The Black Tent

Last updated

The Black Tent
"The Black Tent" (1956).jpg
British theatrical poster
Directed by Brian Desmond Hurst
Produced by William Macquitty
Earl St. John
Written by Bryan Forbes
Robin Maugham
Based onstory by Robin Maugham
Starring Donald Sinden
Anthony Steel
Anna Maria Sandri
André Morell
Donald Pleasence
Music by William Alwyn
Edited by Alfred Roome
Distributed byRank Film Distributors of America
Release date
March 1956
Running time
93 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office1,351,181 admissions (France) [1]

The Black Tent is a 1956 British war film directed by Brian Desmond Hurst and starring Donald Sinden, Anthony Steel, Anna Maria Sandri, André Morell and Donald Pleasence. [2] It is set in North Africa, during the Second World War and was filmed on location in Libya.


During the British retreat through Libya, British officer Captain David Holland takes shelter with a Bedouin tribe and marries the sheik's daughter. After the war his younger brother, who had believed him to be dead, learns that he may be alive in Libya – prompting him to set out and search for him.

Along with Bengazi (1955), The Back Tent is one of the few feature films set in the last days of the British Military Administration of Libya from 1945 to 1951. [3]


The film begins with Colonel Sir Charles Holland (Donald Sinden) receiving a note at his country estate and proceeding to London. He contacts the Foreign Office and is informed that his missing-in-action brother may be still in Libya.

The film goes back to a tank battle where blonde-haired Captain Holland (Anthony Steel) is sprawled unconscious beside his tank on the sand. When he comes to, he walks over the dunes until collapsing near a Bedouin encampment at an oasis. He is found by the sheik's daughter, Mabrouka (Anna Maria Sandri), who takes him to the camp which consists of several black tents.

The film skips forward to a point after the war when Captain Holland's brother, Charles Holland , is guided into the desert by Ali (Donald Pleasence) in search of his brother. They were drawn by a promissory note that had been given by Captain Holland to the Bedouin for their help and eventually taken to the British embassy for payment. Sir Charles sets off to discover the fate of his brother and eventually reaches the Bedouin camp. He is entertained by the camp's chief, Sheik Salem ben Yussef (André Morrel) and sees a young blonde boy in the camp. Later, the Sheik becomes angry at Sir Charles's line of questioning about his brother, the boy, and note and asks them to leave. Before they leave, Mabrouka gives Ali a sock containing Captain Holland's diary which he gives Sir Charles. The film skips back in time to recount the story within the diary.

Captain Holland, having been tended by Mabrouka, recovers. He learns that Mabrouka is the sheik's daughter and is betrothed to Sheik Faris (Michael Craig) from another tribe. When a German reconnaissance vehicle arrives at the camp, Captain Holland hides in some Roman ruins. The senior German officer then finds Holland's service revolver in a tent.

Mabrouka and Captain Holland become romantically involved to the obvious annoyance of Sheik Faris. He colludes with the Germans who return to the ruins where Holland and Sheik Yussef kill them and Faris. The romance between Captain Holland and Mabrouka deepens and they marry.

Learning of the British victory at El Alamein, Captain Holland seeks to return to the British lines but finds that his wife is pregnant. A group led by the Sheik and Captain Holland travel toward the British lines but come across a column of retreating Italian vehicles. Captain Holland sustains a fatal injury rescuing the Sheik.

The film returns to the present day with the Sheik handing Sir Charles a letter with his brother's will bequeathing his estate to his son. Sir Charles discusses this with his nephew but the boy decides to remain with the tribe and burns the letter.


Original story

The film was based on an original story by Robin Maugham, who had served in the North African Desert during World War II. [4] It first appeared as a short story Pay Bearer £20 in Cheque Au Porteur. He later published a version of the story under the title "Desert Bond" in Chambers Journal. Maugham later included the story under the title "The Black Tent" in a later anthology of his writings published in 1973 called The Black Tent - and Other Stories. [5]

In the early 1950s Robert Clarke of Associated British considered buying the screen rights to the story. He decided not to but eventually hired Maugham to be his assistant. [6]


Producer Walter MacQuitty was an enthusiast of location filming - his most recent pictures included The Beachcomber.The film was shot at Pinewood Studios and on location in Libya. The film unit was mostly based in Tripoli. The lead actress was Italian appearing in her first English language film. [7] [8]

Star Donald Sinden had previously made Above Us the Waves with producer MacQuitty and Simba with director Brian Michael Hurst. It was an early film role for Michael Craig, who had recently signed to the Rank Organisation; it was the first time he made a movie on location. [9]

Several scenes were shot in the Roman theatre of Sabratha. Archaeological Site of Sabratha-108976.jpg
Several scenes were shot in the Roman theatre of Sabratha.

