Monday, August 22, 2011

Crazy like a fox

I'm not a particularly big fan of war movies, but the Fox Movie Channel is showing a fairly good war biography tomorrow (August 23): The Desert Fox, at 2:00 PM.

You might well recognize the nickname The Desert Fox; it refers to Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (played here by James Mason), who led the Nazi forces in Africa in World War II until they were defeated in the battle at El Alamein. However, that's only where this movie begins. Rommel was apparently so focused on his work in Africa that he didn't notice that Adolf Hitler was fighting a war on two fronts, and that the other front wasn't going all that well. After some time to recuperate from health issues, Rommel is sent to France, which is mostly a dormant front as the Allies are still figuring out how to open up a front on Western Europe. It's Rommel's duty to see to the defenses along the English Channel.

It's also during this time that Rommel begins to see, with assistance from some of his friends, notably a doctor played by Cedric Hardwicke, that Hitler is erratic at best. In fact, of course, Hitler is no general, but he is a dictator, which means that what he says about fighting the war goes, even if the real generals know better. Rommel too thinks he knows better, so he frantically arranges for a meeting with Hitler (played by Luther Adler) to try to persuade the F├╝hrer to let Rommel do things his way. No go. And it's dangerous for Rommel to try to stand up to Hitler this way, as there are all sorts of Gestapo agents around just waiting to rat out wrong thought.

History tells us that in August 1944 there was an attempt on Hitler's life that failed, and that a whole bunch of people were summarily executed on Hitler's orders for their presumed roles in the plot. Rommel is one of the many who fell afoul of this, mostly because of his friends who were in on the plot. Rommel was actually recovering in hospital from injuries sustained when his car was attacked by Allied planes a few days earlier.

This last point brings up some interesting questions about the movie. How accurate is it, really? It's based on a book written by a British officer who spent several years researching the subject, but still, knowing the internal thoughts of dead people is something that can never be done with complete certainty. That having been said, the fact that we get a surprisingly positive portrait of Rommel only a half dozen years after the end of World War II means that perhaps Rommel deserves some of the favorable treatment. Either way, The Desert Fox is a movie that bears watching. James Mason is good as Rommel, with the rest of the cast being adequate at worst. They really are secondary, though, as this is entirely Mason's picture.

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