La Battaglia di El Alamein (El Alamein) (1969)
Director: Giorgio Ferroni.
Starring: Frederick Stafford (Lt. Giorgio Borri), George Hilton (Lt. Graham), Robert Hossein (Field Marshal Erwin Rommel), Michael Rennie (Gen. Bernard Law Montgomery), Ira von FŁrstenberg (Marta), Enrico Maria Salerno (Claudio Borri), Marco Guglielmi (German captain), Gťrard Herter (Gen. Schwartz), Ettore Manni, Edoardo Toniolo, Renato Romano (British Officer), Luciano Catenacci (Sgt. O'Hara), Sal Borgese (Kapow), Ugo Adinolfi, Giuseppe Addobbati (Gen. Georg Stumme).
During the Battle of El Alamein the Germans leave an Italian unit behind to fight it out against the English.
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
June 1942. As Rommel swept toward the Nile, the fall of Egypt and the capture of the Suez Canal seemed inevitable. Italians and German advance units raced toward Alexandria. Mussolini had given an explicit order: the Italians must arrive first!
An Italian convoy is fired upon. The Italians must arrive first, but how will they do that, they wonder, with no automatic weapons? The British machine guns mow the Italians down. One Italian grabs a bag full of grenades, jumps on a motorcycle and tries to maneuver toward a British machine gun nest. The machine gun forces him off his cycle, but he manages to get close enough to through the satchel into one of the machine gun nests.
Sgt. Major Borri has the radio man report that they were thrown back with lots of casualties, including Captain DíAngelo among many others.
The outgoing British commander says that Rommel has been pinned down in front of the El Alamein line. He has no petrol and his men are exhausted. With each passing day they get weaker and we get stronger. The commander hands the command over to General Montgomery and wishes him good luck. The commander is a defeated general and as such, he says, he has to be sacrificed.
Montgomery takes command of the 8th Army. Above all, he says, there will be no more retreating. The are staying on, dead or alive, until Rommel surrenders. The men believe Montgomery is a bit full of himself.
Rommel says that the troops he has are barely enough to maintain the front line from El Alamein to El Qatar. He says that just one more battle would open up the way to the Mid-East oil supply. The German and Italian doctors talk about Rommelís health. He suffers from a seriously inflamed kidney and nervous exhaustion. He must have omplete rest. The German doctor will report that to Gen. Halter.
Sgt. Major Borri goes to see his brother, a lieutenant. He tells his brother he needs to dig fox holes to provide his men with some cover. But the lieutenant tells his men to put the shovels away. The sergeant major saves his brothers life by pushing him out of the way as artillery shells land. Several men have been killed. The lieutenant could have used those fox holes. The lieutenantís superior officer asks him why his men were not under cover? Lt. Borri says because he didnít think they needed it. The higher officer says: "It seems it was necessary."
Montgomery wants Major Baker to send out a scouting expedition to see what was the result of the all day barrage, because from the air it doesnít look good. They only have about fifteen minutes. On the expedition a Brit attacks a German soldier only to find out that it is a dummy. And the artillery pieces are also fake. A group of Italian soldiers come out to reset the fake artillery pieces and the British scouts take the men prisoners. The major says he will kill the men since they canít take prisoners and they canít let the men go to report what happened. Another man pulls a gun on the major saying he will not permit the slaughter. But just then British artillery opens up and the man with the gun is hit and goes down. The "prisoners" also get hit by a shell. The man told to get rid of the prisoners finishes them off by throwing two grenades amongst them. Later the dead men are found and an English pistol is also found.
Gen. Cripton with his Highlanders is given an important assignment. Tomorrow morning at dawn he will cut through that false line and take the troops holding the right flank from the rear. As soon as his mission has succeeded, they will attack with everything theyíve got. Montgomery says: "I trust you have nothing against our starting to win for a change?"
The finding of the English revolver tips the Germans off to the fact that the Brits have discovered that the line is a false one. So Rommel has the line reinforced with fresh troops with live weapons. The Italians are given the assignment.
The Italians remain very still. The British commander throws in a few mortar shells just to be sure. The Italians are ordered not to return fire. A few of the Italian troops are hit, including the captain. No response, so the British move out accompanied by the booming of the bagpipes.
This time the Italians have machine guns and mortars. Lt. Borri is told that the captain is dead. So the lieutenant gives the order to open fire. The Scots pull back. An Italian throws two grenades at the jeep carrying British officers which disables the vehicle. The survivors jump out and take cover. The Italian lieutenant grabs three men and they go out to get the British officers to surrender. But the commanders open fire on the men.
