Come Out You Desert Rats!

Posted: 30/05/2013 in 1953

desert rat

What really is there to say about about Robert Wise’s tightly wound World War II film The Desert Rats? The story is simple enough. It is a little known part of the war that is showcased here. Highlighted are British and Australian troops fighting in North Africa (Egypt specifically) in a place called Tobruk to stop a German advance and roll them back. As much as the film tries, there just is not not much story here. The simplicity is refreshing, the unknown nature of the story is welcome, but something just does not resonate here. The cinematography is some of the best we have seen all year, the acting is good, the screenplay is admirable, but something still comes up short.

I think that students of World War II will be the group that latches on to this film the most, as it does, as was earlier mentioned, touch on a piece of history that is never really seen on screen. While this could have been the setup of an exquisite piece, what we get is something more pedestrian. That said, The Desert Rats is a good film. As much as has been made of James Mason as Erwin Rommel, that performance is a bit of a non-point. Richard Burton does a fine job in the lead role, but it is really Robert Newton as the lead’s former teacher Tom Bartlett that really shines. This has been a year of great male supporting performances, and Newton joins the club with excellent and engaging performance. His is the most emotionally complex character of the cast, and Mr. Newton does justice to that complexity throughout. Again, the screenplay is admirable, but it is the crisp cinematography Lucien Ballard provides behind the camera that is the ultimate highlight of the film. In fact, despite its flaws as a somewhat bland war film, The Desert Rats is the most beautiful black and white seen yet this year.

**1/2 ~AOS

Up next… our first touch of disaster this year with Titanic!

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