Five Graves to Cairo (1943)
“Did a Woman Start the Rout of Rommel?”
Director: Billy Wilder
Cast: Franchot Tone, Anne Baxter, Akim Tamiroff
Synopsis: During World War 2, an undercover British soldier tries get word to the Allies that the Germans have tons of supplies buried in 5 excavations across Egypt.
Probably one of the best US propaganda movies made during the war, Five Graves to Cario boasts director Billy Wilder’s superlative talents in every scene, from the eerily effective opening sequence (a tank manned by the dead rumbles aimlessly through the desert, the sole survivor talks to imaginary people in the foyer of the Empress of Britain hotel but cannot see the real people there) to even the final chest-beating postscript, tacked on to ram home the obligatory propaganda message.
Five Graves to Cairo is a compelling movie that grabs the attention from that opening scene and never lets go. The tightly plotted screenplay is packed with often cynical dialogue, and is complemented by spot-on performances by most of the cast (only Akim Tamiroff — Anastasia, Touch of Evil — as the hotel owner is, perhaps, a little too overwrought). Erich von Stroheim (Greed, Sunset Blvd.) gives an outstanding performance as Field-Marshal Rommel which, while it probably isn’t very accurate, is a joy to watch. In fact, Stroheim dominates whenever he is on screen. While some of the depictions of the various nationalities involved are somewhat stereotypical (the Italian general played by Fortunio Bonanova (Double Indemnity, Bad Men of Tombstone) is an opera-singing coward, and all the Germans are arrogant, although, it has to be said, are never portrayed as downright evil), this fortunately never diminishes the quality of the storytelling. Perhaps the only real fault in this movie is the occasional use of humour which is very hit-and-miss, and not really necessary.
(Reviewed 11th May 2002)