Five Graves to Cairo ★★★

Billy Wilder’s third feature as director may show hints of his greatness to come but sadly those moments are a little too fleeting. Five Graves to Cairo is essentially a propaganda piece which means certain character depictions are crude at best (the Italian General is particularly broad) and it lays it on thick with the political message. It is also evident that this is based on a stage play based on the rather static nature of the film. There is the occasional action beat which Wilder handles well but certain transitions are quite clumsy. At least with all of his films it is beautifully shot though.

Whilst it is an espionage thriller the film plays out predictably enough. Considering the duplicitous nature of the characters it is a shame the story never quite twists and turns as ingeniously as it could have. Wilder does manage to effectively juggle the tone from serious thriller to broad comedy without it ever feeling schizophrenic. Sadly the performances aren’t so lucky. Whilst Franchot Tone is an earnest and charismatic hero the decision to cast him as a British officer seems a mistake. Yet the film is full of similar issues of dubious nationality which did impact on my enjoyment a little. However, Eric von Stronheim as Rommel is fantastic. Five Graves to Cairo ends up being a solid but unspectacular wartime thriller which is worth seeing for fans of films of the period and to see where Wilder began.

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