|Directed by||Zoltán Korda|
|Written by||James O'Hanlon|
|Screenplay by||John Howard Lawson|
|Story by||Philip MacDonald|
(as Philip Macdonald)
|Based on||(based on an incident in the Soviet photoplay, "THE THIRTEEN")|
|Produced by||Harry Joe Brown|
J. Carrol Naish
|Edited by||Charles Nelson|
|Music by||Miklós Rózsa|
|Color process||Black and white|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$2.3 million|
Sahara is a 1943 American action war film from Columbia Pictures, directed by Zoltán Korda, that stars Humphrey Bogart as an American tank commander in Libya during the Western Desert Campaign of World War II. The storyline is based on the novel Patrol by Philip MacDonald, and an incident depicted in the 1936 Soviet film The Thirteen by Mikhail Romm. Later, Sahara was remade by André de Toth as a Western called Last of the Comanches (1953), and three decades later by Brian Trenchard-Smith as the American-Australian made-for-television film Sahara (1995).
Events are depicted which point to the Battle of Gazala, an important battle of the Western Desert Campaign, fought around the port of Tobruk in Libya. Bogart makes reference to events that occurred in May-June 1942. The battle had begun with the British stronger in terms of both numbers and quality of equipment, after having received many of the American M3 tanks (also the tank seen in the film). A small group of American advisors and crews trained the British in the use of the equipment.
The British forces were routed, and as shown in Sahara, many tanks were damaged, but were unable to be salvaged due to the 8th Army's retreat. The British lost virtually all their tanks, although a small number were evacuated. General Rommel pursued the British into Egypt, trying to keep British forces under pressure and denying them 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. Bogart's character and his M3 crew are able to rally before hearing a radio report about the British victory.
The crew of Lulubelle, a U.S. Army M3 Lee tank attached to the British Eighth Army and commanded by Master Sergeant Joe Gunn, become separated from their unit during a general retreat from German forces after the fall of Tobruk. Heading south across the Libyan Desert to rejoin the rest of their unit, Gunn and his crew, Doyle and "Waco", come across a bombed-out field hospital, where they pick up British Army medical officer Captain Halliday, four Commonwealth soldiers and Free French Corporal Leroux. Halliday, the only officer, cedes command to the more experienced Gunn.
Riding on the tank, the group soon comes upon Sudanese Sergeant Major Tambul and his Italian prisoner, Giuseppe. Tambul volunteers to lead them to a well at Hassan Barani. Gunn insists that they leave the Italian behind, but, after driving a few hundred feet, Gunn relents and lets Giuseppe join them.
En route, Luftwaffe pilot Captain von Schletow strafes the tank, seriously wounding Clarkson, one of the British soldiers. The German fighter aircraft is shot down and von Schletow is captured. Arriving at Hassan Barani, the group finds the well is dry, and Clarkson succumbs to his wounds.
Tambul guides them to another desert well at Bir Acroma, but it provides only a trickle of water. While the group collect as much water as they can, German scouts arrive in a half-track. Gunn captures two of the men and learns that a German mechanized battalion, desperate for water, is following close behind. Gunn persuades the Allies to make a stand to delay the Germans while Waco takes the half-track for reinforcements. The two German soldiers are released to carry back an offer to their commander to swap food for water, even though there is little water left.
When the German battalion arrives, a battle of wills begins between Gunn and the German commander, Major von Falken. By now the well has run dry, but Gunn keeps up the pretense and changes his offer to swap water for guns to buy time. The Germans reject the terms and mount several frontal attacks. Each attack is beaten back, but the nine Allied defenders are picked off one by one until only Gunn and one other are left.
During one attack, von Schletow stabs Giuseppe when the Italian refuses to help him escape and denounces fascism. Before he dies, Giuseppe manages to warn Gunn. Tambul chases von Schletow down and kills him before he can tell the Germans the truth about the well, but Tambul is shot dead. After a second parley with von Falken ends in another stalemate, von Falken has his men shoot Leroux in the back as the Frenchman returns to his own side. Gunn and his men return fire, killing von Falken.
The Germans begin what appears to be a final assault but turns into a full-blown surrender. They drop their weapons and claw across the sand towards the well. To Gunn's shock, a German shell that exploded near the well has tapped into a hidden source of water, filling the well. While the surviving Germans drink, Gunn and Bates, the only Allied survivors, disarm them. Later, as they march their prisoners east, Gunn and Bates are met by 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.
