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USA 1951
Directed by
Henry Hathaway
88 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel

In the vast catalogue of WWII movies you’d be hard pressed to find a Nazi hero but here he is, a mere six years after the end of the war, in the form of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel who is played by the irresistibly handsome James Mason. Of course the heroization is not for Rommel's work as one of Hitler’s most successful warlords  but is rather for his eventual decision to take part in a plot to remove “the Bohemian corporal” as he is referred to many times in this film,a plot which failed and cost Rommel his life by suicide.  

Given the extensive Allied use of fictional and documentary film both during and after the war to demonize the Nazis, The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel is indeed a strange film.  That Rommel turned against Hitler when it was manifestly obvious post-Stalingrad that the Germans were going to lose the war is not made an issue of whilst his campaign record is unexamined, leaving the film to concentrate on his growing disaffection for the Fuhrer. Symptomatically, the entire cast which besides Mason includes Cedric Hardwicke,  Leo G .Carroll and Jessica Tandy (along with a young Richard Boone!) speak BBC English with not the remotest attempt by anyone to approximate some kind of German accent.  

Based on a biography by Brigadier Desmond Young who appears in the film and narrates, the film rather bizarrely appropriates Rommel ‘s legend  and turns him into an upper-class gentleman, noble leader of his troops, loving family man and martyr to the Allied cause (which earned him public praise from Winston Churchill)  in contrast Hitler (Luther Adler) is represented as a screeching madman guided by occult delusions.

Scripted and produced by Nunnally Johnson who transmogrifies the Rommel "story” into an old school adventure yarn, it's not quite The Producers (1967) but at least from this temporal distance, and especially for Mason fans it is, rather ironically, a quite enjoyable film.




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