Orders of an Allied retreat in the Libyan Desert reach the Yanks in their own idiom: "Scram!" Lulubelle the tank is the focal point amid rocky sands, the sergeant (Humphrey Bogart) whispers endearments to it while repairing the motor; the Americans come upon Richard Nugent’s disbanded British platoon in a nocturnal vista (fire and explosions in the distant horizon), everybody crams into the "tin hearse." The trajectory is from the fall of Tobruk to the last stand at El Alamein, with a multinational cluster gathered along the way -- an English trooper (Carl Harbord), a French legionnaire (Louis Mercier), a Sudanese officer (Rex Ingram), an Italian prisoner (J. Carroll Naish), a German pilot (Kurt Kreuger). The drive to the half-bombed mosque alternates between abrupt attacks and scenes of the guys showing pictures of each other’s wives and children, the drying oasis is defended as if it were Little Bighorn against hundreds of thirsty Nazis. "I ain’t no general but it seems to me that’s one way to win," Bogart tells the men, laying the ground for the climactic "miracle." Zoltan Korda’s wartime coalition is more Air Force muscularity than In Which We Serve fustiness, thanks to Warner Bros.-type bits of business like the dollar bill passed back and forth between Bruce Bennett and Dan Duryea, or Mercier’s use of his fondness for American cigs as a shrugging excuse for sticking with the group. A tactile feeling for sun-blasted dunes mingles with didacticism in which the Texan and the African bond chummily over polygamy ("we both have much to learn") and the eloquently garbled Naish explains his country’s involvement with Hitler ("only the body wears the uniform, not the soul"). Zorda steers the action expertly, though he could use some of Naish’s modesty when it comes to analyzing the enemy: "That would take an artist, I am but a mechanic." Cinematography by Rudolph Maté. Score by Miklós Rózsa. With Lloyd Bridges, Patrick O’Moore, Guy Kingsford, and John Wengraf. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce