Five Graves to Cairo (1943)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBB.5.  

USA, 1943.  .  Screenplay by Billy Wilder, , based on the play by . Cinematography by .  Produced by Charles Brackett.  Music by .  Production Design by , .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  Academy Awards 1943.

A British soldier (, employing very little Britishness) arrives at a remote Egyptian hotel, delirious from wandering the hot desert sun, and promptly passes out.  When he is conscious and his mind clears, he discovers that the building has been taken over by the “Desert Fox” Field Marshall Rommel () and his soldiers; thinking quickly, Tone barely manages to avoid being detected before he gets into the uniform of a waiter who died in a bombing.  He uses his position as an opportunity to discover the secret location of five cargo holds of supplies for the German army (the five graves of the title) while also dealing with a persistently paranoid hotel manager () and a beautiful chambermaid () who hates the British for what her brother suffered in the French army.  This was the second film directed by Billy Wilder in Hollywood and he already shows a smooth command of performance, photography and dialogue; if for no other reason the film is worth watching to see what a natural the man was at the job from the very beginning.  The plotting is a bit too stagebound, it’s a spy film that barely goes beyond a few rooms for much of its running time, but the characters attach themselves to you easily and von Stroheim brings more than just the usual harsh accent and commanding manner that actors generally give to portrayals of Nazi menace.  The ending is surprisingly moving (this was made, after all, before we knew we were going to win the war) and the whole thing looks exotic and beautiful.

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