AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Five Graves to Cairo
Director: Billy Wilder (Dir)
Release Date:   1943
Premiere Information:   New York and New Orleans premieres: 26 May 1943
Production Date:   4 Jan--20 Feb 1943
Duration (in mins):   96
Duration (in feet):   8,699
Duration (in reels):   10
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Cast:   Franchot Tone (John J. Bramble)  
    Anne Baxter (Mouche)  
    Akim Tamiroff (Farid)  
    Fortunio Bonanova (General Sebastiano)  
    Peter Van Eyck (Lieutenant Schwegler)  
  and Erich von Stroheim (Field Marshal Erwin Rommel)  
    Konstantin Shayne (Major von Buelow)  
    Fred Nurney (Major Lamprecht)  
    Miles Mander (Colonel Fitzhume)  
    I. Keith (Captain St. Bride)  
    Leslie Denison (Captain McOwen)  
    Bud Geary (English tank commander)  
    Frederick Giermann (German sergeant, motorcycle rider)  
    William Mussetter (Schwegler's bodyguard)  
    John Royce (German technician)  
    Otto Reichow (German engineer)  
    Clyde Jackman (Rommel's orderly)  
    Sam Waagenaar (Rommel's orderly)  
    Peter Pohlenz (German soldier)  
    John Erickson (Soldier)  
    Philip Ahlm (Soldier)  
    Hans Moebus (Soldier)  
    Roger Creed (Soldier)  

Summary: In June, 1942, in Egypt, the British Eighth Army is severely beaten by General Rommel's Afrika Korps. John J. Bramble, the sole survivor of his British tank crew, struggles out of the tank, which is roving aimlessly across the desert, and crawls across the sand dunes until he reaches the desolate town of Sidi Halfaya. The town has been nearly destroyed by bomb blasts, but the Empress of Britain Hotel is still standing. John, now suffering from hallucinations, believes he is at Divisional Headquarters and "reports" to the Egyptian hotel owner, Farid, and the French chambermaid, Mouche, that the Royal Tank Regiment has been destroyed. Farid is unable to bring John to his senses, and when John collapses, he hides the unconscious soldier behind the desk, as German troops are overtaking the town. German lieutenant Schwegler informs Farid that his officers will use the hotel as their headquarters, and installs Field Marshal General Erwin Rommel in the best room in the hotel, and an Italian general named Sebastiano, in the worst. John revives and, with his wits fully restored, dons the clothing of a clubfooted hotel waiter who was killed in the cellar during an air raid. John successfully impersonates the waiter, and manages to hides his surprise when he is given a personal audience with Rommel because the waiter was actually a Nazi spy. Mouche hates John on principle because she feels that the British forces abandoned the French army at the battle at Dunkirk, where her brother was captured. She goes along with his impersonation until she hears his plans to kill Rommel, because she wants to approach Rommel and plead for the life of her sole surviving brother, an amputee who has been interred in a concentration camp. Rommel has no interest in helping Mouche, however, so she turns to Schwegler, who promises to help her in exchange for sexual favors. When high ranking British prisoners of war are then brought in, John makes contact with the British colonel, who advises him not to kill Rommel. Rommel grants the officers a lunch and solicitously answers their questions about his battle strategies. Rommel's key strategy is preparation, and he reveals that in the 1930s, the Germans buried supplies all over Egypt in anticipation of the war. As the British officers leave, the colonel subtly relays to John that his mission is to determine the locations of the supply depots and send word to the British command. John already knows that the term "Five Graves" is the code word for the supply depots, and is led directly to the information when Rommel, still believing that John is a Nazi spy, shows him a map of Egypt, stating that the locations are so basic, he does not even need invisible ink. When Farid uncovers a 1930s newspaper article about German archaeological excavations, John recognizes a photograph of Rommel, and realizes that instead of excavating ancient sites, the Germans were burying supplies. John sneaks into Rommel's office and redraws his map on a piece of cheesecloth, identifying the locations of the depots as coinciding with the letters E-G-Y-P-T as printed on the map. An air raid ensues and Schwegler finds John in the room. Schwegler believes John's explanation that he was trying to save the maps until they are in the cellar and a blast uncovers the body of the real waiter. John escapes and, while everyone else takes cover during the air raid, kills Schwegler. Farid helps him hide the body and, knowing that Rommel plans to send John ahead to Cairo that night, arranges with Farid for the body to be discovered the next morning. Mouche refuses to cooperate further with John's deception, however, as Rommel has confronted her with telegrams apparently sent by Schwegler, which indicate that he was arranging for her brother's release. Mouche soon learns that the telegrams were fakes and that Schwegler had been deluding her. Later, Schwegler's body is found in Mouche's bed and Rommel accuses her of his murder. Experiencing a change of heart, Mouche accepts the blame, thereby freeing John to carry out his mission to Cairo. Before he leaves, John tells Farid to reveal that he was Schwegler's killer before the Nazis put Mouche on trial. John successfully reaches the British command, and on 1 July 1942, British forces destroy the German supply depots in El Alamein, and Rommel's troops never reach Cairo. In September, John purchases a parasol in Cairo that Mouche had longed for, and carries it with him in his tank when British General Montgomery's Eighth Army makes its counter-offensive. The British troops return to Sidi Halfaya in November, and take German and Italian troops prisoner. John learns from Farid that although Mouche was found innocent of Schwegler's murder, the Germans found her guilty of deception, and beat her to death as she cried, "The British will be back." With a broken heart, John places the parasol by her grave and, after paying tribute, rejoins his troops. 

