Desert Fox, The: The Story of Rommel (1951)

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Released 11-Aug-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War Theatrical Trailer-1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0 (2:16)
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1951
Running Time 84:50
RSDL / Flipper RSDL Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Henry Hathaway
Studio
Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring James Mason
Cedric Hardwicke
Jessica Tandy
Luther Adler
Case ?
RPI $31.95 Music Daniele Amfitheatrof


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles Dutch
English
French
German
Italian
Spanish
French Titling
German Titling
Italian Titling
Spanish Titling
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    War creates many heroes and many villains, and often the way people are looked at in this way depends upon which side of the war you are on. However, in the case of a few rare individuals, they can be looked upon as respected soldiers by both sides. These rare individuals are often the most charismatic of people, but are also the people of great intelligence and cunning. The Second World War created a few genuinely charismatic and respected soldiers, and funnily enough a majority of them seemed to come out of the one theatre - North Africa. That campaign spawned at least three legends: Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, General George S. Patton and Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. By any definition you wish to name, these three men were amongst the greatest soldiers of the Second World War, and all played an extremely central role in the successes of their respective countries during the course of the war. The decisive Battle of El Alamein of course featured two of these men, and it is fair to suggest that the result of this battle was a turning point for the respective sides. The then newly appointed commander of the British Eighth Army, General Montgomery, stopped the Germans and forced them back to Europe. The Germans never recovered from the loss and in broad terms from that point onward were to retreat further back to Berlin with every passing month.

    Why was El Alamein so important? If the Germans were not stopped, they would have pushed through to Cairo and The Suez Canal. This would effectively prevent the Allies supplying themselves in and through the Mediterranean and would have forced them to establish supply lines via South Africa and the Atlantic, hardly a great prospect given the weather and the Kriegsmarine. It would also have given the Germans access to the vital oil fields of the Middle East. Whilst Field Marshall Erwin Rommel lost that decisive battle, it is fair to say that it was not exactly his fault. Suffering serious material shortages, as well as having virtually no fuel, he did what he could with what he had at hand - which was significantly less than the Allies. Despite the odds against him, he nonetheless very nearly succeeded. He was perhaps best known, however, for the fact that in the end he completely ignored a direct order from Adolf Hitler: to fight to the last man. Rommel was too good a soldier and too well respected by his men to do that to them.

    In some respects that is when the beginning of the end came for Rommel. Tremendously respected by his leader for his military prowess, that order was perhaps the starting point of the doubt that was to influence Rommel over the ensuing period of the war. These doubts were reinforced by his friend Karl Strolin, mayor of Stuttgart, who appraised the Field Marshall of the growing revolt against the Fuhrer. Appointed to command the defences of the Atlantic Wall, a joke of the highest order amongst the career military, Rommel's growing uneasiness with the military flunkies around Hitler started to draw him into the revolt. As events progressed in Europe, especially in Normandy and around D-Day, with the Fuhrer refusing to release troops and weapons held at Calais in preparation for the "true" invasion, the plot against Hitler gathered strength. After the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler in July, 1944, thousands were implicated and gave their lives. Amongst those was the greatest soldier the Third Reich knew. There was often conjecture as to what happened to Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, despite the state funeral he was given, as he sort of disappeared from sight when it would have been expected that he would return from his "accident" in July, 1944 to lead the defence of the fatherland. It is now fairly clear that Rommel was implicated in the assassination attempt, even though unconscious in hospital at the time, and was given an ultimatum that he could not refuse. There is little doubt that he was forced to commit suicide, rather than expose his family to the vagaries of an ungrateful nation after his death. No one truly believed that he had died from the injuries he sustained in that accident in July, 1944. The nickname incidentally was bestowed upon him by the Allies - as no small measure of the respect that he was held in by his enemies.

    That is the scope of this film: the return of Rommel to lead the Afrika Corps in the Battle of El Alamein through to his death in October, 1944. The screenplay is derived from the biography by Brigadier Desmond Young, who actually provides the narration to the film. The film provided James Mason with one of the greatest moments of his career and it is a superb job that he does here. He leads a cast of very solid professional actors who all contribute well to this excellent biopic. Of note is the performance of Jessica Tandy as Frau Lucie Rommel - a very nicely handled role by a woman better known for her roles in later life.