Rommel receives a note from Hitler that he is to come back to Germany for rest and recuperation. General Stumme will assume command. One of the Italians goes over to get some of the rationed water. He is caught by Lt. Giorgio, who calls him a thief stealing from his buddies. He then makes the man drink the water he stole. He tells him get into full battle dress with pack. He is going to sweat every last drop of that stolen water out of his body. Just then the water truck arrives.
British artillery opens up on the Italians. A German Panzer captain tells the Lieutenant that command believes the British are using his sector as a diversion to cover the planting of mines in front of the other sectors. The lieutenant is to send a patrol out to check on this. They will be accompanied by a German patrol. A German officer presents Lt. Borri with a medal for capturing General Clifton.
The lieutenant goes out with the men. Someone steps on a British mine and it goes off. The British fire in the vicinity of the explosion. A German trooper sets off a mine and is badly wounded. The Italians suggest they go out and get him, but the German captain says they are not going to lose more men looking for one casualty. After all, they have accomplished their mission. They have confirmed that the section is mined.
After the captain leaves the lieutenant and sergeant go after teh wounded man. A flare lights up the sky and the British open fire on the two men. The lieutenant sends the sergeant ahead. The Brits capture the Italian lieutenant. The Italian sergeant brings the wounded German in. The captain thanks the sergeant for bringing in the wounded German from the mine field.
British Lt. Graham treats Lt. Borri very well and with considerable kindness. The Italian thanks him.
Rommel is back in Germany to speak to General Halter. He tells Halter that 70,000 men are about to be lost in Africa through the blindness of this command. Rommel says itís obvious that Hitler has not been informed of the seriousness of the desperate situation. Halter says the Fuhrer knows about the situation, but his mind is more on the eastern front where the situation is much more important. So Rommel says then letís get out of El Alamein and withdraw to positions they can defend. No, says Halter, that the Fuhrer would never do. They donít want Rommelís great reputation sullied by a humiliating defeat. Rommel says: "Which means Iím through."
Halter says the Fuhrer has been worried about his health for some time now and he wants him to put himself under the care of a physician. He has reserved an apartment in a splendid clinic for him. Rommel says: "I need rest, not retirement."
The Italian lieutenant asks his fellow POWs how many of them are willing to escape with him? One fellow replies that the war is over for him. He did what he was told to do, but now itís kaput. Another man says they get beer and good food and donít want to risk their necks going back into that hell. The lieutenant says then he will go alone. He starts to work his way over to the fence. A truck arrives to move the POWs elsewhere. The lieutenant takes advantage of the situation to slip away.
It is hot as hell in the desert, the lieutenant has a wounded leg which hurts him a lot and he has no water. Just then a British jeep comes rolling down the road. The Italian plays dead. When a Brit comes over to him he grabs his weapon away from him and tells the man in the jeep to throw away his weapon. He tells the men heís sorry, but now itís their turn to walk. The lieutenant takes off in the British jeep. His own men fire on him, so he has to shout to them to cease firing. One of the soldiers really hates the lieutenant and wants to shoot him, but his buddy stops him.
The men gather around the lieutenant to hear his story. He tells them thereís something for them in the jeep. They are ecstatic when they find itís food.
Major Baker tells his colleagues that a false map has been prepared of the British mine field. Now all they need is for someone to go out and wave it under the enemyís nose. Lt. Graham says he will do it. At nightfall he will move out with a ten man patrol and they will engage the enemy in a violent confrontation to avoid suspicion. The Germans will find the map in the jeep which Graham will abandon after the action.
The Italians with the British food are really enjoying it, along with the British cigarettes. One of the men says he thinks he hears the motor of a jeep. His buddy says heís crazy. So they go back to eating. All of a sudden a machine gun opens up on them killing one of the men. The Italians return fire and the fight is on. After a short fight, the British leave. Lt. Borri sees that he has killed English Lt. Graham who was so good to him. He asks: "Him. Why him?"
One of the Italians finds the map of the English mine fields and gives it to the lieutenant. The lieutenant gives the map to a messenger who takes it to headquarters. At headquarters the men find the three paths through the mine fields. The decision is made to make an attack in force through the center using the map and the three passages. The commander says: "Tonight the English will have an unpleasant surprise."
The tanks move forward into the mine fields. The Brits see them coming and will soon open up with artillery fire. They wait for the last tank to enter the zone and then open up on them.
Out in a row boat on a lake Rommel and an Admiral talk about the possibility of getting rid of Adolf Hitler. When they get back to shore, Rommelís wife gives him a message that has just arrived from Supreme Command. Rommel reads it and then says General Stumme launched an attack and lost half of their armored vehicles. Stummeís dead. Now Hitler wants him to go back to Africa.