The film used the site of the Roman ruins at Sabratha in Libya, which is by the sea, [10] although the plot suggests that the camp is deep in the Libyan desert. This is a plot device to provide a bit of eye candy to the viewer and a reason for the Germans to visit in small numbers, like regular tourists. [11]


The Observer had trouble with the reality of the story but thought "the scenery is impressive and the tents... are interesting." [12] "Too bright, too clean, too polished", wrote The Times. [13]

The Monthly Film Bulletin thought the "intelligently constructed" script was undermined by "disappointingly slack" direction. [14] Filmink called it "entertaining". [15]

The film was released in the US in 1957 on a double bill with Checkpoint , also starring Anthony Steel. [16] [17]

Turner Classic Movies calls the film "an odd duck... that has never received much fan love in its day or since, and in fact is barely remembered today. But it is, for one thing, the first English-language film shot largely in Libya" and which "plays like something of a prophecy – six years before the epochal on-location imagery and direct exploration of British colonialism we're all familiar with in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962), here are vast desert-dune landscapes punctuated by Englishmen and testy Bedouin on camels, with all of the culture-collision freight that implies." [18]


Theirs is the Glory: Arnhem, Hurst and Conflict on Film takes Hurst's Battle of Arnhem epic as its centrepiece and then chronicles Hurst's life and experiences during the First World War and profiles each of his other nine films on conflict, including The Black Tent. [19]

Related Research Articles

<i>The Cruel Sea</i> (1953 film)

The Cruel Sea is a 1953 British war film starring Jack Hawkins, Donald Sinden, Denholm Elliott, Stanley Baker, Liam Redmond, Virginia McKenna and Moira Lister. Made by Ealing Studios seven years after the end of the Second World War, it was directed by Charles Frend and produced by Leslie Norman.

Donald Sinden English actor

Sir Donald Alfred Sinden was an English actor in theatre, film, television and radio as well as an author.

"The Vessel of Wrath" is a short story by W. Somerset Maugham. Written in 1931 it first appeared in the April 1931 edition of Hearst's International Cosmopolitan. Maugham often introduced short stories as a contribution to periodicals and then later included them in books or collected editions. In 1933 "The Vessel of Wrath" was included in his book Ah King.

<i>Lion of the Desert</i> 1981 film by Moustapha Akkad

Lion of the Desert is a 1981 Libyan historical epic war film about the Second Italo-Senussi War, starring Anthony Quinn as Libyan tribal leader Omar Mukhtar, a Bedouin leader fighting the Regio Esercito and Oliver Reed as Italian General Rodolfo Graziani, who attempted to defeat Mukhtar. It was directed by Moustapha Akkad and funded by the government under Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Released in May 1981, the film has received positive reviews from critics, but performed poorly at the box office, gaining revenues of US$1.5 million worldwide despite having a $35 million budget. The film was banned in Italy in 1982 and was only shown on pay TV in 2009.

Anthony Steel (actor) British actor

Anthony Maitland Steel was a British actor and singer best known for his appearances in British war films of the 1950s such as The Wooden Horse (1950) and Where No Vultures Fly, and his marriage to Anita Ekberg.

Michael Francis Gregson, known professionally as Michael Craig, is a British-Australian actor and scriptwriter, known for his work in theatre, film and television both in the United Kingdom and in Australia.

<i>Above Us the Waves</i>

Above Us the Waves is a 1955 British war film about human torpedo and midget submarine attacks in Norwegian fjords against the German battleship Tirpitz. Directed by Ralph Thomas, it is based on two true-life attacks by British commando frogmen, first using Chariot manned torpedoes in Operation Title in 1942, and then X-Craft midget submarines in Operation Source in 1943. Filmed at Pinewood Studios, England, with outdoor scenes in Guernsey, some of the original war equipment was used in the film.

Marc Sinden

Marcus Andrew Sinden is an English actor and film & theatre director and producer.

<i>The Sheik</i> (novel)

The Sheik is a 1919 novel by Edith Maude Hull, an English novelist of the early twentieth century. It was the first of a series of novels she wrote with desert settings that set off a major revival of the "desert romance" genre of romantic fiction. It was a huge best-seller and the most popular of her books, and it served as the basis for the film of the same name starring Rudolph Valentino in the title role.

Anna Maria Sandri

Anna Maria Sandri, credited under the name Maria Sandri, is an Italian actress who portrayed the daughter of a Bedouin sheikh, Mabrouka ben Yussef, in The Black Tent.

Brian Desmond Hurst Belfast-born film director

Brian Desmond Hurst was a Belfast-born film director. With over thirty films in his filmography, Hurst was Ireland's most prolific film director during the 20th century, and hailed as Northern Ireland's best film director. He is perhaps best known for the 1951 A Christmas Carol adaptation Scrooge.

<i>A Touch of Larceny</i>

A Touch of Larceny is a 1959 British-American black-and-white comedy film, produced by Ivan Foxwell, directed by Guy Hamilton, that stars James Mason, George Sanders, and Vera Miles. The film co-stars Harry Andrews, Rachel Gurney, and John Le Mesurier and is based on the 1956 novel The Megstone Plot by Paul Winterton, written under the pseudonym Andrew Garve.

