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The Desert Fox/1951

The Desert Fox, a biopic of Field Marshal Irwin Rommel starring James Mason, can rightfully claim to be the most groundbreaking war film of all as it lauds a German soldier but 6 years after VE Day.

James Mason, ironically a conscientious objector, gives a fine performance as Rommel, Leo G. Carroll of The Man from UNCLE fame plays Supreme Commander Jodl – neither with German accents – and even Adolf Hitler makes an appearance.

With his daring raids in the ding-dong North African campaign with his Afrika Korps Rommel was one of the military stars of the Wehrmacht that built its awesome reputation in the early years of the war.

Our resident military historian Henry Elkins told me that the problem with the Basil Liddell Hart theory of fast-moving columns that subdued most of Western Europe by 1940 is that the army gets way ahead of the supply lines and lack of petrol above all proved a considerable problem.

Rommel met his match at El Alamein. Field Marshal Montgomery maximised his triumph after the war with the 8th Army annual reunions and his military tracts and discourses but although El Alamein was the first significant British victory it was the repelling of Operation Barbarossa by the Red Army that broke the Wehrmacht.

After Stalingrad – and the USA firmly in the war after Pearl Harbor – there was only going to be one victor and it was not Hitler. In fact, Henry continues, the Wehrmacht fought on relentlessly as for example Field Marshal Kesselring in organising the defence of Northern Italy. And the Nazis still continued the destruction of Jewish people notably in Hungary.

As a supreme strategist Rommel, now recalled from North Africa to mastermind the West Atlantic defences, realised it was hopeless and that the Nazis had to sue for the best peace terms possible.

This Hitler refused to do but by this time he was holed up in Berechtsgarten, as distant a figure as 5 years the French Army Commnder Marechal Weyganh had been in his Chateau in Tours with only one telephone.

Rommel did not take part in the Stauffenberg plot to assassinate Hitler but he was sympathetic and charged with treason, thus ending his military career.

The film draws a difference between Nazis and Germans and quoted Winston Churchill‘s tribute to Rommel.

It’s a fine film, groundbreaking at the time, which did James Mason’s film career no harm but one which has stood the test of time.

About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts