The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel
directed by Henry Hathaway
written by Nunnally Johnson
based on the memoirs by Desmond Young
starring James Mason, Cedric Hardwicke, Jessica Tandy, Luther Adler, Everett Sloane, Leo G. Carroll, Eduard Franz
In this biopic of Field Marshall Erwin Johannes Rommel (Mason) the trials and tribulations of war are articulated with a finely honed style and definitive bombast.
Rommel routinely flirts with a plot to Kill Hitler (Adler) that has made its presence felt during the latter half of WWII. He finds the idea to be rather attractive but ultimately is unable to fully commit. Mason plays Rommel as a nervous type who also seems uncommitted to furthering the war effort without the proper accommodations. He storms into an audience with a hysterical, seemingly delusional Hitler who is more interested in all the new magnificent weapons he is convinced will turn the tide and assure a German victory.
Rommel is presented as an able and often brilliant Field Marshall who was in charge of Deutsches Afrikakorps and the German Army in North Africa.. He is also shown as a family man with a wife and a grown son who also joins the army and eagerly enters the fray. He is dedicated on both fronts and the film articulates an iron will that is later challenged by circumstances beyond his control.
The film dedicates much of its time to the plot as various officers and civilians attempt to organize a proper methodology in order to effectively carry out their plan of removing Hitler from the seat of power and replacing him with a person of their choosing. After months of planning the dye is cast and the mission carried out by Col. Klaus von Stauffenberg (Franz) who plants a briefcase beneath a table at a meeting of high ranking German officials including Hitler.
There is a real sense of the futility of the German effort throughout this film. It focuses on many failed missions that stress the German troops and military administration to the breaking point. Much of this is contained in the face of Rommel as Mason reveals much of the agony surrounding the German military. Defeat is the cause celebre and it hangs over ever frame in this film.
James Mason captures a definite pathos throughout this film. His eyes seem to be searching for an answer that will not come. They are resigned to an outcome that means the end of operations and untrammeled defeat for the German military machine within which he performed so diligently and with such integrity. Rommel in this film is a genteel officer and Mason plays his with an elegance and a forthrightness that is fraught with a tenderness rarely afforded such men throughout the history of cinema.
Overall, this film captures the urgency of the plot and provides an intriguing view into the operations of war. There are many scenes of war including one where guns are a blazing and the viewer gets lost in a cacophony of bright lights and incessant gunfire that dazzles the mind and creates a lasting impression on the body. This is somewhat different for war photography in films as it gives a proper sense of the impact of the fighting as sensory overload. Rommel is portrayed with kid gloves and the portrait ultimately is of a goodly man who came to properly loathe the Nazi system and it’s approach to life. It is because of this viewpoint, developed later in life, that Rommel in this film is portrayed in such a shimmering light. He is merely a soldier who came to a place in his development where he could no longer entertain the belief that the Nazi’s were fully competent in performing their duties for Germany and her people. This is a man of integrity who is given the full on treatment in this film as a man of honor despite the very real fact that he caused much death to the Allied forces during his illustrious career.