Desert Fox (1951)




Director:    Henry Hathaway.

Starring:    James Mason (Erwin Rommel), Cedric Hardwicke (Dr. Karl Strolin), Jessica Tandy (Frau Rommel), Luther Adler (Hitler), Everett Sloane (Gen. Burgdorf ), Leo G. Carroll (Field Marshal Von Rundstedt), George Macready (Gen. Fritz Bayerlein), Richard Boone (Aldinger), Eduard Franz (Col. Von Stauffenberg), Desmond Young (Himself ), William Reynolds (Manfred Rommel), Charles Evans (Gen. Schultz), Walter Kingsford (Admiral Ruge),  John Hoyt (Keitel), Don De Leo (Gen. Maisel), Richard Elmore (Rommel's Driver in Africa), John Vosper (Maj. Walker).

For a film that deals with the story of the "desert" fox, little time is actually spent in the desert.  We see none of the brilliance for which Rommel was known.  The movie begins at a time when Rommel is basically on the run -- which eventually took the Axis powers out of Africa. 



Spoiler Warning: the following tells the entire story

James Mason does a great job acting the part of Irwin Rommel. The actors playing the parts of the German soldiers and officers do not even try a German accent, but rather speak largely with a British accent which takes some getting used to, but don't let this distract you from a very good movie.

The story opens with an attempt before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor by a British commando unit to try to kill Rommel. This says something about the accomplishments of the German commander of the Afrika Corps.

The action opens in June of 1942 when a British prisoner of war, Desmond Young, happens by chance to see the great German commander. After the war was over, Mr. Young decided to track down what happened to Rommel.

He picks up the story on October 23, 1942 at the Battle of El Alamein. Rommel has to come back from convalescence on the continent to oversee the battle. He finds out that Hitler has not provided any supplies, especially petrol, or men to help him in Africa. Rommel says that he had had a meeting with Hitler about supplies and men and that he found that Hitler was acting like a "panic-stricken woman." Hitler even called the commander a "coward."

Forced out of Africa by the pincers of Eisenhower and Patton coming from the west and Montgomery coming from the east, Rommel has to leave Africa.

Rommel's next assignment is to check out the coastal defenses. In November 1943 Rommel found the defenses woefully inadequate. Rommel had the right idea. Germany should have kept several stations at which mobile troops could head for the beaches regardless of where the Allies would land. These mobile troops would then hit the Allies at the landing and drive them from the beaches. The plan to eventually build a coastal wall from Denmark to Spain was just plain foolishness.

In 1944 Dr. Strogan, the Lord Mayor of Stuttgart, visits Rommel and lets him know that a number of high German officials and officers were plotting to remove Hitler. Rommel's wife had told the mayor about the true feelings of Rommel for Hitler and this helped Strogan in his talks with Rommel. At this time, however, Rommel was resistant to the idea.

June 6, 1944 was D-Day. The Allies had done such a great job with decoys that Hitler was still expecting the attack to come at Calais, long ater the Allies had landed at Normandy. Rommel and Von Rumstadt tried to get Hitler to release the 90 divisions at Calis, but Hitler, through his spokesman, Keitel, refused.

June 17 Rommel meets with Hitler. Hitler claims that Rommel is too weak and knows nothing ab out the overall scheme and planning, that he was too weak, and that is why he did not replace Von Rumstadt with him. Eventually, Rommel decides to give his support for the plot against Hitler.

Following the meeting Allied planes strafe his squad car and Rommel lands in the hospital, still unconscious.

At a conference with Hitler in East Prussia, Stauffenberg plants the bomb, but he plants it under a huge, thick table. The blast goes off, but Hitler is not killed thanks to the thick table. Some 5,000 suspects are rounded up and killed. Some kangaroo courts pronounce quick judgments and are condemned to death.

Rommel is in isolation for three months at his home. Hitler has found out that Rommel was one of the conspirators. In order to keep alive the German belief in Rommel, Hitler arranges for Rommel to kill himself.

Mrs. Rommel cooperated with the film and even gave Rommel's papers to the producers from which many insights into Rommel's thinking was gained.

Winston Churchill praised Rommel for his participation in the attempt to kill Hitler.


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

1935  --  Italy conquered and occupied Abyssinia (later Ethiopia).  By combining the future Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, the Italians created Italian East Africa. Italian troops in Italian East Africa numbered about 250,000, most of them Local East African recruits among the natives.

1940  --  Benito Mussolini joined the war against the Allies.  The entry of Italy into the war threatened British Kenya's northern border with Ethiopia and Somaliland.

1940 (July)  --  the British government recognized Haile Selassie as the true ruler of Ethiopia and promised to help him.

1940 (August 3)  --  the Italians invaded British Somaliland and took both Zeila and Hargeisa. They then launched an attack against the main Commonwealth positions at Tug Argan.  The British were forced to evacuate to Aden.

1940 (August 19)  --  the Italians took control of Berbera and went on to take full control of all of British Somaliland. Churchill was very displeased with the commander of the Commonwealth forces, General Archibald Wavell, and criticized him.

1941 (January 19)  --  the Indian 4th Infantry Division, under Lt. General William Platt, along with the Indian 5th Infantry Division, attacked the Italian forces from British Sudan.   The invaders advanced 100 miles and captured the town of Agordat. 

1941 (January 24)  --  the Commonwealth's Southern Force, comprised of  South African, Nigerian and Ghanian troops with British officers under Lieutenant General Alan Cunningham, invaded Italian Somailand.  By the next day, these troops captured most of Italian Somailand. 

1941 (early)  -- the Ethiopian capital of  Addis Ababa fell to the Allies. 

Churchill pulled out many of the troops from North Africa to defend Greece in the Balkans. 

1941 (February)  --  first troops of the German Afrika Korps arrived in North Africa to reinforce the Italians.

1941 (May 5)  --  Haile Selassie entered the capital city of Ethiopia. 

After the Italians were defeated, troops from Kenya were used in campaigns in many parts of the world.

1941 (summer) --  Churchill removed Wavell from his command in the Middle East. 



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