Twitter Plot Summary: A special unit of Brits rescue a Canadian POW, so he can help lead an attack on a fuel depot in Tobruk.
Director: Arthur Hiller
Key Cast: Rock Hudson, George Peppard, Nigel Green, Guy Stockwell, Leo Gordon, Norman Rossington, Percy Herbert.
Five Point Summary:
1. George Peppard makes his entrance like it’s an episode of the A-Team.
2. Put your chap away, old chap.
3. Day for night – it wouldn’t be a 60s war film without a day for night sequence!
4. So a Brit, a German and a Canadian go into the desert…
5. Explosions! Drama! Excitement! MEN ON FIRE!
It’s a suicide mission. Led by a Canadian. Kind of. It’s bound to fail, isn’t it? Well, kind of. It wouldn’t be much of a war film if the Allies lost now, would it? Oh, but then there’s A Bridge Too Far… I’ll shut up.
Tobruk opens with a daring raid by a group of commandos, who break into an Algerian prison to rescue one man – Major Donald Craig (Hudson), a topographer who really knows how to topograph. For the layman, that means he’s very good at providing detailed descriptions of place and regions. He’s then informed by a half-naked Colonel Harker (he’s just had a shower out in the open, go figure) that he will be assisting in a raid on Tobruk, the German’s fuel storage base in North Africa. If the plan works then the German war effort in the region will be crippled or at the very least severely impeded.
There would be enough conflict if it was just the Allies trying to destroy the Nazi base, but part of their forces are a group of Jewish Germans who have switched sides. As you might expect, there’s no love lost between either side and, whilst they are fighting for a common cause, there is still a hefty amount of distrust between the Brits and the Germans. The desert is also a dangerous place, as the convoy comes under attack from all quarters on a regular basis, and also encounters an English father and daughter who have defected to the German side. Throw a spy into the mix (and it’s very obvious who it is, if you think about it), and you have a relatively complex story that unfolds at the right pace.
There’s some good humour, intended or otherwise, just from the very British accents alone. Nigel Green’s Colonel Harker is about as stereotypically British as you can get, from his stiff upper lip to the impressive moustache that sits atop it. There’s also comic relief from a couple of English/Irish soldiers in the party, played by Norman Rossington and Percy Herbert. Their presence isn’t necessary, but they do act as an occasional pressure release on what could have been a taut war time thriller rather than the somewhat more slack war time thriller that we have received.
The problem I always have with the majority of “A to B” stories is that most of the film is spent on the journey to their ultimate destination and the finale ends up being lacklustre. By comparison something like Where Eagles Dare spends the majority of its time with our plucky crew weaving their way through a German-occupied mountain town, so it has a bit more to it than the desert. But then, Tobruk moves along at quite a decent pace for a 60s film, and the story never fails to keep you engaged. The only problem is the tagline which essentially gives away the ending of the film – “83 men started the mission! Only 4 survived!” Whilst that is a spoiler to some extent, you’re better off watching to find out which four make it out. You will probably be surprised. Probably. Maybe. Potentially. Maybe not. By the time you reach the inevitably explosive finale it won’t matter anyway, the journey itself is more than enough.
Favourite scene: The British fighter attacking the convoy. Very nicely done.
Quote: “Heil Hitler!” (Throws stick grenade into bunker).
Silly Moment: Anything involving the comic relief characters. They’re surplus.