In June 1942, the 8th British Army Corporal John J. Bramble is retreating from Rommel’s Afrika Korps and has sunstroke, reaching a remote hotel in Sidi Halfaya. He is helped by the Egyptian owner, Farid, under the protest of the French chambermaid, Mouche, afraid with the imminent arrival of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and the Germans that are heading to Alexandria and Cairo. John assumes the identity of the deceased Alsatian lame waiter Paul Davos to survive, but he discovers other secrets. –IMDb
Originally planning to become a lawyer, Billy Wilder abandoned that career in favor of working as a reporter for a Viennese newspaper, using this experience to move to Berlin, where he worked for the city’s largest tabloid. He broke into films as a screenwriter in 1929, and wrote scripts for many German films until Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933. Wilder immediately realized his Jewish ancestry would cause problems, so he emigrated to Paris, then the US. Although he spoke no English when he arrived in Hollywood, Wilder was a fast learner, and thanks to contacts such as Peter Lorre (with whom he shared an apartment), he was able to break into American films. His partnership with Charles Brackett started in 1938 and the team was responsible for writing some of Hollywood’s classic comedies, including Ninotchka (1939) and Ball of Fire (1941). The partnership expanded into a producer-director one in 1942, with Brackett producing, and the two turned out such classics… read more
In only his second effort as a director, Billy Wilder delivers his first of many masterpieces. This film gets lost amid his other classics, but I think that it stands as one of his finest. It works on so many levels - thriller, war film, and with just enough Wilder-Brackett wit to make you laugh. Plus, John Seitz's photography is brilliant - things never looked so dark as when the Germans overtake the hotel.
Early effort from Wilder is an ingeniously designed wartime thriller. Intricately-plotted with energetic performances by Franchot Tone and Erich von Stroheim (though Akim Tamiroff's comic-relief Arab is a bit over the top) and excellent black and white chiaroscuro cinematography by John Seitz. Wilder would go on to make a number cinematic masterpieces, but this is a strong early start.