Also known as "The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel," this film is a bit of an oddity in that it showcases 'the good soldier' in the Nazi army just a few years after the end of WW2. Based on the book by Desmond Young (with narration by Michael Rennie), Nunnally Johnson's adaptation flies like a tightly-written play; and Henry Hathaway's direction incorporates good stock war footage, and lets the actors get comfortable in their roles in the film's numerous interior scenes. Economically produced (as evidenced by the action prologue), "The Desert Fox" deals with bare facts and bureaucratic absurdities, and Johnson's script offers mouthfuls of polite invective against the goons of Hitler's inner circle.
Better still, it's James Mason who shines as a solider forced to endure the inanities of a shouting tyrant; where Rommel relies on brilliant instinct and logic, Hitler leans on the shoulder of Astrology, with disastrous results. Another plus is Cedric Hardwicke, who for once gets a proper character with meaty dialogue; a confrontation with Mason reveals what a great actor Hardwicke was, and how the latter part of Hardwicke's career was largely relegated to playing small and minor supporting roles.
20th Century Fox's DVD includes a nice transfer of the film, using a fairly clean print with good mono sound. The film's original trailer (re-ordering scenes for a more action-oriented perception of what's essentially a mini-biopic) is in good shape, and the Spanish trailer ("El Zorro del Desierto"!) uses the same dialogue samples with Spanish subtitles.
In an unusual move, James Mason reprised Rommel two years later in "The Desert Rats," with Richard Burton and Robert Newton as his lead adversaries.
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan