"Sahara" *(Zoltan Korda, 1943) Columbia Pictures propaganda film (based on "an incident" in a Russian screenplay) disguised as a war-time action picture. Humphrey Bogart stars as Sgt. Joe Gunn,** a cranky old Yank in a clanky old tank, the LuluBelle, who, making his way back to a friendly base, gathers together a rag-tag crew of Allies (French, British, Australian, South African, Italian and Sudanese) in North Africa. Voted in charge of the make-shift troop, he makes priorities—keep LuluBelle running, find water, deal with the Nazi troops nearby, stay alive. Along the way, through the collective effort, manage to sustain a stronghold against a large Nazi desert-troop. Filmed in the California desert, it still feels like rough duty for the actors amid the sand, the flies and the sweat. Director Korda and multiple screenwriters, including John Howard Lawson and Sidney Buchman keep the surprises and the intrigue sustained through the entire picture, while promoting brotherhood and cooperation between the lines.
Bogart really has the least interesting part, but he excels at being the crux of the movie and meriting being the guy to whom all eyes turn. It's an effective, oddball role. Of all the films with people of obvious ethnicity pulling together whether in American or Japanese war films, "Sahara" succeeds brilliantly, betraying neither the prejudices of the period, nor moving too far into caricature. The movie even takes a stab at trashing the "master race" theories of the Nazi's.
Amidst the water retrieval methods and the tense negotiations and full-on battle scenes featuring big guns and deceiving trench-warfare, the stranded Allies still have time to compare cultures and rememberances of home. "The things you learn in the Army," says a smiling Texan to the Sudanese in conversation.
There's your recruitment headline right there.
* Not to be confused (as if it could be) with the 1983 Brooks Shields vehicle, or the 2005 Clive Cussler adaptation with Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz.
** Presumably Luger being too German, and Beretta to be used in a 70's cop show and Joe Rifle...sounding as dumb as Joe Gunn, frankly.