The Desert Fox (1951)

88-89 or 91 mins | Biography | October 1951

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HISTORY

The film's opening title card reads: "Twentieth Century-Fox presents The Desert Fox The Story of Rommel." As the film ends, an offscreen narrator wonders if, during his final drive with Burgdorf, Rommel was bitter about his defeats or remembered his triumphs on the desert battlefields. A different voice-over narrator then repeats a statement made by Prime Minister Winston Churchill about Field Marshal Erwin Rommel after the end of World War II: "His ardour and daring inflicted grievous disasters upon us, but he deserves the salute which I made him in the House of Commons in Jan 1942. He also deserves our respect because, although a loyal German soldier, he came to hate Hitler and all his works, and took part in the conspiracy to rescue Germany by displacing the maniac and tyrant. For this he paid the forfeit of his life. In the sombre wars of modern democracy, there is little place for chivalry."
       Erwin Rommel (1891--1944), a career soldier in the German Army, was best known for his leadership of the Afrika Korps during World War II. Called "The Desert Fox," Rommel exhibited leadership abilities, talent for strategy and military professionalism that inspired much respect from his opponents. Rommel was also immensely popular with the German people, who regarded him as "the people's marshal." As depicted in the film, in 1944, Rommel became involved in an unsuccessful plot to remove Hitler from power, and as a consequence, was asked to commit suicide by the German government. British brigadier Desmond Young, who met Rommel briefly during the war, became intrigued by the German government's cover-up of Rommel's death and investigated it after the war. ... More Less