Earl St. John was an American film producer in overall charge of production for The Rank Organisation at Pinewood Studios from 1950 to 1964, and was credited as executive producer on 131 films. He was known as the "Earl of Pinewood".

<i>The Beachcomber</i> (1954 film)

The Beachcomber is a 1954 British comedy-drama film directed by Muriel Box starring Donald Sinden, Glynis Johns, Robert Newton, Paul Rogers, Donald Pleasence and Michael Hordern. The film is based on the 1931 short story "The Vessel of Wrath" by W. Somerset Maugham and was adapted by Sydney Box. It was the second screen adaptation of the book following the 1938 film Vessel of Wrath. The film was shot in Ceylon.

<i>Eyewitness</i> (1956 film) 1956 film by Muriel Box

Eyewitness is a 1956 British thriller film directed by Muriel Box and starring Donald Sinden, Muriel Pavlow, Belinda Lee, Michael Craig, Nigel Stock and Richard Wattis. It was made by the Rank Organisation.

<i>Simba</i> (1955 film)

Simba is a 1955 British propaganda film directed by Brian Desmond Hurst, and starring Dirk Bogarde, Donald Sinden, Virginia McKenna, and Basil Sydney. The screenplay concerns a British family living in East Africa, who become embroiled in the Mau Mau Uprising.

<i>Eye for Eye</i> (1918 film) 1918 film

Eye for Eye is 1918 American silent drama film directed by Albert Capellani. It was produced by Richard A. Rowland and Alla Nazimova and distributed by Metro Pictures. Nazimova is also the star in a production scripted by June Mathis. A trailer of the film is currently held in the Library of Congress, and evidence has arisen that a copy may exist in Gosfilmofond in Russia.

Great West End Theatres is a documentary series detailing the history, architecture and theatrical anecdotes of the 40 West End Theatres of London, released individually as All-Region DVDs and also as digital downloads and the first 10 episodes were broadcast from 3 August 2013 in the UK by the BSkyB digital satellite channel Sky Arts 2 and were chosen as "Pick of the Day" by the London edition of Time Out magazine.

<i>The Desert Sheik</i> 1924 film directed by Tom Terriss

The Desert Sheik is a 1924 American silent drama film directed by Tom Terriss and starring Wanda Hawley, Nigel Barrie and Pedro de Cordoba. British star Stewart Rome also appears in a supporting role. The story is inspired by the 1898 novel The Tragedy of the Korosko by Arthur Conan Doyle.


  1. French box office for 1956 at Box Office Story
  2. "The Black Tent".
  3. The Black Tent (1956) and Bengazi (1955): The Image of Arabs in Two Post-Empire Journeys into the Deserts of Libya Voeltz, Richard Andrew. CINEJ Cinema Journal; Pittsburgh Vol. 7, Iss. 1, (2018): 169-188. DOI:10.5195/cinej.2018.200
  4. Robin Maugham biography at Robin Maugham Papers, University of Texas
  5. British Cultural Memory and the Second World War Ed Lucy Noakes, Juliette Pattinson, 2013 p 115
  6. Maugham, Robin (1973). Escape from the shadows. McGraw-Hill. p. 190.
  7. STEPHEN WATTS LONDON. (25 September 1955). "OBSERVATIONS ON THE BRITISH SCREEN SCENE: Graham Greene Returns to Production -- New Star Is Born -- Other Matters". New York Times. p. X5.
  8. Round the British Studios Nepean, Edith. Picture Show; London Vol. 66, Iss. 1710, (Jan 7, 1956): 11.
  9. Craig, Michael (2005). The Smallest Giant: An Actor's Life. Allen and Unwin. p. 70.
  10. "NEW DEAL FOR STAR". The Australian Women's Weekly . 23 (45). 4 April 1956. p. 52. Retrieved 15 May 2016 via National Library of Australia.
  11. Sinden, Donald (1983). A touch of the memoirs. Futura. p. 269-272.
  12. Lejeune, C A. (18 March 1956). "Cause Celebre". The Observer. p. 15.
  13. "Mr. Otto Preminger's Latest Film". The Times (53483). London. 19 March 1956. p. 3.
  14. BLACK TENT, The Monthly Film Bulletin; London Vol. 23, Iss. 264, (Jan 1, 1956): 60.
  15. Vagg, Stephen (23 September 2020). "The Emasculation of Anthony Steel: A Cold Streak Saga". Filmink.
  16. C S. (13 June 1957). "Steel Plays Hero in Two Melodramas". Los Angeles Times. p. C13.
  17. Schallert, Edwin (19 April 1957). "British to Stampede American Screen; Fred Astaire Will Compose". Los Angeles Times. p. 25.
  18. The Black Tent at TCMDB
  19. ISBN   978-1-911096-63-4. Publisher Helion and Company and co-authored by David Truesdale and Allan Esler Smith and a foreword by Sir Roger Moore. Available here: