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SWORD IN THE DESERT (director/writer: George Sherman; screenwriter: Robert Buckner; cinematographer: Irving Glassberg; editor: Otto Ludwig; music: Frank Skinner; cast: Dana Andrews (Capt. Dillon), Jeff Chandler (Kurta), Stephen McNally (David Vogel), Marta Toren (Sabra), Philip Friend (Lt. Ellerton), Hugh French (Maj. Sorrell), Lowell Gilmore (Maj. Stephens), Liam Redmond (Jerry McCarthy), Stanley Logan (Col. Bruce Evans), Hayden Rorke (Capt. Beaumont); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert Buckner; TCM (Universal International); 1949-UK)
“A fine historical thriller about illegal Jewish immigrants smuggled into British-occupied Palestine in 1947 by the Jewish underground.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A rare film about the conflict between the Brits and the Jewish refugees after WWII, just before the birth of Israel. It’s the first film dealing with this struggle of Jews from all over the world seeking refuge in their homeland but denied entry by a quota the Palestine Arabs forced on the Brits. Shot in b/w, director George Sherman(“Against All Flags”/”Johnny Dark”/”War Arrow”) helms a fine historical thriller about illegal Jewish immigrants smuggled into British-occupied Palestine in 1947 by the Jewish underground. Writer Robert Buckner is relentless in making the Brits the sole bad guys and the idealistic Jewish underground the good guys, a reason the pic was banned in England for a long time. A great cast keeps the action and suspense going.

It opens with the cynical American freighter captain, Dillon (Dana Andrews), smuggling a ship full of Jewish refugees from Europe onto the seacoast of Palestine. The apolitical captain, doing it only for the money, is forced to go with underground field leader Vogel (Stephen McNally) to the beach to collect his $8,000. When the Brits locate the illegals on the beach, they will eventually imprison them after a chase through the desert and also the leader of the underground, Kurta (Jeff Chandler, his first film role), whom they have never seen before. The Brits bribe Dillon to point out Kurta and they will release him. On Christmas Eve, near Bethlehem, the underground raids the British prison camp and frees the refugees and their leader, and Dillon refuses to be a Judas.

Marta Toren plays the feisty underground radio broadcaster, who broadcasts anti-British propaganda. When not broadcasting, she’s McNally’s chaste lover. Liam Redmond robustly plays the Irish fighter for the Jewish cause.

The film can be criticized for its simplistic understanding of the conflict, but by emotionally identifying with the victimized Jews of WWII it’s hard not to applaud the heroics of the partisans fighting for survival and the birth of a new state. That the climax takes place on Christmas Eve, allows the filmmakers to compare the struggle for a Jewish state as not that different from what happened in the Holy Land during the birth of Christianity.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”