The film's opening title card reads: "Twentieth Century-Fox presents The Desert Fox The Story of Rommel." As the film ends, an offscreen narrator wonders if, during his final drive with Burgdorf, Rommel was bitter about his defeats or remembered his triumphs on the desert battlefields. A different voice-over narrator then repeats a statement made by Prime Minister Winston Churchill about Field Marshal Erwin Rommel after the end of World War II: "His ardour and daring inflicted grievous disasters upon us, but he deserves the salute which I made him in the House of Commons in Jan 1942. He also deserves our respect because, although a loyal German soldier, he came to hate Hitler and all his works, and took part in the conspiracy to rescue Germany by displacing the maniac and tyrant. For this he paid the forfeit of his life. In the sombre wars of modern democracy, there is little place for chivalry."
       Erwin Rommel (1891--1944), a career soldier in the German Army, was best known for his leadership of the Afrika Korps during World War II. Called "The Desert Fox," Rommel exhibited leadership abilities, talent for strategy and military professionalism that inspired much respect from his opponents. Rommel was also immensely popular with the German people, who regarded him as "the people's marshal." As depicted in the film, in 1944, Rommel became involved in an unsuccessful plot to remove Hitler from power, and as a consequence, was asked to commit suicide by the German government. British brigadier Desmond Young, who met Rommel briefly during the war, became intrigued by the German government's cover-up of Rommel's death and investigated it after the war. His research resulted in writing the biography Rommel , which was released in the United States as Rommel, the Desert Fox . Although Young plays himself in the picture, the first person voice-over narration heard throughout the film is performed by Michael Rennie, who also dubs Young's voice in the scenes in which he appears. According to studio publicity, Rommel's widow cooperated with the filmmakers, consulting with producer/writer Nunnally Johnson and loaning the studio some of her husband's personal mementos for use during filming.
       On 15 Feb 1950, a NYT article reporting the purchase of Young's book by Twentieth Century-Fox stated that "the title role will be offered to Kirk Douglas." A Feb 1951 memo contained in the film's MPAA/PCA file at the AMPAS Library noted that "Richard Widmark has been chiefly mentioned as Rommel." Although an Apr 1951 HR news item included George Pembroke in the cast, his appearance in the completed film has not been confirmed. Studio records indicate that John Goldsworthy was cast as "Gen. Stulpnagel" and Trevor Ward was cast as "Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery," but they do not appear in the released picture. Feb and Aug 1950 HR news items indicate that the studio originally intended to shoot some background footage on location in North Africa, but the plan was eventually abandoned. According to Jan and Mar 1951 HR news items, director Henry Hathaway did shoot background footage in Germany, England and France. The film's main location site was Borrego Springs, CA. According to contemporary sources, The Desert Fox included some battle footage from the 1943 British documentary Desert Victory .
       Information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, reveals that in early Jan 1951, the film's screenplay was read and approved by John M. McCloy, the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany. Despite receiving the initial approval of McCloy and the U.S. State Department, the studio was heavily criticized for presenting a sympathetic portrayal of Rommel, both before filming and after the picture was released. The film received mixed reviews, with the HR reviewer commenting, "the moral aspects of the production very likely will set off controversial reaction. Exception certainly will be taken in many quarters to the sympathetic depiction of all Nazis except Hitler, and inference that Nazi Germany's army was invincible." Influential NYT writer Bosley Crowther was one of the picture's most outspoken critics, and in his review accused the filmmakers of having "a strange disregard for the principles and the sensibilities of those who suffered and bled in the cause of defeating German aggression."
       According to a 27 Nov 1951 HR news item, the Warner Theatre chain had "cancelled all bookings and even terminated some runs on The Desert Fox , reportedly on direct orders from Harry M. Warner." In Nov 1951, HR and NYT reported that the U.S. State Department, several American-Jewish organizations and some German officials had strong reservations about the picture being exhibited in Germany, but the film did open in Germany in late Aug 1952. In Dec 1951, HR noted that there were some protests from the public when the film was exhibited in London, and in Mar 1952, a Var news item reported that similar disturbances had occurred in Australia and Italy. Subsequent Var reports detailed problems encountered by the film in Austria and Argentina. Despite the widespread criticism, the picture was a resounding box-office success.
       British-born character actor John Alderson (1916--2006), made his motion picture debut in the film. James Mason briefly reprised his role as "Rommel" for the 1953 Twentieth Century-Fox film The Desert Rats (see below), which emphasized Allied efforts in North Africa during World War II. Other well-known portrayals of Rommel include the 1943 Paramount production Five Graves to Cairo , directed by Billy Wilder, in which Erich von Stroheim played the German military leader (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50 ) and the 1967 Horizon Pictures-Filmsonor production Night of the Generals , directed by Anatole Litvak and starring Christopher Plummer (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70 ). More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
6 Oct 1951.
---
Cue
21 Oct 1951.
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Daily Variety
28 Sep 51
p. 3.
Film Daily
1 Oct 51
p. 5.
Hollywood Citizen-News
10 Oct 1951.
---
Hollywood Citizen-News
20 Oct 1951.
---
Hollywood Citizen-News
7 Dec 1951.
---
Hollywood Citizen-News
12 Jul 1954.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Feb 50
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Aug 50
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Jan 51
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Feb 51
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Feb 51
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Mar 51
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Mar 51
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Apr 51
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Apr 51
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Apr 51
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Apr 51
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Apr 51
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Apr 51
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
11 May 51
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
25 May 51
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Sep 51
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Oct 51
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Oct 51
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Nov 51
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Nov 51
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Nov 51
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Dec 51
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Dec 51
p. 8.
Los Angeles Daily News
20 Oct 1951.
---
Los Angeles Daily News
22 Feb 1952.
---
Los Angeles Times
28 Jan 1951.
---
Motion Picture Daily
1 Oct 1951.
---
Motion Picture Herald
29 Sep 1951.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
6 Oct 51
pp. 1050-51.
New York Times
14 Feb 1950.
---
New York Times
25 Feb 1951.
---
New York Times
7 Sep 1952.
---
New York Times
18 Oct 1951.
p. 32.
New York Times
28 Oct 1951.
p. 11.
New York Times
18 Nov 1951.
---
New York Times
25 Nov 1951.
---
New Yorker
27 Oct 1951.
---
Newsweek
29 Oct 1951.
---
Saturday Review
20 Oct 1951.
---
Variety
3 Oct 1951.
p. 6.
Variety
17 Oct 1951.
---
Variety
21 Nov 1951.
---
Variety
28 Nov 1951.
---
Variety
12 Dec 1951.
---
Variety
12 Mar 1952.
p. 2, 21.
Variety
25 Jun 1952.
---
Variety
3 Sep 1952.
---
Variety
24 Sep 1952.
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Variety
5 Nov 1952.
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Variety
15 Nov 1952.
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CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Phil Van Zandt
Al Winter
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d unit dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Ward dir
Cost des
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Unit mgr
Asst loc mgr
Aerial footage coordinator
Tech adv on British operations
Tech adv on military cost and protocol
Tech adv on German usages
Tech adv on field hospital seq
Tech adv on tank maneuvers
Tech adv on Gestapo
Tech adv on paratrooper seq
Tech adv
Loc crew
Loc crew
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the book Rommel by Brigadier Desmond Young, M.C. (London, 1950).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
October 1951
Premiere Information:
London opening: 11 October 1951
New York opening: 17 October 1951
Los Angeles opening: 18 October 1951
Production Date:
10 April--late May 1951
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century--Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
14 October 1951
Copyright Number:
LP1353
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
88-89 or 91
Length(in feet):
8,183
Length(in reels):
9
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
15272
SYNOPSIS

