Destination Gobi
Richard Widmark

This is one of two WWII "desert" pictures Wise directed which were released in 1953—the other was DESERT RATS. Wise, however, was not a director who liked to tell the same kind of story twice. His extremely different treatment of similar subject matter, as evidenced in these two films, is a testament to the breadth of his imagination.

Destination Gobi

Richard Widmark and Earl Holliman

This movie was composed of many curious elements: Naval meteorologists instead of sailors, an Asian setting rather than an African one, fierce Chinese camel traders, and an unexpected alliance with Mongol nomads. The film's unusual story (evidently based on actual facts) set it apart from typical war-movie fare, as did Wise's approach to the subject matter. Wise emphasized the quirkiness of this little-known corner of WWII history; he stated that the film "was intended more as a comedy than an overly serious drama, trying to tell another part of the war that went on globally."*

This was the first color film that Wise shot. He remembers that the color technology made a tough location shoot even tougher: "We had those big, old three-strip Technicolor cameras, and it wasn't easy dealing with this humongous piece of equipment in the desert."*

Synopsis In 1945, navy chief petty officer Sam McHale is accompanying a group of navy meteorologists in the Gobi Desert, serving as a station sending weather observations to the naval forces. Mongol nomads, headed by Kengtu, become friendly. To gain their aid, McHale has 60 saddles flown in, and gives them to the Mongols, at the same time training them in case the Japanese arrive. Japanese planes bomb the post, and the Mongols flee. McHale and his men leave, and later catch up with the Kengtu band. Kengtu refuses to help them, so the navy takes back its saddles, which are sold to native trader Yin Tang in return for camel transportation to the coast. Yin Tang attempts to kill McHale and his men, but Kengtu and the Mongols arrive in time, and with more Mongols agrees to accompany them on their trek to the coast. The men arrive in a Japanese-held Chinese village. The navy men are captured, believing Kengtu responsible. Later, they learn that their capture is part of Kengtu's plan to help them escape. Kengtu and the men take over a Chinese junk. The Japanese send a patrol boat after it. However, with the aid of an old cannon, the Japanese vessel is sunk, but Wilbur Cohen, one of the naval group, is killed. The junk proceeds with Kengtu on board, and the men are spotted by navy planes. As the planes, thinking the junk is operated by the Japanese, are about to fire, they see a message on the deck of the junk: "U.S.S. Cohen." Later, McHale returns to the Mongol camp with Kengtu, who is given a horse and blankets for his band, all bearing the insignia "First Mongolian Cavalry."

From The Motion Picture Exhibitor, February 25, 1953.

Wise Facts
  • The film was mostly shot on location at an Indian reservation in Nixon, Nevada (50 miles north of Reno).
  • The local Native Americans bore a striking resemblance to Mongol nomads and were used as extras in the film.
  • Credits: 89 min. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.; Distributed by: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.;  Directed by: Robert Wise;  Produced by: Stanley Rubin;  Screenplay by: Everett Freeman;  Edited by: Robert Fritch;  Director of Photography: Charles G. Clarke;  Music by: Sol Kaplan;  Production Design by: Lyle Wheeler & Lewis Creber;  Sound by: Arthur L. Kirbach, Harry M. Leonard;  Costumes by: Charles Le Maire;  Make-up by: Ben Nye.
    Dick Widmark Cast  Richard Widmark (C.P.O. Sam McHale), Don Taylor (Jenkins), Casey Adams (Walter Landers), Murvyn Vye (Kengtu), Darryl Hickman (Wilbur Cohen), Martin Milner (Elwood Halsey), Ross Bagdasarian (Paul Sabatello), Judy Dann (Nura-Salu), Rodolfo Acosta (Tomec), Russell Collins (Commander Hobart Wyatt), Leonard Strong (Wali Akham), Anthony Earl Numkena (Kengtu's Son), Earl Holliman (Frank Swenson), Edgar Barrier (Yin Tang), Alvy Moore (Aide), Stuart Randall (Captain Briggs), William Forrest (Skipper), Bert Moorhouse (Naval Captain), Jack Raine (Admiral).

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    1. Robert Wise On His Films, p. 113
    2. Robert Wise On His Films, p. 113

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