Production Company: Paramount Pictures, Inc.  
Distribution Company: Paramount Pictures, Inc.  
Director: Billy Wilder (Dir)
  C. C. Coleman (Asst dir)
  Herbert Coleman (2d asst dir)
  P. Martin (Extra asst dir)
  H. Kessler (Extra asst dir)
Producer: B. G. DeSylva (Exec prod)
  Charles Brackett (Assoc prod)
Writer: Charles Brackett (Scr)
  Billy Wilder (Scr)
Photography: John F. Seitz (Dir of photog)
  James Grant (1st asst cam)
  Eugene Liggett (2d asst cam)
  George Lancaster (3rd asst cam)
  Haskell Boggs (Op cam)
  Arthur A. Lane (Op cam)
  Otto Pierce (2d cam)
  Harlow Sengel (Asst to 2d cam)
  Jack Woods (Stills)
Art Direction: Hans Dreier (Art dir)
  Ernst Fegté (Art dir)
Film Editor: Doane Harrison (Ed)
Set Decoration: Bertram Granger (Set dec)
  Sam Comer (Set drs supv)
  G. DeGolcondo (Props)
  Carl Coleman (Props)
  Jack Leys (2d props)
  Fred Turk (Prop asst)
  Patrick Delaney (Prop asst)
Costumes: Edith Head (Cost)
Music: Miklos Rozsa (Mus score)
Sound: Ferol Redd (Sd rec)
  Philip Wisdom (Sd rec)
Make Up: Wally Westmore (Makeup supv)
  Ben Nye (Makeup artist)
  W. Knight (Makeup artist)
  A. MacQuarrie (Makeup artist)
  Leonora Sabine (Hair supv)
Production Misc: Major David P. J. Lloyd (British tech adv)
  Major Melville Stack (Tech adv)
  Leslie Denison (Dial coach)
  Syd Street (Unit mgr)
  Hugh Brown (Asst unit mgr)
  N. Lacey (Location mgr)
  Harry Hogan (Scr clerk)
  Ronnie Lubin (Scr clerk)
  Irving Newmeyer (Grip)
  Cliff Gourley (Grip)
  Constantine Klein (Grip)
  John Smirch (Grip)
  J. Jackson (Grip)
  J. Haring (Grip)
Stand In: Bob Davis (Stand-in for Franchot Tone)
  Gordon Carveth (Double for Franchot Tone)
Country: United States

