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FIVE GRAVES TO CAIRO (director/writer: Billy Wilder; screenwriters: Charles Brackett/based on the play Hotel Imperialby Lajos Biro; cinematographer: John F. Seitz; editor: Doane Harrison; music: Miklos Rozsa; cast: Franchot Tone (John J. Bramble), Anne Baxter (Mouche), Akim Tamiroff (Farid), Erich von Stroheim (Field Marshal Rommel), Peter Van Eyck (Lt. Schwegler), Fortunio Bonanova (Gen. Sebastiano), Konstantin Shayne (Maj. Von Buelow), Miles Mander (British Colonel), Ian Keith (British Captain), Philip Ahlm (2nd Soldier); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Charles Brackett; Paramount; 1943)
“Intelligently told, excellently acted and superbly photographed wartime espionage thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Billy Wilder (“Some Like It Hot”/”Double Indemnity”/”The Major and the Minor”) tautly directs his second American film and cowrites it with long-time associate Charles Brackett. It’s intelligently told, excellently acted and superbly photographed wartime espionage thriller. The writers adapt Lajos Biro’s play Hotel Imperial, which was filmed twice before in 1927 and 1939.

It’s the story of Corporal Bramble (Franchot Tone), the lone survivor of a British tank crew after Rommel’s Afrika Corps defeats the British Army in the Sahara. The corporal manages to find enough strength to walk across the desert to reach a crumbling hotel, the Empress of Britain Hotel, in the Libyan border town of Sidi Halfaya, that’s owned by the kind-hearted Egyptian Muslim, Farid (Akim Tamiroff). The only one else left in the deserted and destroyed town, that the Brits evacuated for Cairo, is a French maid Mouche (Anne Baxter). Despite the danger if caught, the timorous Farid overcomes his fear to hide the Brit as the Germans commandeer the hotel for lodging until they advance to Cairo. The guest of honor is General Rommel (Erich von Stroheim), who is pleased that he is defeating the British. The quick thinking Bramble assumes the identity of the hotel’s deceased club-footed waiter, Davoss, who was crushed during an air raid. Bramble is surprised to learn that Davoss was a high-ranking Nazi spy and thereby has access with Rommel. At first Bramble wishes to shoot Rommel and run, but decides to remain at the Empress to steal the crucial secret of the five supply depots the Germans have buried from Tobruk to Cairo — which gave them their edge in fighting the Brits, as it allowed them to refuel in the desert.

The three heroes are all regular people, who act bravely in unusually dark circumstances and are viewed as rising to greatness by their willingness to overcome their personal issues to sacrifice their life, if necessary, for the advancement of a cause that will save many other lives.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”