In Nov 1941, a British commando unit lands in Libya, behind German lines, and attempts to assassinate Erwin Rommel, the German field marshal whose cunning and ability to elude the Allies have earned him the nickname "The Desert Fox." The assassination attempt fails, and later, in Jun 1942, Rommel enforces prisoner of war protocol when a group of British soldiers, including Lt. Col. Desmond Young, are captured by the Germans in North Africa. Young is impressed by Rommel's gentlemanly demeanor, and Rommel's reputation as a principled soldier unconcerned with politics grows. Two years and four months later, Rommel is dead, allegedly having died in battle. Rumors that the Nazis have lied about Rommel's death prompt Young to investigate, and he meets with Rommel's widow Lucie and his son Manfred, and searches for official documents. Young discovers that Rommel's downfall began on 23 Oct 1942: Due to a chronic health problem, Rommel is invalided to Germany, while in El Alamein, the German forces are under attack by the Allies. Rommel is summoned back to the desert, where he is outraged to learn that none of the desperately needed supplies and reinforcements have been sent. After ten days of fighting the British, who are now led by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, Rommel realizes that he must retreat to save his troops from annihilation. When Rommel appeals to Adolf Hitler for permission to retreat, however, he is ordered to hold his position to the last man. Infuriated by Hitler's stupidity, Rommel disobeys his orders. Later, Rommel falls ill again and returns to Germany, after which the Axis forces are conquered by the Allies ... +


In Nov 1941, a British commando unit lands in Libya, behind German lines, and attempts to assassinate Erwin Rommel, the German field marshal whose cunning and ability to elude the Allies have earned him the nickname "The Desert Fox." The assassination attempt fails, and later, in Jun 1942, Rommel enforces prisoner of war protocol when a group of British soldiers, including Lt. Col. Desmond Young, are captured by the Germans in North Africa. Young is impressed by Rommel's gentlemanly demeanor, and Rommel's reputation as a principled soldier unconcerned with politics grows. Two years and four months later, Rommel is dead, allegedly having died in battle. Rumors that the Nazis have lied about Rommel's death prompt Young to investigate, and he meets with Rommel's widow Lucie and his son Manfred, and searches for official documents. Young discovers that Rommel's downfall began on 23 Oct 1942: Due to a chronic health problem, Rommel is invalided to Germany, while in El Alamein, the German forces are under attack by the Allies. Rommel is summoned back to the desert, where he is outraged to learn that none of the desperately needed supplies and reinforcements have been sent. After ten days of fighting the British, who are now led by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, Rommel realizes that he must retreat to save his troops from annihilation. When Rommel appeals to Adolf Hitler for permission to retreat, however, he is ordered to hold his position to the last man. Infuriated by Hitler's stupidity, Rommel disobeys his orders. Later, Rommel falls ill again and returns to Germany, after which the Axis forces are conquered by the Allies in Tunis. In Germany, Rommel is visited by an old friend, Dr. Karl Strolin, the mayor of Stuttgart, who is a member of a secret movement to eliminate Hitler before his unwise military decisions result in Germany's destruction. Although Rommel is bitter over Hitler's refusal to support the Afrika Korps, he cannot bring himself to join Strolin's cause. In November 1943, it has become clear that Germany will be invaded by the Allies eventually, and Rommel is assigned to inspect the Atlantic fortifications. A month later, Rommel reports to Field Marshal von Rundstedt outside Paris, and declares that the German defenses are clearly inadequate. Von Rundstedt warns Rommel that all military decisions are now being made by Hitler, who is under the influence of astrologers, and that Rommel will be closely watched, like the other military leaders. In February 1944, Strolin visits Rommel at home, but despite Strolin's insistence that many other prominent men support his plan, Rommel maintains that the plot to dispose of Hitler smacks of Communism. Rommel also declares that as a soldier, he has no business interfering with politics. Strolin finally gets Rommel to confess his hatred of Hitler, however, and later, when the Allies storm the beaches of France on D-Day, von Rundstedt and Rommel lament Hitler's consistently bad strategy. Von Rundstedt, who is aware of the plot against Hitler, encourages Rommel, but states that he himself is too old to rebel. Soon after, Rommel attempts to talk to Hitler one last time, but the "Bohemian colonel's" refusal to listen prompts Rommel to join Strolin's movement. Rommel is seriously injured when his car is bombed by Allied planes, however, and is unconscious when an attempt to kill Hitler fails. Over the next three months, Rommel recovers and is mystified by the lack of press coverage on him, as he is enormously popular with the German people. Finally, in Oct 1944, Generals Burgdorf and Maisel visit Rommel and inform him that he has been charged with treason in connection with the plot to assassinate Hitler. Rommel asserts that he will defend himself in court, but Burgdorf states that he has already been found guilty, and that if he commits suicide, Lucie and Manfred's safety will be guaranteed. Determined to save his family, Rommel agrees to leave with Burgdorf. Rommel bids farewell to Lucie, who promises to tell Manfred the truth later, then says goodbye to his son, and asks his old friend, Capt. Aldinger, to look after them. Rommel then enters the car with Burgdorf, and Lucie cries as her husband disappears into the distance. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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