Montgomery speaks to his men. He says the German tanks have been eliminated but the enemy still has guns. They must eliminate all the tank traps and the strong points through which they must pass in order to take the enemy through the rear. The bombardment will begin at 21:00 hours.
British artillery opens up on the enemy. The Italians hunker down in their trenches. An Italian calls for artillery support and is told that half the artillery has been lost to British tanks and anyway they have been ordered to save ammunition. The soldiers start to panic and want to run away, but the lieutenant stops them. The lieutenantís brother helps out with the job of keeping the men from running away. He has the men singing to the tune played by the bugler. The bugler has to stop when the dirt from an explosion hits him in the face.
Rommel is back at headquarters. Based on the sector receiving the most shelling, he figures that the British will try to turn their flank on the south. Rommel will sacrifice a couple of divisions in order that the rest of the men can beat a retreat back to Tobruk. He tells a staff member to inform the division commanders that they must hold out for twenty-four hours. The fellow mentions that the other Italian divisions wonít have transport and wonít be able to get away. Rommel says itís not his fault that Mussolini sends his men into battle without the necessary means.
Lt. Borri gets a message from headquarters. He tells his brother to take his men and clear out. The twenty tank guns will stay here. His brother thinks the lieutenant is withholding information from him. He asks his brother whatís the message said. The lieutenant hands the message to him. The message reads: During the 24 hours beginning midnight November 23 the enemy must be resisted to the last man. The sergeant major tells brother Giorgio that he is not leaving him to face the enemy alone. Giorgio tells him to take his men and get out of here. The men get on the truck, but the truck wont start. So they have to walk out.
Montgomery tells his men that they will crush the enemy and push the Germans out of North Africa. The Italians put up a good resistance and knock out a lot of British armored vehicles. Rommel says that Montgomery did what they wanted him to do. Now if the southern front holds they can successfully withdraw. But just at this moment an order arrives from the Fuhrer to stop the retreat. Hitler writes that they must break the enemy hurling into battle every gun and every man that they still have available. He must gain the victory even if he has to fight to the last man. A gung-ho fanatic starts telling the retreating trucks to halt, but Rommel tells him to stop it. He says: "These men are worth more to Germany than the words of a maniac." He tears up the message.
The sergeant major has to walk though the heat. One of his men collapses and has to be helped to walk. Lt. Borri sees a lot of British tanks up on the ridge and has his men open up with their anti-tank guns. They get some help from their own tanks. The anti-tank guns run out of ammunition. The men throw some Molotov cocktails at the British tanks when they get really close. All the Italian tanks are destroyed.
A sand storm hits and Montgomery pulls his tanks back. The Italians get a break. Lt. Borri is proud of the way his men fought. A soldier on a motorcycle tells the sergeant major that the English have broken through at one point and the Italians at the front are cut off. The sergeant major feels he must warn his brother. He jumps on the motorcycle and heads back to his original position. He gets back to his brotherís unit, but is wounded in doing so.
The British tanks move forward again. The sergeant major reaches one of the men in a foxhole and tells him that the whole division has been wiped out. He says: "Itís all over for us." He must tell his brother. The fellow volunteers to take the message to the lieutenant, but is killed when trying to do so.
The Italians were able to retrieve some of the British mines and as the tanks roll on the soldiers get underneath and hook the mines on the undercarriage. The mines blow up stopping the tanks. The sergeant major is able to work his way over to yell to his brother: "Surrender. Weíre defeated. The whole front has collapsed." The sergeant major is shot and then Giorgio is shot when he runs to his brother. A British tanks rolls toward them and Giorgio becomes a suicide bomber by taking a mine and detonating it while the tank rolls over him.
Rommel watches the tanks roll by him. The troops in the south have been annihilated. Rommel says to another officer: "Donít blame me. Our corporal Hitler wished it." The sergeant major and eight remaining Italian soldiers surrender to the British.
Not that great of a movie. The film was of poor quality. Often in night scenes you couldnít see much of anything. It was also hard at times to hear what the men were saying. (Subtitles in English would have been nice.) Why the heck would they make a movie like this extolling the heroism of the Italian soldier? I find it hard to believe that the Italians would have fought this hard. They became super heros going way beyond the call of duty. They even became suicide bombers sacrificing their lives to blow up British tanks. Who are these guys? Italian kamikaze soldiers? Another problem I see is that the British tanks were vulnerable because there were no British infantry troops. Does this seem likely to you? No. In short, I didnít believe what they were selling. And, hell, who wants to see a bunch of men giving their lives to support fascism, an inhumane political philosophy if there ever was one. I donít want to see fascist soldiers killing non-fascist soldiers. For World War II movies, I donít mind seeing Germans and Italians killed but do not want to see Russians, Americans, Brits, Australians or New Zealanders being killed.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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