Sahara (1943 film)
Sahara is a 1943 war film directed by Zoltán Korda. Humphrey Bogart stars as a U.S. tank commander in Libya during the Western Desert Campaign of World War II. The movie earned three Academy Award nominations: Best Sound (John Livadary), Best Cinematography (Black-and-White) and Best Supporting Actor by J. Carrol Naish for his role as an Italian prisoner.
The story is credited to an incident depicted in the 1936 Soviet film The Thirteen (Russian: Тринадцать) by Mikhail Romm. Later, Sahara was remade by André de Toth as a Western with Broderick Crawford called Last of the Comanches (1953) and by Brian Trenchard-Smith as the Australian film Sahara, with James Belushi in Bogart’s role.
In the movie it depicts events which point to the Battle of Gazala which was an important battle of the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War, fought around the port of Tobruk in Libya which Bogart makes reference to which occurred in May-June 1942. The battle had begun with the British stronger in terms of numbers and quality of equipment, and had received many of the M3 tanks, which was the tank used in the movie, and a small group of American advisors and crews had come to train them in use of the equipment. The British were routed and as shown in the movie, many tanks which were only damaged could not be salvaged because of the 8th Army’s retreat. The British lost virtually all their tanks, although a number of damaged tanks could be evacuated.
Rommel pursued the British into Egypt, trying to keep his opponent under pressure and denying him the opportunity to regroup. As both sides neared exhaustion, the British were able to check Rommel’s advance at the First battle of El Alamein which is where the radio report calls Bogart and tank crew to rally in the movie.
The crew of an M3 Lee tank, commanded by U.S. Army Master Sergeant Joe Gunn and nicknamed Lulu Belle, become separated from their unit during a general retreat from German forces. At a bombed-out field hospital, they pick up a motley collection of stragglers, among them British doctor Captain Halliday, four Commonwealth soldiers, and Free French Corporal Leroux. Halliday, the only officer, cedes command to Gunn. Later, they come upon Sudanese Sergeant Major Tambul and his Italian prisoner, Giuseppe. Tambul volunteers to lead them to a well at Hassan Barani. En route, Luftwaffe pilot Captain von Schletow strafes the tank, killing one of the British soldiers, but he is shot down and captured.
Arriving at the well, they find it dry. Now running out of water, they are forced to detour to the desert well at Bir Acroma, guided by Tambul. They find it, but it is almost dry, providing only a trickle of water.
When German scouts arrive in a half-track soon afterwards, Gunn sets up an ambush. Gunn finds out from one of the two survivors that their mechanized battalion, desperate for water, is following close behind. He persuades the others to make a stand to delay the Germans, while Waco takes the half-track in search of reinforcements. The two Germans are released to carry back an offer: “food for water”, even though there is hardly any water left. When the Germans arrive in force, Gunn changes the deal to “guns for water”.
The well has completely dried up by then. A battle of wills begins between Gunn and Major von Falken, the German commander. Gunn keeps up the pretense that the well is full of water and negotiates to buy time. The Germans attack and are beaten off again and again, but one by one, the defenders are killed. During the fighting, von Schletow tries to escape, killing Giuseppe when he tries to alert Gunn. Tambul chases him down and kills him, at the cost of his own life. After a second parlay, von Falken has his men shoot Leroux in the back as the Frenchman returns to his own side.
The Germans’ final assault turns into a full-blown surrender as they drop their weapons and claw across the sand towards the well. To Gunn’s shock, he discovers that a German shell that exploded in the well has tapped into a source of water. Gunn and Bates, the only other Allied survivor, disarm the Germans while they drink. As they are marching their prisoners east, they encounter Allied troops guided by Waco. They receive news of the Allied victory at the First Battle of El Alamein, turning back Rommel’s Afrika Korps.
It was filmed on location in the Imperial County portion of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, near the Salton Sea, using soldiers and equipment of the U.S. 4th Armored Division, a training organization of the Army Ground Forces, as extras.
The German aircraft shown attacking the tank was in actuality an early model P-51 Mustang, painted in German markings. Unfortunately, there were no Sdkf-251 half-track nor MG-34 machineguns to figure in the scenes, so they used M2 American halftracks. The captured German halftrack used by Waco is a M2 with a M49 ring mounted with a Vickers medium machine gun.
In 1992, Kurt Kreuger was quoted by the San Francisco Chronicle on the emotions inherent in making the film, in which he portrayed a stereotypical Nazi:
I was running across the dunes when Tambul jumped on top of me and pressed my head into the sand to suffocate me. Only Zoltán forgot to yell cut, and Ingram was so emotionally caught up in the scene that he kept pressing my face harder and harder.
Finally, I went unconscious. Nobody knew this. Even the crew was transfixed, watching this dramatic ‘killing.’ If Zoltán hadn’t finally said cut, as an afterthought, it would have been all over for me.
Humphrey Bogart as Sergeant Joe Gunn
Dan Duryea as Jimmy Doyle
Bruce Bennett as “Waco” Hoyt
Richard Nugent as Captain Jason Halliday, from Dublin
Lloyd Bridges as Fred Clarkson
Patrick O’Moore as Osmond “Ozzie” Bates
Guy Kingsford as Peter Stegman, from South Africa
Carl Harbord as Marty Williams
Louis Mercier as Jean “Frenchie” Leroux, formerly with the French Underground
Rex Ingram as Sergeant Major Tambul
J. Carrol Naish as Giuseppe
Kurt Kreuger as Captain von Schletow
John Wengraf as Major von Falken