Sahara (1943) with Humphrey Bogart

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A mighty story of adventure, courage and glory in the desert!…tender human emotion…triumphant action…matchless thrills…a memorable entertainment experience!

Sahara is a film usually not mentioned among Bogart’s best, although this rare teaming of Bogie with Columbia Studios is worth more than a passing glance.  Actually perhaps two or three long glances.

The film is a pretty standard tale of a lost tank crew (commanded by Bogart) attempting to rejoin their lines. Along the way they pick up a veritable baker’s dozen of other folks, including British soldiers, a Sudanese soldier, and a Free French Soldier. They also take prisoner, so to speak, both an Italian soldier and a German fighter pilot. I say so to speak because the Italian is portrayed as a well meaning but weak minded former enemy.

About the time old LullaBelle (the name of the tank) gets overburdened with people, they realize they are just about out of water. Oh, and perhaps I forgot to mention that the film takes place in the Sahara desert during the North African Campaign just prior to El Alamein. So water could be of some import here.

Eventually the parched group finds an almost dry well at some abandoned ruins. While they are there filling their canteens and other various vessels, the well runs dry and a German Battalion appears on the horizon also looking for water.

Rather than running this band, on Bogart’s suggestion, decides to make a stand to defend the well of now non-existent water. The motley bunch kills many weary German soldiers (except those supermen who can have a tank shell explode RIGHT next to them and keep on running unscathed) but at the cost of almost their own entire group.

After a few rounds of talks under the white flag, the Germans make a final charge, or do they? In the closing scenes the remaining several hundred Germans surrender to the two remaining allied soldiers who are then discovered by a British search party as the curtain falls.

Nothing overly deep here and the propaganda elements of the film are hard to overlook. The United Nations feel of Bogart’s Band of Brothers including their very sympathetic Italian prisoner array themselves very nicely against the stereotypically evil Germans. It’s important to note that during production of this film the Italians were in the process of switching sides- hence they couldn’t be portrayed as arm in arm with the Germans, but not quite driving LullaBelle yet either.

There are many speeches of varying lengths which quite bluntly address the war and why nations from around the world fought the Nazi scourge. These make it a bit melodramatic but Bogart’s reading of his killed comrades dog tags is almost maudlin. One has to simply look past this preachiness and enjoy the plot and the acting.  Remember we were trying to sell war bonds at the time and it’s easier to swallow.

Technically there are a few goofs, but most of which are pretty easily explained. The German plane which strafes Lullabelle is in fact and American fighter which has been repainted (most likely a P51). It’s ironic that the German plane makes several strafing runs with no effect whatsoever- except the fatal shooting of an American soldier played by Lloyd Bridges- who doesn’t visibly appear during the strafing attacks.

However, in one shot with its main gun Lullabelle downs the fighter. Given the impossible elevation this would have required for the gun not to mention the entire question of accuracy this is a bit ludicrous- but again we need that German pilot to complete our posse.

Also the helmets the Germans wear here are not World War II vintage, but rather World War I, which, although similar, are different. The question of both the helmets and the plane is simply answered by the fact that in 1943 the real thing was quite hard to come by. (Imagine the terror a fully operational Me109 fighter in the Mojave Desert would have conjured up to unknowing passersby.)

Overlook the preachiness at times and enjoy the action and the acting. Sahara has a great story and Bogart comes in with a strong performance. One has to wonder why Warners would loan out perhaps their biggest star (having just finished The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, and High Sierra) to second rate studio Columbia?

Highly recommended.

2 comments… add one

  • ken mccray May 26, 2013, 12:13 am

    I have also wondered why Bogie made a film for Columbia (though I’m glad he did) when he was at the peak of his career with his home studio, Warner Brothers. Something to do with the war effort? It was a great “Last Stand” speech he made.

    Reply
  • Tim Peddicord October 4, 2014, 2:40 am

    Why did you review a movie made in 1943 only to complain that it has propaganda in it? Gee, I can’t imagine why a WW2 war movie might try to inspire the folks at home to support a war effort in which we were fighting for our very lives against “sterotypically evil Germans:.What a jackass! Would you prefer a kinder, gentler protrayal of the Nazi’s? I mean what the hell here. Then you mock a powerful scene in which Bogart recals the names of the men who died in the effort to stop the German advance in North Africa. Yeah, pertty maudlin all right. BTW have you ever talked to any comat vets of WW2 like my father, my father-in-law or my best friends dad who was shot down over Germany and spent 3 years in a German POW camp? Why don’t you get off your high handed perch here in the 21 century and try and put a little perspective into your snarky review of an excellent film which is progressive in viewpoint and emphasizes the best of the USA and our allies in the last damn war that had any point at all, you know , survival! My wife lost all of here family in Europe. They were killed by “sterotyipical evil Germans” who killed hem because of thier religion. I suggest you limit yourself to modern films and stay away from classic ones.

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