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THE DESERT FOX ($15) is a solid Hollywood style screen biography that greatly benefits from the presence of actor James Mason. In THE DESERT FOX, Mason portrays Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the legendary German military leader of the Second World War. While Rommel was indeed a brilliant military tactician, who scored victory after victory against his opponents in Africa, THE DESERT FOX depicts the Field Marshal’s final days, after the tide of the war had begun to turn against Germany.

Released in 1951, THE DESERT FOX stands out from most Hollywood productions of the time, because this isn’t a typical propaganda film that sets out to depict all Germans as evil goose-stepping Nazis. Based upon Brigadier Desmond Young’s biography, THE DESERT FOX shows Rommel, as both a family man and the kind of no nonsense military leader that was respected and feared by the opponents that he faced on the field of battle. The terrific supporting cast of THE DESERT FOX features Cedric Hardwicke, Jessica Tandy, Luther Adler, Everett Sloane, Leo G. Carroll, George Macready, Richard Boone, John Hoyt and the voice of Michael Rennie, who serves as the film’s narrator.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has made THE DESERT FOX available on DVD in a full screen transfer that frames the movie in its proper 1.37:1 aspect ratio. This is a good transfer of a black and white film that is more than half a century old. The dependence on stock footage for battle scenes gives the image an uneven quality, but the principal photography is generally rendered in a sharp, well-defined fashion. Blacks appear fairly solid and deep, while the whites are clean and stable. Contrast is a bit stark at times, but is usually quite good where principal photography is concerned. The film element used for the transfer does show signs of age, with some noticeable blemishes and scratches being the worst culprits. Again, stock footage appears rougher than the main body of the film. There is a noticeable grain structure throughout the course of the presentation, but it is never obtrusive. Digital compression artifacts are a non-issue.

THE DESERT FOX features a Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack that holds up rather well for its age. Most of the background hiss and surface noise has been stripped away, leaving a relatively clean sounding track. As expected, fidelity is somewhat limited, which manifests itself with unconvincing sound effects and a slightly reedy incarnation of the musical score. Of course, THE DESERT FOX is pretty much a dialogue driven film, and the track does exceed in producing this element in a clean, fully intelligible manner. A Spanish monaural soundtrack has also been encoded onto the DVD, as have English and Spanish subtitles. The basic interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as American and Spanish theatrical trailers, plus bonus trailers for 13 RUE MADELEINE, THE BLUE MAX, THE ENEMY BELOW, SINK THE BISMARCK! and HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON.

As I stated above, THE DESERT FOX is a pretty solid vintage screen biography that is made even better by the presence of its star James Mason. Fox has done a pretty good job with the DVD, offering a fairly clean presentation, without any serious flaws. If you are a war movie buff or James Mason fan, you’ll want to check out THE DESERT FOX on DVD.



The Desert Fox (1951)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2003 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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