The Desert Rats (1953)
The Fox and the Rats
With Field Marshal Erwin von Rommel (James Mason - The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel) and his troops destroying all which gets in their way the young Capt. 'Tammy' MacRoberts (Richard Burton - The Wild Geese) is put in charge of a rag tag bunch of Australian soldiers and volunteers who must do what ever they can to prevent Rommel and his men from taking Tobruk including a series of dangerous night time raids.
I am no war expert, regular readers of my movie reviews will have heard me bemoan the history lessons n British schools during the 1980s for my lack of knowledge, but having watched many a war movie about WWII I know when one stands out from the crowd. "The Desert Rats" is different because it feels documentary like but not fly on the wall with a look which at times feels like it is using archive footage. And whilst there is some archive footage in there it is the authenticity of the scenes with the cast which impresses.
Now story wise it is basically the story of MacRoberts and this band of Australian soldiers doing what ever to hold Tobruk. We get to see strategy from both sides as elements of the campaigns are shown with the aids of map and plenty of narration so that it is understandable. But we also see how the war affected some of the men especially a teacher who volunteered and despite trying to show courage was petrified. The fact the teacher was MacRoberts' teacher at school adds a further dynamic to the movie as we also have their friendship.
But the thing about "The Desert Rats" is that whilst it features good performances from acting giants Richard Burton and James Mason it is all about the look. And when I say look I mean what to me comes across as authentic looking with scene after scene which could have come from archive footage. Seeing the men lying in foxholes as the wind sweeps up a sand storm with the rumble of trucks and tanks forewarning of what they can't see just grabs you. It is the same when we see men marching into the darkness, the night sky splattered with bursts from mortar fire. It is a staggering movie visually yet the look is part of the story and helps create that atmosphere of danger.
What this all boils down to is that "The Desert Rats" is an impressive movie with its easy to understand account of Tobruk which comes to life because of its fantastic look which at times is staggering.
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