Sunday, January 03, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Five Graves to Cairo (1943) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

FIVE GRAVES TO CAIRO (1943), directed and cowritten by Billy Wilder, is now available on a beautiful Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber.

Wilder and Charles Brackett based their script on the Lajos Biro play HOTEL IMPERIAL.  This was my first time to see the film, and it did not disappoint.

Franchot Tone plays Corporal John Bramble, the sole survivor of a British tank crew who stumbles across the North African desert into what's left of a small town.

He takes refuge in the Empress of Britain Hotel owned by Farid (Akim Tamiroff), who hides him from Germans who have also just arrived in town.  

The hotel's French maid, Mouche (Anne Baxter), is reluctant to help Bramble, but she ultimately goes along with a plan for Bramble to pose as Davos, the hotel waiter who was just killed when part of the hotel was bombed.

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (Erich von Stroheim) is among the Germans who commandeer the hotel, and Bramble quickly catches on to the realization that Davos had been spying for the Germans.

Bramble surreptitiously fills in an imprisoned British officer who passes through the hotel and in return receives his marching orders: Continue to infiltrate Rommel's circle and learn the hidden locations of key German supply depots.

This was an excellent suspense film which provided a very engrossing 96 minutes.  Just as when I saw him last year in Kino Lorber's release of LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER (1935), I continue to feel that Franchot Tone might be one of the most underrated of all Hollywood actors.  He's simply terrific in this and has such a great way with sardonic humor.  He's a compelling performer who carries a majority of the film's scenes, and he's a great pleasure to watch.

When Bramble stumbles into the bombed-out town in search of water and finds Anne Baxter there, it rather reminded me of Gregory Peck finding Baxter in a ghost town in YELLOW SKY (1948) a few years later.  Baxter was only 19 or 20 when she filmed this but had a maturity beyond her years.  Like Tone, she is also top-notch, playing an embittered, cynical maid who might -- or might not -- pose a threat to Bramble's safety.

Over the past year, thanks in part to Kino's releases, I've gradually been checking off watching films featuring Akim Tamiroff.  This was one of the more appealing performances of the several I've seen in the last year, as the humane hotel owner who also stumbles across a key piece of information needed by Bramble.

Fortunio Bonanova provides some needed lightness as an Italian general whose singing is not appreciated by his German colleagues.  Peter van Eyck, Ian Keith, and Miles Mander are also in the cast.

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray is an outstanding picture from a brand-new 4K master, showing off the fine black and white photography of John F. Seitz. Sound quality is also excellent.  The score, incidentally, was composed by Miklos Rozsa.

The disc includes a commentary track by the eminent film historian Joseph McBride; the trailer; and a gallery of trailers for seven additional films available from Kino Lorber.

Kino Lorber had so many interesting releases last fall that I'm still watching and reviewing them!  This is one of the best.  Highly recommended.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


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