruit American soldiers and give them motives to fight on other continents which had not been the American practice until that time. Capra was a grandmaster making gems as "Why we fight" serial of propaganda movies (from where Goebbels could learn a lesson) and everything else made during that time was mostly a second class support but apparently very welcomed. This movie is one of these, among the worst I have seen. First of all, General Rommel is presented as a clown in this movie. Man who played with whole ally armies with outnumbered German army, outdated tanks (among them Italian tanks as well) and no logistics. One of the greatest generals in history of world wars is presented as a thug and moron. Person who made ally army commanders look ridiculous was outwitted by a British corporal. Well, do you need to hear anything else? OK. Highly decorated German officer and war hero is a haughty Lovelace and sneaky hoodlum who takes advantage of a woman in greatest pain. List of stupidity never ends in this semi-retarded American propaganda movie whose roots of banality are visible in today movies of that kind made in Hollywood.
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Straining Credulity
jjbourget26 September 2006
Got to see FIVE GRAVES TO CAIRO recently; saw it last about 20 years ago. The same thing that I'd forgotten bothered me then came back to bother me once more: I simply could not get past the fact that Franchot Tone's accent was never taken into account by the German characters in the story. Of a sudden, Tone, a British Armoured sergeant (with a "suspect" British accent), adopts the identity of the spy Davos, with no noticeable change of accent. Nor does Wilder, the film's director, account for the nationality of Davos. Is Davos multilingual? Are we to assume he's addressing Rommel in German? English? French? This inexplicable glitch compromises the verisimilitude of the entire film and strains the viewer's credulity. As a result, I could not enjoy other elements of the film to the fullest, despite a charming performance by Akim Tamiroff. Furthermore, Von Stroheim is totally miscast as Rommel who, by all accounts, was a svelte, elegant, and heroic figure, not a vainglorious, pompous, and porcine caricature.
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Von Stroheim steals this flick
gnrz6 August 1999
What's not to like in this suspense filled WW II picture. Franchot Tone does some of his best work ever as an allied soldier who finds himself thrust into the position of being a spy. Fortunio Bonanova (my all-time favorite actors' name) plays a somewhat cowardly Italian officer. But, the real star of this show is Erich Von Stroheim who, as Field Marshall Rommel plays the part with his typical style of Prussian arrogance. He is at once both the perfect gentleman yet also an senior officer to be feared by all who surround him. This movie is great fun and I highly recommend it to one and all......
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"They let us die but they don't let us wash!"
utgard142 September 2016
Great WW2 film from Billy Wilder, a reworking of the silent film Hotel Imperial. The plot has British officer Franchot Tone, the sole survivor of a battle with the Nazis in which all of the men in his tank crew were killed, wandering into a hotel in the North African desert. He's delirious and rambling but the hotel owner (Akim Tamiroff) and a French maid (Anne Baxter) take care of him. Soon the Nazis arrive, led by Erwin Rommel (a commanding performance from Erich von Stroheim), and Tone takes the place of a German spy working at the hotel who was killed the night before. It's not typical Wilder perhaps but it is interesting with a lot to recommend about it. The great cast, mature script, and touches of dark humor go a long way to help it rise above the average wartime actioner. I actually like many of those movies so no offense is meant towards them. This is definitely worth a look, even if you don't typically enjoy war movies.
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Von Stroheim and the real Rommel
howardeisman1 February 2010
Little was know about the real Rommel when this movie was made. Von Stroheim played him as a Prussian arrogant aristocrat, imperious, self aggrandizing, and over confident. This was quite different from the James Mason character, Rommel, in the 1950s, a thoughtful considerate military genius who tried to kill Hitler. Well, surprise, the Von Stroheim character was closer to historical truth. The real Rommel was a Nazi who made his way up in the military by brown nosing Hitler. He was arrogant, overconfident, and disliked by his subordinates (and he wasn't in the plot to kill Hitler). He certainly was a superior general, but no genius. He lost in North Africa and he abandoned his troops when they faced heavy losses. Closer to Von Stroheim than Mason, for sure.

This movie is mainly about how this arrogant man who thinks he is a teutonic Napoleon gets his comeuppance from lowly people. As such it is very good. The cast is very superior. I especially liked the easy-to-hate Von Stroheim, Fortunio Bonanova, and Peter van Eyck. Van Eyck played a Nazi officer in so many later movies, that I was surprised to see him in an American film made during the war. Wow! he was really on our side.
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