Source Text: Based on the play Színmü négy felvonásban by Lajos Biro (Budapest, 1917).
Authors: Lajos Biro

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Paramount Pictures, Inc. 3/5/1943 dd/mm/yyyy LP12111

PCA NO: 9090
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording

 
Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: World War II
 
Subjects (Major): Egypt
  Espionage
  Great Britain. Army
  Impersonation and imposture
  Invasions
  Maids
  Nazis
  General Erwin Rommel
  Self-sacrifice
  World War II
 
Subjects (Minor): Bombing, Aerial
  Clubfoot
  Deserts
  El Alamein (Egypt), Battle of, 1942
  Extortion
  French
  Hotel owners
  Italy. Army
  Maps
  Prisoners of war
  Secret codes
  Sexual harassment
  Tank crews
  Tank warfare
  Waiters

Note: The following written foreword opens the film: "In June 1942 things looked black indeed for the British Eighth Army. It was beaten, scattered, and in flight. Tobruk had fallen. The victorious Rommel and his Afrika Korps were pounding the British back and back toward Cairo and the Suez Canal." Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, perhaps the most widely known German general of World War II, was popularly known as the "Desert Fox" after he took command of the Afrika Korps in 1941 and led his troops to decisive victories in North Africa. Rommel has been the subject of numerous books and been a character in many films, the most famous of which was the 1951 Twentieth Century-Fox film The Desert Fox , directed by Henry Hathaway and starring James Mason as Rommel.
       The Paramount Collection contained at the AMPAS Library reveals the following information about the production: Simone Simon was tested for the role of "Mouche;" the filmmakers originally intended to set the story in the Egyptian town of Sidi Barani, which was the site of actual fighting during World War II, and was captured by Rommel in 1941 and recaptured by the British in 1942; some scenes were shot on location at the Salton Sea and at Camp Young in Indio CA, where, with the cooperation of the Army Ground Forces, a battle sequence was staged, and in Yuma, AZ; the British Embassy assigned Major David P. J. Lloyd of the British Army Staff to act as the picture's technical advisor, due to his "firsthand experience and knowledge of desert tank warfare in Libya."
       A HR news item reported that in Nov 1942, David O. Selznick had agreed to lend Ingrid Bergman for this film. Paramount borrowed Anne Baxter from Twentieth Century-Fox. This film was nominated for Academy Awards in the following categories: Cinematography (black & white), John Seitz; Art Direction/Interior Decoration (black & white), Hans Dreier, Ernst Fegté/Bertram Granger; and Film Editing, Doane Harrison. Lajos Biro's play was first filmed by Paramount in 1927 and 1939 under the title Hotel Imperial . The 1927 version was directed by Mauritz Stiller and starred Pola Negri (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30 ; F2.2597); and the 1939 version was directed by Robert Florey, and starred Isa Miranda and Ray Milland (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ; F3.2007). Franchot Tone and Anne Baxter reprised their roles in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on 13 Dec 1943. In 1951, United Artists released Hotel Sahara , which also was based on the Biro play and was directed by Ken Annakin and starring Yvonne DeCarlo. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
American Cinematographer   Jun 43   p. 215.
Box Office   8 May 1943.   
Daily Variety   4 May 43   pp. 3, 7
Film Daily   4 May 43   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   12 Nov 1942.   
Hollywood Reporter   19 Jan 43   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Jan 43   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Jan 43   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   25 Feb 43   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Feb 43   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   4 May 43   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   19 May 43   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Jun 43   p. 4.
Motion Picture Herald   8 May 1943.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   8 May 43   p. 1301.
New York Times   27 May 43   p. 21.
New York Times   30 May 43   p. 3 (sec 2).
Variety   5 May 43   p. 8.

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