The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel (1951)


(director: Henry Hathaway; screenwriters: Nunnally Johnson/from the biography by Desmond Young; cinematographer: Norbert Brodine; editor: James B. Clark; music: Daniele Amfitheatrof; cast: James Mason (Field Marshal Erwin Johannes Rommel), Cedric Hardwicke (Dr. Karl Strolin), Jessica Tandy (Frau Lucie Marie Rommel), Luther Adler (Adolf Hitler), Everett Sloane (Gen. Wilhelm Burgdorf), Leo G. Carroll (Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt), George Macready (Gen. Fritz Bayerlein), Richard Boone (Capt. Hermann Aldinger), Eduard Franz (Col. Klaus von Stauffenberg), William Reynolds (Manfred Rommel), Michael Rennie (Narrator); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Nunnally Johnson; Twentieth Century-Fox; 1951)

It’s sympathetic of the legendary Nazi general to the point it makes him an heroic figure.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Henry Hathaway (“Raid on Rommel”/”Call Northside 777″/”The House on 92nd Street“) directs this controversial biopic on German general Erwin Rommel (James Mason). It’s based on the biography of Desmond Young, with the screenplay by Nunnally Johnson. It’s sympathetic of the legendary Nazi general to the point it makes him an heroic figure, who has a loving family (wife-Jesica Tandy, son-William Reynolds), and rather than voicing the Nazi line takes a cerebral attitude as a professional soldier toward war strategy. Hathaway shoots it in an episodic manner, concentrating on Rommel’s early 1940’s North Africa campaign (where he reigned supreme in the desert until British General Montgomery launched an attack that smashed the German army at El Alamein in 1942 and instead of following Hitler’s (Luther Adler) command to fight to the bitter end, he retreats to return to Berlin and recover from an illness). It leads to the dignified general’s eventual realization that Hitler was an incompetent madman who had to be stopped before he completely ruined Germany. This draws Rommel into the July plans of Col. Von Stauffenberg (Eduard Franz) and his abortive Operation Valkyrie plot. Near the war’s end, the bomb planted to eliminate the Fuhrer at a meeting with his staff fizzles. Rommel chooses to commit suicide by poison under the Nazi watch rather than face a public trial and place his family in danger.

It includes impressive real-life war footage.

My problem with this controversial take on Rommel is that it whitewashes all the Nazi leaders, including Rommel, who at such a late-date during the war, when they knew it was lost, finally got up enough courage to act. In fact many of these plotters until that point of the war were considered to be war criminals. As far as the film goes, the performances were excellent and the production values top-notch. But it still did nothing to warm my heart for Rommel. If that was indeed its intention, then it didn’t completely work for me as I find it absurd to even think of Rommel for even a second as a hero.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”