One of the last films directed by reliable studio-era veteran Henry Hathaway, Raid on Rommel is a quasi-sequel to the director’s acclaimed 1951 war movie The Desert Fox. Whereas the earlier film was a tight character piece about Field Marshall Erwin Johannes Rommel, the military genius who led Nazi Germany’s tank divisions to a series of impressive victories in North Africa, the latter picture is a simplistic men-on-a-mission picture that only peripherally involves Rommel. And while The Desert Fox featured an intense leading performance by James Mason as Rommel, Raid on Rommel casts the comparatively anonymous Wolfgang Preiss, a veteran German actor who played Nazis in a number of American productions, as the general.
In Raid on Rommel, Richard Burton plays Captain Alan Foster, a resourceful British commando who treks into the North African desert to meet a group of specially trained soldiers for an attack on a gun installation. Disguising himself as a wounded war victim, Foster moves behind enemy lines and then accidentally intercepts the wrong convoy. As a result, he’s thrown in with a British medical unit that’s being held captive by the Nazis. Seething that he’s got healers under his command instead of a killers, Foster nonetheless decides to not only continue the mission but to target Rommel’s fuel dumps in addition to the gun installation. The story gets awfully convoluted, because there’s also some pointless business involving the mistress (Danielle De Metz) of an Italian general; she’s being transported across the battlefield with the British prisoners, and thus becomes a problem for our heroes.
Despite the diffuse nature of its overarching story, Raid on Rommel eventually crystallizes into a fun yarn about a few bold men facing an impossible challenge. Furthermore, a handful of enjoyable flourishes keep the picture from being completely generic—for instance, one of the medical men bonds with Rommel hbecause both are stamp collectors. The characters are mostly interchangeable types, played by a colorless band of workaday actors, and Burton has little to do except grit his teeth and look serious whenever things are going badly. The film’s production values are generally pretty good, since it’s hard to screw up tanks in the desert, but way too much stock footage is employed; the otherwise crisp-looking movie periodically cuts to grainy shots of armies amassing in the desert or ships maneuvering in the ocean, which adds to the disjointed feeling of the picture.
Raid on Rommel: FUNKY