    To my mind there are two great biopics of great soldiers of the Second World War. The best is of course Patton - a superb film that captures the very essence of the maverick American General, with George C. Scott providing his finest performance on film. The other is The Desert Fox, which provides arguably James Mason's finest performance on film. This is highly recommended, even if the presentation does at times leave a bit to be desired.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    I would be unable to say how many times I have seen this film on television, but it would certainly be in the dozens. It is a film that I have always enjoyed, even though it has been some years since I last saw it. It was almost like greeting a long lost friend when this DVD was thrown into the player for review.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, which equates very closely to the original theatrical ratio of 1.37:1. It is of course not 16x9 enhanced.

    As the oldest of the transfers yet seen in the Fox War Classics series, this is rather expectedly somewhat poorer than the previous films reviewed. It starts out rather grainily and does not get that much better as the film progresses; indeed, at times (such as at 12:01) it can get very grainy indeed. It starts out rather dark and again does not improve substantially during the course of the film. It features some rather poor shadow detail at times, no more so than at the start of the film prior to the commando raid. However, it is fair to say that these issues are adjusted to with some ease and the enjoyment of the film is not really hampered in any way. It is equally fair to say, though, that this lack of quality is a sad reflection of the fact that a full restoration of the film has not been undertaken. Clarity is at times a little wanting, especially during some of the war footage sequences. Overall though, this is probably no worse looking than we would expect of an unrestored fifty year old film.

    With the slightly darkish tone of the transfer, the blacks here tend to be a little too black and contrast is not the best. This could really have done with some improvement in the grey scales to enhance detail and make the film a little less dark on the eyes. With little in the way of white to soften the look, this really is a stark looking transfer, albeit a vibrant enough one.

    There is some evidence of some loss of resolution in some pan shots here and there, such as at 33:04. I would, however, suggest that these are source material related and not so much the result of poor mastering. There is thankfully little obvious evidence of aliasing or other film-to-video artefacts in the transfer. Film artefacts do come to the fore, especially during the stock war footage, although somewhat less than in the previous film reviewed.

    This is claimed to be an RSDL formatted DVD, but I certainly did not notice any evidence of a layer change.

    There is the usual small number of subtitle options on the DVD. The English efforts are generally pretty good, but with a little dialogue omitted here and there. They also have the habit of showing Frau Rommel's name as Lucy rather than the more correct Lucie.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are what appears to be the standard Fox War Classic five soundtracks on the DVD, with all of them being indicated as Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtracks: English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

    After the poorish effort afforded The Young Lions, this one comes as a distinct improvement. Whilst not without its faults, it certainly is better as far as the dialogue is concerned and there are far fewer potential issues with audio sync.

    The score comes from Daniele Amfitheatrof, who apparently has not previously appeared on a DVD in the site's database. Considering the vast number of films in his filmography, this is perhaps a surprise, although considering the lack of films I recognise in that filmography, it really is not surprising at all. A decent enough effort overall, but hardly the stuff to make into memories.

    Thankfully not blessed with any significant background hiss, and certainly without any significant distortion, the soundtrack just does enough to carry the dialogue and not much more. The action sequences certainly don't come over well, but we cannot expect miracles from a mono soundtrack. At the end of the review session, I had plenty of notes about video transfer issues with the DVD, but none about the audio side of things. That probably says it all.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    The basic standard package seen in the previous releases from the series.

Menu

    The same very functional and out of character effort.

Theatrical Trailer (2:16)

    The trailer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Unfortunately, the sound is slightly hissy and slightly strident, and the transfer is rather grainy and well blessed with plenty of film artefacts.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    It would appear that the Region 4 release misses out on:

    The Region 1 release misses out on nothing but some variation in soundtracks. In Region 2 (UK) the film is available in a two disc set with the other film being The Desert Rats (not yet released here). That presentation is of course an exceptionally apt one. From what I can ascertain, the transfers of the Region 1 and 2 releases seem to be very similar overall and there is little to choose between the three releases.

Summary

    It is great to have The Desert Fox available to add to the shelf next to Patton. The presentation is not the best, and it would have been nice to see a full restoration done, but what we have is not that bad at all. Well worthwhile checking this one out if you have an interest in one of the great soldiers of the Second World War.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Wednesday, July 30, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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