The lead role was initially offered to Gary Cooper, Glenn Ford and Brian Donlevy before Bogart. According to Hedda Hopper, Donlevy's wife, Marjorie Lane, was expecting a baby and he didn't want to be stuck on location. (A daughter, Judy, was born Feb. 20.) Variety, however, reported that Donlevy was tired of making war films and Bogart was weary of gangster roles, so the actors swapped assignments; Donlevy stepped into My Friend Curley (released as Once Upon a Time in 1944) and Bogart took Somewhere in the Sahara (the film's working title).
Production began on 29 January 1943, and wrapped on 17 April 1943. The cast and crew spent eleven weeks on location in the Imperial County, California, portion of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park near the Salton Sea. Their base was at the Planter's Hotel in Brawley, California, about 50 mi (80 km) east of the location. Soldiers and equipment of the U.S. 4th Armored Division, then in training at the Desert Training Center, were used as extras.[Note 1] The soldiers were billeted in tents at the location.
The American tank, nicknamed "Lullubelle," was a 28-ton (25.4 t) medium tank with 30 and 50 caliber machine guns and a 75 millimeter cannon. The tank required 100 octane fuel. Because no German equipment was available for the production, U.S. equipment was substituted and dressed with German markings. The aircraft that attacks the tank was an early Allison-powered P-51 Mustang. The German Sdkf-251 half-track and MG-34 machine guns were an American M2 with a M49 ring mounted with a Vickers medium machine gun.
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.
The production was beset by the usual difficulties on a desert location: sunburn, sandstorms, and heat. Korda had 2,000 tons of sand hauled onto the set to cover an area of hard-packed soil. Ripples and swirls in the sand were enhanced by painting the sand and then blowing it with a wind machine. Similarly, shadows were spray-painted on the hills to make them stand out. Makeup artist Henry Pringle devised a technique to imitate facial perspiration by coating the actors' faces with vaseline and then spraying them with water. Bogart's third wife, Mayo Methot, the only woman on location, reportedly brought him lunch every day from Brawley. (Later in 1943 Bogart met Lauren Bacall, his co-star in To Have and Have Not and eventual fourth wife.) Some of the cast went to nearby Mexicali for dinners. No women appear in the film.
Reviews of Sahara generally were positive, with Variety noting, "Script [adapted by James O'Hanlon from a story by Philip MacDonald] is packed with pithy dialog, lusty action and suspense, and logically and well-devised situations avoiding ultra-theatrics throughout. It's an all-male cast, but absence of romance is not missed in the rapid-fire unfolding of vivid melodrama."
Critic Nelson B. Bell, in The Washington Post, called it "one of the best-balanced of the starker war pictures ... that by turns is tortured, compassionate, thrilling and always of engrossing interest."
The Boston Globe called the film "brilliantly acted ... 'Sahara' doesn't spare the punches-they hit you in the face emotionally and it is literally impossible to sit unmoved through this vivid story. There isn't a smidgen of love interest in the picture and not a woman in the cast. This is war. There are deaths and tragedies--but there's a final ironic triumph, too. Sergt. Gunn holds the power of life or death over an Italian prisoner, and when J. Carroll Naish pleads for his life, the scene is one of the most poignant of the year's film moments."
Bosley Crowther in his review for The New York Times concentrated on the star-power of Bogart. "Those rugged, indomitable qualities which Humphrey Bogart has so masterfully displayed in most of his recent pictures--and even before, in his better gangster roles--have been doubled and concentrated in "Sahara," a Columbia film about warfare in the Libyan desert, which came to the Capitol yesterday. And a capital picture it is, too--as rugged as Mr. Bogart all the way and in a class with that memorable picture which it plainly resembles, The Lost Patrol."
New York Herald Tribune critic Otis L. Guernsey Jr. praised Bogart's understated style, calling it "exactly what is needed in war melodramas, which have too often been overstated to the point of ridicule. It has been used to best advantage in this instance. It is good to see a portrayal of an American soldier who looks on the war with a certain amount of distaste, but who faces both death and good fortune with persistent courage and realistic calm." Korda's direction was also called "excellent ... The action and pictorial footage is more important than the dialogue ..."
Sahara earned three Oscar nominations: Best Sound (John Livadary), Best Cinematography (Black-and-White) (Rudolph Maté), and Best Supporting Actor by J. Carrol Naish for his role as an Italian prisoner.