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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A rouser of a war film, with messages for the home front and a first-class performance from Humphrey Bogart, September 17, 2006
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This review is from: Sahara (DVD)
If anyone wants to see how effective a WWII propaganda movie can be, I'd recommend Sahara. It's the story of a small group of Allied soldiers, led by Sergeant Joe Gunn (Humphrey Bogart), lost in the Libyan desert, who are determined to defend a small outpost against a battalion of Germans. The outpost has a well, but the well is almost dry. It produces only drops of water. Joe and his comrades will use the promise of water to delay the Germans, fighting them off in an almost hopeless battle, to give the Allies after the fall of Tobruk a chance to regroup. Please note that elements of the plot are discussed.

Sahara hits its marks to get all of us civilians back home a reason to be proud of our fighting men, to be resolute in the fight against the Germans, and to dedicate ourselves to do what we must to win. Let's see. We've got Humphrey Bogart leading us. His Joe Gunn is sympathetic, tough and smart, a natural leader, and at heart Gunn is just an average guy. The men he winds up leading are his tank crew and a collection of men from other countries he encounters in the desert. They come from Brooklyn, of course, and from Texas, from London, South Africa, Dublin, France, the Sudan. We have the black Sudanese portrayed as a resourceful and brave man, not as comedy relief, who not only develops a friendship with the Texan but who twice saves the day for his comrades. We have an Italian prisoner who represents an Italy which is oppressed by the Germans, and a Nazi prisoner who is arrogant and vicious. We have a battle in which ingenuity and bravery manage to hold off brutal frontal attacks. We have good men dying for a cause which is larger than they are. And we have two quiet but effective speeches which establish why we fight and why the fight is worth the cost.

Sergeant Gunn calls everyone together in the blazing sun just outside the mud-brick outpost to explain what he wants to do against the oncoming battalion of Germans. He intends that they will fight to hold off and delay the enemy. He has fewer than ten men. The Germans have several hundred. "I look at it this way," he tells the group. "Because it is a 100-to-one shot, because it is so much more than line-of-duty, because there's so little chance of us coming out of it, I felt I ought to put it up to you. You've all got families at home, wives, mothers, sweethearts. I ain't got none, so it doesn't matter about me. I know how you feel about 'em...maybe havin' none I know even better. What you decide, you'd better decide quick." One British soldier speaks up, "Well, nobody minds giving his life, but this is throwing it away. Why?" "Why?" Joe answers, "Why did your people go about their business when the Germans were throwing everything in the book at 'em? Why did your little boats take the men off the beach at Dunkirk? Why did the Russians make a stand at Moscow? Why did the Chinese move whole cities thousands of miles inland when the Japs attacked 'em? Why Bataan? Why Corregidor? Maybe they were all nuts but there's one thing they did do. They delayed the enemy and kept on delayin' 'em until we got strong enough to hit 'em harder than they were hittin' us. I ain't no general, but it seems to me that's one way to win."

Joe and the others start digging in. They only have a few hours before the Germans, with no water of their own, arrive. Joe bluffs the German commander. "Water for guns!" He knows they won't give in, and he knows he has almost no water himself. The Germans attack and keep attacking. One by one, Joe's men die. The lone British officer, a medical man who has backed Joe up, is with Joe in a shallow trench. "We've got to do it," Joe tells Doc. He sounds tired. "It looks like somebody's gotta work a miracle." Doc looks at him. "It seems to me," he tells Joe, "the four of us holding off several hundred of them is nothing short of a miracle. You know why we're able to do it? Because we're stronger than they are." Joe looks at him. "What do you mean, stronger?" he asks. "Oh, I don't mean in numbers," Doc says, "I mean in something else. You see, those men out there have never known...well, the dignity of freedom." "Dignity? That's a funny way to put it," Joe says, "but maybe you got something there." "We've all got something," Doc says quietly.

Soon, we're down to two men. Then that miracle happens. See the movie and find out. Yes, the speeches are obvious, but they work in the context of the movie. The first third is Joe, his tank and his crew, trying to find their way back to their lines and slowly gathering up the others. They are attacked by a German fighter and have to keep moving through a scouring sandstorm. The middle of the film is spent watching their struggle to collect the few drops of water coming from the well. More importantly, now we get to know most of the men as individuals. We also get to know just how dangerous the Nazi prisoner is. And the last third is a rouser...the preparation for what appears to be a hopeless battle, the dedication of the men as they fight and die, and then the final victory.

For a film that isn't especially well known, this is, in my opinion, one of Bogart's best roles. There's no false heroics about Joe Gunn. He's just a gritty sergeant who rises to the occasion. With the exception of J. Carrol Naish, who gives one of his over-played little-man Italian performances, the actors all do fine jobs. I particularly liked Dan Duryea, Rex Ingram and Louis Mercier. One other thought. If you're ever in a battle, never show your pals a photo of your sweetheart or your child. You'll soon be dead if you do.

The DVD transfer is just fine. There are no significant extras.
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C. O. DeRiemer
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Location: San Antonio, Texas, USA

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