I’m a huge fan of Billy Wilder, owning pretty much all of his films that are possible to obtain on DVD. While he is known for churning out hit after hit of hugely popular and artistically credible films as Sunset Blvd, Some Like it Hot, Sabrina and Double Indemnity (I could go on) there are also a few gems in his oeuvre that are often overlooked. Five Graves to Cairo is one of them.

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IMDb summary : “June, 1942. The British Army, retreating ahead of victorious Rommel, leaves a lone survivor on the Egyptian border–Corporal John Bramble, who finds refuge at a remote desert hotel…soon to be German HQ. To survive, Bramble assumes an identity which proves perilous. The new guest of honor is none other than Rommel, hinting of his secret strategy, code-named ‘five graves’, and the fate of the British in Egypt depends on whether a humble corporal can penetrate the secret…”

This is early Wilder – following up from the kitsch but charming Ginger Rogers vehicle “The Major and the Minor” – but it still oozes with his trademark screenplay writing skill and his innate sense of rhythm and perfect pace. Its origins as a play are sometimes felt in a slightly “stagey” mise-en-scène, but this is a star-laden, tense wartime drama that is very entertaining.

Even at this very early stage in his Directorial career, Wilder had a knack for attracting star power to his films, or creating stars overnight. As you would expect from the actress who held her own alongside Bette Davis in All About Eve (no mean feat!), Anne Baxter‘s sultry looks and acting skill shine through even with her slightly phoney French accent. Franchot Tone owns the lead role that Cary Grant famously turned down, but the real star here is Erich Von Stroheim, whose larger than life self-caricature slots perfectly into the role of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.

Any fans of Billy Wilder cannot truly call themselves a fan until they have seen this film. While it may not match the undeniable qualities of his more critically acclaimed works, it is still a fitting example of his output, and shows that even an average Billy Wilder film is leaps and bounds ahead of the opposition.

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