Producer: W.A. Whittaker
Script: Christopher Landon and T.J. Morrison
Cinematography: Gilbert Taylor
It's 1942 and in the Libyan war zone an ambulance with two frightened nurses, a sergeant major and a fatigued officer are desperate to reach the safety of Alexandria. This exciting premise is given a further twist of tension as they pick up a stray South African officer (Anthony Quayle) who is not all he seems to be.
In many ways this is a very different view of the desert from the one shown in Lawrence of Arabia (largely because it is in black and white and therefore the desert is a sort of greyish colour). However it is also a tense psychological drama with some superb performances - especially from John Mills (who plays a character he has done before - but does it bloody well) and Anthony Quayle (hugely underrated). Sylvia Syms is as beautiful as ever and Harry Andrews supports well.
The movie walks a careful line pointing out that the British stiff upper lip sometimes works to great effect…..especially when your land rover gets into trouble on a hill. The detailed character development between two sides in a conflict; and remember this was just 13 years after the war which both Sir Quayle and Sir John both fought in with distinction. I’m sure at the time it was sensitive because basically it points out that are Germans are not as bad as they were made out to be.
Not wanting to ruin the plot too much John Mills has become too fond of the booze and on his journey across the desert in the Land rover allows on Anthony Quayle the mysterious South African Captain (sporting gin) who soon adds an element of menace as they begin to suspect that he's a German spy. This idea of 'the enemy within' is exploited further as our plucky crew runs into a group of German soldiers. Seemingly surrounded on all sides they look doomed.
The cleverness of the film lies not only in the plot-line but also in the characterisation. Mills is becoming steadily more irrational as he desperately dreams of a beer "so ruddy cold there's a sort of dew on the outside of the glass". Meanwhile his well-meaning Sergeant is too careful to make decisive decisions and Sylvia Syms does a great job with that midriff towards the end. With the crafty Quayle in their midst and the enemy closing in around them it seems impossible to imagine how escape can be possible. And with all this set in the relentless baking heat of the desert you'll be left gasping for a beer too.
In a beautiful and famous ending the humanness of the conflict becomes apparent as the Brits pull the stops out for one who’s not there own. This film should have won Oscars on both sides of the Atlantic – why it didn’t was probably lost in the Sahara somewhere…