Friday, April 23, 2010

Five Graves to Cairo

TCM finally got the broadcast rights to the little-sees Billy Wilder movie Five Graves to Cairo at the beginning of the year, and have run it once or twice already. It's airing again tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 PM ET, and, like anything else Wilder made, is well worth watching.

Franchot Tone stars as John Bramble, a corporal in the British Army in North Africa in World War II. His tank has been shot by the Nazis, killing everybody inside but him. Somehow, he manages to escape, and eventually follows a trail which leads him to a partially bombed-out hotel that still has a skeleton staff working. He's saved.

Or maybe not. Although the owner of the place (Akim Tamiroff) and the one other worker, a French maid named Mouche (played by a young Anne Baxter) look after John a bit, they suddenly have to deal with the return of those nasty Nazis, specifically a group led by Field Marshal Rommel (Erich von Stroheim) himself. If the Nazis find out there's a British soldier here, they're definitely going to kill him. And, they might just kill the hotel staff as well for harboring him. Fortunately, however, there was one other staff member at the hotel, a man with a limp named Paul Davos, and he died in the bombing attack. So, all Bramble has to do is play the part of Paul and serve the Nazis much the way any bellboy would do in a regular hotel. He's saved again.

Or again maybe not. What John fairly quickly learns about Paul is that Paul was a spy -- and Paul was working for the Nazis! Paul obviously knew information that John clearly doesn't, so keeping up the masquerade isn't going to be that easy. Things get even worse when John learns from Rommel that there's a plot about "five graves to Cairo", which has something to do with the Nazis' plan to overrun Egypt, and that Paul was supposed to be sent to Cairo as part of the plot. Can John keep his secret from Rommel, and learn enough about the "five graves to Cairo" to help the British foil Rommel's plans? Along the way, John falls in love with Mouche, despite the fact that she's not such a fan of the British. Then, the British start bombing again, which could threaten to reveal the original Paul's body....

Five Graves to Cairo is one of those films to watch for the great Billy Wilder's plot. The acting is capable, but it's the story here, and that story is quite a good one. It's tense when it needs to be, and also contains a good deal of dark humor on the part of Rommel. There's also some lighter humor, provided by an Italian general whom the Nazis really don't like (Fortunio Bonanova). The only possible negative is that, since historical events provide the backdrop, we know Rommel's plan ultimately won't succeed. But, as with The Day of the Jackal, that really doesn't take away from the movie.

Unfortunately, Five Graves to Cairo doesn't seem to have been released to DVD.

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