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LGM Film Club, Part 273: Five Graves to Cairo

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In the early 1940s, Billy Wilder was the new hot director in Hollywood. The Major and the Minor was very well received when it was released in 1942 and some of the most iconic films in Hollywood history were soon to come–Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot, The Apartment. Meanwhile, World War II was on and Hollywood needed to pump out propaganda films. Some directors such as Ford and Huston went all-in on making real war documentaries. Others churned out war films rapidly. Wilder was on the latter track. His 1943 film Five Graves to Cairo, presently streaming on Criterion as part of their early Wilder collection, stars Franchot Tone as a British soldier who escapes from likely death from the North African desert by stumbling upon a town. As he recovers in the inn still open after the British retreat, the Germans waltz in and Rommel, played by Erich von Stronheim takes over. Meanwhile, Akim Tamiroff is the ridiculous Arab stereotype inn owner and Anne Baxter tries to speak with a French accent as a waitress desperate to her brother in a German camp. The short version of the plot is that Tone has to find out the German plans and get the information to Cairo before Rommel takes all of North Africa. Will he succeed against all odds? Who can tell!

It’s a pretty mediocre affair overall. I’ve long been obsessed with World War II films, which I once tried to rank here with at least some success, though I clearly left some key films off. This? It would not make the list. But I guess when everyone is board with churning out pulp for the masses to remind them why we are fighting the war, you are going to get a lot of forgettable material like this. Anyway, here’s the trailer.

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