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The Desert Rats (1953)

Richard Burton , James Mason , Robert Wise  |  NR |  DVD
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Richard Burton, James Mason, Robert Newton, Robert Douglas, Torin Thatcher
  • Directors: Robert Wise
  • Writers: Richard Murphy
  • Producers: Robert L. Jacks
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, Closed-captioned, Full Screen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono), English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo), French (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono), Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Dubbed: Spanish
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox
  • DVD Release Date: May 21, 2002
  • Run Time: 88 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000063US0
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #246,428 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Desert Rats" on IMDb

Special Features


Editorial Reviews

Richard Burton stars in this exciting story of the stubborn, courageous men who held Rommel at bay in North Africa despite hopelessly outnumbered. The year is 1941, and Rommel has the British in full retreat. All that stands between him and the Suez Canal is the fortress of Tobruk, manned by a small army of Australian troops who are ordered to hold this vital position at any cost. Many of the men are green recruits, and it falls to Capt. MacRoberts (Burton) to whip them into shape. A bold tactician who realizes they will soon be overwhelmed if they do not take the offensive, MacRoberts leads countless daredevil raids that keep the superior enemy off-balance and earn his men the famous nickname they "won with blood and bore with pride." Directed by Robert Wise and co-starring James Mason in a reprise performance as Field Marshall Rommel (whom he first played in "The Desert Fox"), this stirring blend of action and history pays tribute to the heroic men known in the annals of war as The Desert Rats.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
63 of 64 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent war drama, with timely elements March 27, 2003
Richard Burton stars in this excellent war drama, directed by Robert Wise. James Mason reprises his role as Rommel, from "The Desert Fox."
I have to admit, I watched this in the hopes that I might gain some additional insight into the desert fighting in Iraq.
And I did. Even though this is a 50-year old movie, the desert scenes...the horrible reality of a "war in a desert" this film another subtext for the viewer, and makes it all the more gripping.
Yes, there are the standard war-movie subplots, but for the most part, there's a lot of uncommonly good elements to this movie. The Aussie aspect, the procedural details to the raids and attacks. It's constantly involving...
Consider this a safe bet for war film fans, and an equally safe bet for those who simply enjoy a good story well told.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful

Former editor, turned up-and-coming director, Robert Wise, essentially turns an otherwise fairly standard world war 2 yarn into a classic war film. Tight editing, decent special effects, a good screenplay plus compelling action scenes led by Burton, alongside an able British and Aussie sounding cast, lift "The Desert Rats" to cinematic respectability.

"The Desert Rats" delivers in the action department with a frontal Panzer attack in the opening minutes of the film and tries to keep up the pace for 88 minutes.


Richard Burton [Lt. Colonel MacRoberts] is a hard-nose officer in the British Eighth Army. He's entrenched at Tobruk and battling Rommel's Africa Corp. Hastily placed in charge of a newly arrived, green Australian unit, MacRoberts keeps tight discipline and asks the impossible of his men. Nevertheless, the results for McRoberts are surprisingly good as he and his men play their roles in continuing the defensive efforts at Tobruk for more than 8 months against Rommel. In good story telling form, we see the action more than hear about it, and it is all rather believably depicted.

Probably for the audiences benefit, MacRoberts is temporarily captured by the Germans in a night raid, where, while having a wound field dressed, he meets and defiantly dares Rommel [James Mason], "if you can crush Tobruk - then crush it!"

Afterwards, amidst a nice action scene where the German truck carrying the allied prisoners is strafed by Spitfires, MacRoberts escapes and returns too easily to the allied side, across enemy lines.

--- *THE PLAYERS* ---

Richard Burton - Capt.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars burton's best August 25, 2000
Format:VHS Tape
Plenty of action. One of Burton's finest performances in a war drama. A must see for anyone who likes war pictures. Very convincing. James Mason also portrays a fine role as "The Desertfox" once again.
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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Desert Heroes December 19, 2002
If you enjoy WWII movies you certainly want to catch this one with Richard Burton and James Mason. The cast, sets, and music are great. It is true classic WWII movie. Even if you aren't a war movie fan if you enjoy documentaries about the war you will enjoy this well told story of the battle for Tobruk. I was never a big fan of Burton's but I think he did a good job in this movie and "Where Eagles Dare".
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ode to the defenders of Tobruk December 17, 2005
Richard Burton playing English captain Tammy MacRoberts is solid in the well done WW2 flick "The Desert Rats". Burton is assigned to mold a group of green Australian recruits shipped into the besieged garrison of Tobruk during the 1941 offensive push of Fieldmarshal Rommel through North Africa. The stern Burton is tough yet efficient but certainly not loved by the fun loving Aussies, who balk at his regimented ways.

Rommel played by the talented James Mason, who despite his Britsh roots utters most of his lines in authentic sounding German. His German accent when speaking English holds up very well. Rommel is compelled to conquer Tobruk in his plan to conquer Egypt and control the Suez Canal. The troops deployed there however using underground shelters built into the flat desert landscape doggedly withstand the nerve wracking and continual artillery shelling.

They hold out for eight months styming Rommel's attempt to overrun their defenses. Although "The Desert Rats" was released eight years after the war in 1953, the film serves as a tribute to the brave men that served there.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Epic Struggle in the Desert August 25, 2005
Richard Burton and James Mason star in this film about a group of highly outnumbered men who put a stop to Rommel's advance in North Africa.

Burton stars as Colonel MacRoberts, an Englishman who is assigned to the Australian garrison who's job it is to hold the town of Tobruk. If Tobruk were to fall into the hands of the Germans, Rommel would have a clear path to the Suez Canal, and ultimate control of all of North Africa. Mason stars as Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. His vaunted Africa Korps have been wreaking havoc against the British and now the Brits are in full retreat. Their last holdout is Tobruk.

Facing overwhelming odds, the defenders of Tobruk, led by MacRoberts, have resorted to a series of hit-and-run raids ot frustrate the Germans while the rest of the British army regroups near Cairo. Promised relief by the British forces, the besieged at Tobruk manage to hold out for nearly nine months against constant shelling and tank attacks. Finally, at the point of nearly pulling out, the Australian garrison is finally relieved by the British.

Generally, I thought this was a slightly above average film. James Mason's character of Rommel is hardly included in the movie at all; Burton's character of MacRoberts is the centerpiece of the film. As for the battle scenes, they are somewhat subpar as opposed to other movies I've seen. The action just isn't that great, and the actual combat lacks in authenticity and intensity. Still, I did enjoy this movie. Not knowing much about this specific theatre of combat, I did learn some things that I didn't know before. Also, I thought Richard Burton did a credible job in his role as MacRoberts. I think Mason's portrayal of Rommel was handled poorly, and I wish he could have been in more parts of the movie. I think people will enjoy this movie. It describes a lesser-known theatre of the war, and showcases how a small group of determined soldiers held out against a much larger enemy force.
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