“Five Graves to Cairo,” a war movie released in 1943, will be the first film in the upcoming Shelter Island Public Library’s Movies @ the Library series.
The series of “great movies, known and unknown” begins its 13th year next Tuesday with this relative unknown, only the second directed by the great Billy Wilder.
The story is set in the Egyptian desert in 1942 as the forces of the famous Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the “Desert Fox,” (played by Erich von Stroheim) are pushing the allied forces across North Africa. As the British Army retreats, one survivor is left behind. Corporal John Bramble (Franchot Tone) drifts a tank aimlessly through the desert and finds refuge at a remote hotel on the Libyan border. Suffering from heat stroke, he is tended to by the hotel’s owner, Farid (Akim Tamiroff), and a French chambermaid nicknamed “Mouche” (Anne Baxter).
Soon a German officer shows up and tells Farid that the Afrika Korps is on the way and will be using the hotel as temporary headquarters and housing for the troops. Bramble is hidden, but then he gets the idea he will masquerade as Davos, a waiter who had been killed, so he might be able to gather intelligence about the German movements.
The scenes between Bramble and Rommel provide some valuable clues about the German plans, especially the code words “five graves.”
There is more to this movie than just the war story, however. There is the relationship between Bramble and Mouche and the dilemma it causes both. There is also some wonderful comic relief involving Farid and an Italian officer. Comedy is a hallmark of Wilder’s films; one critic called the movie a “comic war thriller. Finally, there is first class acting throughout, especially that of the old master von Stroheim.
Come to the library on Tuesday, September 20, at 7 p.m. to see this most enjoyable film. “Five Graves to Cairo” was very effective propaganda during the dark moments of World War II, and it has remained a well-told story with a gripping plot, plenty of comic relief, and outstanding acting. It may be the most “unknown” of Billy Wilders’ many wonderful films, but it is great nevertheless.
See you at the movies.