As an American of 40 some odd years of age, I’m ashamed to admit I don’t know that much about World War II. I mean, I know the basics. Hitler’s blitzkrieg. The bombing of London. D-Day. Everything I’ve watched a half dozen times in Band of Brothers. Hitler turning on Stalin. The Bunker. The end. I know even less about the Pacific Theater.
I could fill in some other details if I really thought about it, but the specifics of the various campaigns and all the players are beyond what I’ve ever been bothered to study. I’m definitely deficient in what happened in Africa other than Sam selflessly letting Ilsa get on that plane with her husband. When I got my review copy of Raid on Rommel, my brain searched for everything I knew about Erwin Rommel and I came back with 1.) He was a Nazi. 2.) He was a very good strategist. 3.) I should really read up on him.
None of this matters when watching a movie like Raid on Rommel, most of it is made up. But guys like me wouldn’t know what was true and what wasn’t. You could have told me everything was true and I would more or less believe you. I’d still think it was a bad movie.
Director Henry Hathaway skimps with the introductions and drops us right into the action. British soldiers shoot up an old armored vehicle and drop some dead soldiers into it. Then, they rough up Captain Alex Foster (Richard Burton, slumming), put him in the driver seat, and let him zip off into the Libyan desert. He makes his way towards a German convoy carrying British soldiers. Before they see him, he slumps down as if his truck had just been attacked and he’s been knocked cold.
The Germans bring him aboard where he tells his compatriots about a plan to take over this convoy then use it to attack a coastal German battery. Trouble is there should have been a whole lot more soldiers in that convoy. What he’s got is a bunch of men from medical corps who have never seen battle and some of whom are conscientious objectors. Not to be deterred from his mission, Foster informs his men that a plane will soon be arriving to shoot at the convoy. It comes, blows up a truck, kills a few Germans, and causes such a ruckus that the soldiers on the ground are able to overcome the Germans and proceed with the original plan.
Before they are able to complete their mission, they’ll pass through a German checkpoint, talk stamps with Rommel, discover a secret fueling station, blow up said fueling station with a stolen tank, and be forced to sleep with the mistress of some Italian higher-up. So much happens before they actually attack the battery that the actual climax feels like an afterthought. Actually, most of this film feels like an afterthought.
Initially intended to be a TV-movie, Raid on Rommel‘s budget was so low they resorted to stealing action sequences from Tobruk, a 1967 film starring Rock Hudson which tells pretty much the exact same story. From what I’ve read, Rommel is basically a lousy remake of that film. Adding in so much footage from a different movie gives this one a disjointed feel. Henry Hathaway, who has made much better films including True Grit, does adequate work here but you certainly wouldn’t include it in his highlight reel.
The best scene is when Foster and Major Tarkington (Clinton Greyn) find themselves having a leisurely chat with Rommel (Wolfgang Preiss) about stamps. Tarkington and Rommel are collectors (as was the real Rommel, apparently) and so in the middle of a war, two officers on opposite sides sit down to argue over how many different styles of stamps some obscure island ever made. It is rather wonderful.
What is less wonderful, in fact, what is rather painful to watch are the raids on the fueling station and the final scene. Both feature a cacophony of explosions, gunfire, and action sequences that are poorly directed, poorly edited, and rather confusing. No doubt the use of numerous shots from Tobruk adds to that confusion. The fuel station erupts in an explosion of fire which catches everything else on fire, creating a scene that seems like nothing but exploding fire that drags on for far too long. The attack on the battery is just as confusing. It must have been for the characters as well because at one point the British ships heading towards the shore actually turn around only to turn right back around two minutes later.
Danielle De Metz plays Vivi, the Italian beauty whose only purpose seems to be adding some sex appeal to the all-male cast. Unless I missed it, the film never explains what she’s doing in the convoy in the first place. Ostensibly, she adds some tension to the proceedings as she’s a bit of a wild card and could clue the Germans into what is actually happening. But really, she’s there to look sexy in her thin dress and sweaty body. At one point, she begins wailing as if she’s in heat and some poor sod is forced to go pleasure her. Stretching all credibility, this soldier, who has presumably been in the hot desert for months with nothing but dirty soldiers to keep him company, makes it seem like a chore to make love to this desirable woman literally howling for attention.
It isn’t a bad film as much as it is a pointless one. I’ve not seen Tobruk but every review I could find online indicates that it is the better film. Being that it tells the same story and Raid on Rommel steals its action sequences, one wonders why this one was even made at all. But it was and it is told reasonably well, for a Saturday afternoon made-for-TV movie. Richard Burton is fine as Foster and it says something about his star power that he continued to have an active career after making this film.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents Raid on Rommel with a 1080p transfer. Extras include an audio commentary by film historian Steve Mitchell and author Steven Jay Rubin. There’s also an interview with actor Clinton Greyn and the usual trailers.