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The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel (1951)

 
 

The Fox of War

James Mason as Field Marshal Erwin Johannes Rommel in The Desert Fox (1951)

If you've read some of my other reviews about fact based war movies I readily admit to my lack of historical knowledge and blame the British education system during the 80s for not covering WWII. As such it won't be much of a surprise when I say my knowledge of Field Marshal Rommel is limited and pretty much know his name because of his reported contribution in an attempt to assassinate Hitler. Unfortunately after watching "The Desert Fox" which purports to be a biopic I know little more because in truth this movie focuses more on Rommel's conflict as after loyally supporting Hitler finds himself disagreeing with the Fuehrer's plans and joining like minded Officers who felt Hitler had to go. It is still an engrossing movie and one featuring a captivating performance from James Mason but at the end of it you won't coming away knowing the man other than he was conflicted because of his loyalty.

It has to be said that "The Desert Fox" starts in a rather strange way with an opening featuring British commandos sneaking behind enemy lines but being caught. And then we jump 7 months and we are in Africa and British prisoners of war being marched through the desert. All of this has a point, well two as firstly we get to briefly meet Desmond Young whose book the movie is based upon and also learn that Rommel was a humanitarian and treated prisoners with respect. Whilst we do also get to see Rommel at work as the master tactician it is a brief scene which doesn't do the best of jobs to highlight his skills.

Luther Adler as Adolf Hitler in The Desert Fox (1951)

Instead the focus of "The Desert Fox" is to show Rommel as a man who became conflicted as he had always been loyal to the Fuehrer but now found himself disagreeing with his tactics and destruction of Germany. It is where the movie comes to life thanks to James's Mason wonderful characterisation because you can feel the conflict especially when he was approached by those who had also come to disagree with Hitler's thinking and planned to kill him. Through out this what comes across is not that Rommel had changed sides but was a patriot, a man who loved his country and when it came to it he had to do what was right for Germany rather than Hitler.

Whilst the story of what happened to Rommel is of course well known it has to be said that the final scenes which come a few months after the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler leave you feeling sick. The evilness which represents itself through threats and words as Rommel is paid a visit by two senior soldiers with the letter from Hitler charging Rommel with treason is sickening. And it is again James Mason's performance which makes the impact of this even greater. In fact whilst "The Desert Fox" features some good performances including Luther Adler's characterisation of Hitler it is Mason's skill as an actor which keeps you interested.

What this all boils down to is that I am sort of conflicted by "The Desert Fox". As a look at Rommel's conflict over loyalty and what is right it is fantastic but as a bigger picture of Rommel and what he did it comes up short. But then it does feature a truly brilliant performance from James Mason which brings the character to life.

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