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The Desert Fox

At the Brattle

By Claude Nuzum

Erwin Rommel was a gallant military figure in a war where material was replacing personality and global strategy was submerging tactics. He became a living legend among the enemy troops and an almost admiring British and American public. The Desert Fox illuminates this remarkable personality without detracting from the romantic aura surrounding it.

The depicted episodes of Rommel's career only demonstrate the stern yet cavalier character the public expects in a military hero, and leave his brilliance unsung. They are held together by the conflict between his professional conscience and personal consciousness. Rommel, who believed, "My function in life...to carry out the orders of my superiors," comes to realize that Hitler is a madman whose meddling can only bring disaster to the Wehrmacht. His private doubts eventually undermine the traditional sense of duty of his caste when he sees that obedience is forcing him to violate the proud art of war.

As a soldier he must not think of politics, but a genuine patriotism transcends the chain of command. Hitler is betraying the German cause, which for Rommel is vaguely identified with both military achievement and the preservation of home and family. He continues in his thankless military duty, but joins the conspiracy against Hitler's life, for which he eventually loses his own.

James Mason is a suitably stiff yet dashing Field Marshal. Supported by fetching Jessica Tandy as his wife and Cedric Hardwicke, looking like the archtype of the educated German man-of-action, he manages to convey his problem effectively. His irritation with his master and his hesitation to act upon it seem more real than his exaggerated decisiveness with maps and binoculars. Yet if Rommel seems almost too fine a soldier, Hollywood can be forgiven this concession to folk lore in gratitude for portraying the man as well.

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