|Directed by||Arthur Hiller|
|Written by||Leo V. Gordon|
|Produced by||Gene Corman|
|Starring|| Rock Hudson |
|Edited by||Robert C. Jones|
|Music by||Bronisław Kaper|
The Corman Company
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$2,000,000 (US/Canada)|
Tobruk is a 1967 American drama war film directed by Arthur Hiller and starring Rock Hudson and George Peppard. The film was written by Leo Gordon (who also acted in the film) and released through Universal Pictures.
Set in North Africa during the North African Campaign of World War II. It is a fictionalized story of members of the British Army's Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) and the Special Identification Group (SIG) that endeavour to destroy the fuel bunkers of Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel's Panzer Army Africa in Tobruk. The film is loosely based on the British attacks on Italian and German forces at Tobruk codenamed "Operation Agreement". The film depicts the operation as being successful, although actually Operation Agreement was a disastrous failure.
In September 1942, Rommel's Africa Korps is only 90 miles (144 km) from the Suez Canal, but running dangerously low on fuel. The British approve a plan to destroy German fuel bunkers at Tobruk in an attempt to cripple Rommel's attack.
The author of the plan, Canadian-born Major Donald Craig (Rock Hudson) of the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) had been captured by Vichy French forces and is held prisoner, along with captured Italian Army soldiers, on a ship in the port of the French city of Algiers. As his expertise is considered essential to the success of the raid, Craig is rescued by Captain Kurt Bergman (George Peppard) of the Special Identification Group (SIG) and some of his men, German Jews serving with the British. They then join up with commandos of the Long Range Desert Group, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel John Harker (Nigel Green), at Kufra in southeastern Libya.
Colonel Harker explains they have eight days to get to Tobruk and destroy the fuel depot and German fortress artillery pieces protecting the harbour, before a scheduled amphibious landing and a bombing raid on the city by the Royal Air Force (RAF). They are to drive there through enemy territory posing as prisoners of war escorted by the SIG pretending to be guards. Once they reach Tobruk they would then link up with a full British naval and RAF assault on the city and their primary objective, Rommel's underground fuel bunkers.
Craig is highly skeptical of the operation, claiming that "Staff has a genius for sitting on its brains and coming up with perfect hindsight", stating that "When I submitted the plan we could have blown up the fuel bunkers with a handful of men. How in hell are we supposed to get through their defenses now?" While warning Craig not to let personal differences of opinion interfere with the operation, Colonel Harker also reveals that he was the genius with perfect hindsight who convinced Staff to approve Craig's original plan which would now be "maximum effort, land, sea and air".
On the way, they encounter a patrol of Italian tanks, which stops a short distance from where they are resting in a gully. Later that night, Sergeant Major Jack Tyne (Jack Watson) spots a tank column approaching from the opposite direction. After Bergman and three of his men kill the Italian sentries, Colonel Harker, surmising that the approaching column "must be German -- the Italians are too fond of comfort to travel this late", tricks the two units into attacking each other by firing mortars, first at the Germans and then the Italians, enabling the raiders to sneak away.
To avoid detection the next day, Craig safely guides them through a German mine field, before they are attacked by a British Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter. They manage to shoot it down, but eight men are killed and one troop transport truck, their auxiliary fuel supply, and both of their radios are destroyed. The fighting attracts Tuareg tribesmen, who are friendly with the Germans. Craig, who speaks their language, exchanges some guns and ammunition for two prisoners.
The prisoners turn out to be British traitors Henry Portman (Liam Redmond), who has an Irish accent, and his daughter Cheryl (Heidy Hunt), who were shot down while flying from Benghazi to Cairo. They have papers signed by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (Mohammad Amin al-Husayni) and German Field Marshal Albert Kesselring: an agreement for "a group of important" Egyptian army officers to rise up against the British in a "holy war." The belief of the Germans is with Egypt conquered other Muslim, former Ottoman Empire states such as Turkey will then side with the Axis; Cheryl Portman states that the "Turks, alone, could put four million men into the war against the Soviet Union."
That night, the Portmans are told by a mysterious SIG member about the British masquerade and where to find a gun and a map to an underground telephone cable nearby where they can contact German command in Tobruk and alert them to the British column and upcoming attack. When they reach the telephone, however, they are spotted by an Italian patrol. Henry Portman fires at the patrol and is killed, while his daughter is seriously wounded.
Harker sends Bergman and Sergeant Krug (Leo Gordon) after the Portmans where they retrieve Cheryl from the Italians. When Krug asks how they knew about the telephone, Bergman replies, "Very simple. One among us is the enemy". Harker has Bergman and his men disarmed and then gives Bergman two hours to identify his traitor. The traitor kills Cheryl Portman so she cannot reveal his identity. Lieutenant Max Mohnfeld (Guy Stockwell), Bergman's second in command, appears from the tunnel the Portmans used to escape. He states the traitor is down the shaft. They find Corporal Bruckner (Robert Wolders), one of Bergman's closest friends for ten years, stabbed to death. Cheryl Portman had died from cyanide, and Bruckner's suicide tablet is missing. Bergman, however, is not convinced his friend was the traitor.
The group passes through checkpoints just outside Tobruk and after traveling through the city, they discover to their surprise that Rommel has amassed his total reserve strength at Tobruk undetected: two full panzer divisions. The discovery of Rommel's tanks puts the planned Naval assault in jeopardy, though without their radios the group have no way of warning Staff without taking the German transmitter located in the city which would alert the Germans.
The RAF then bomb Tobruk as scheduled. The LRDG blow up two of the harbour guns, and Harker orders Sergeant Major Tyne to signal the ships to abort the landing before the German tanks, which have pinned down Harker's troops, can "cut them to pieces". Harker also orders Lieutenant Boyden (Anthony Ashdown) to capture the German transmitter in the city in order to abort the landing and inform Staff of the Kesselring document. However, Boyden is killed during the bombing raid, as are Privates Alfie (Norman Rossington) and Dolan (Percy Herbert) when they discover millions in English pound notes the Germans had taken after capturing Tobruk from the British and attempt to steal the money (thereby making the German soldiers who kill them mistake them for looters and deserters). Meanwhile Mohnfeld, who volunteered to join them as Lt. Boyden did not speak German, is knocked out.
Bergman and three of his men escape on sidecar motorcycles and manage to destroy a tank and use flame throwers to buy Harker time; however, Bergman and his men are eventually killed. Meanwhile, Craig, Krug, and two other SIG men use the distraction to escape and seize a German tank well inland. After they use the tank to destroy the fuel depot, Harker and his men surrender.
After surrendering, Mohnfeld then appears where he reveals that he is really a German intelligence officer named von Kruger, explaining that he had told the truth the night before, only altering that "The Jew found me in the tunnel" and asks Harker for the Kesselring document. However, upon seeing the destruction of the fuel bunkers, Harker had burned the paper knowing its importance to the Germans. Harker then kills von Kruger with his pistol and is himself shot dead.
Craig, Krug and the two others manage to escape and exhausted after traveling over 70 miles on foot, make it to a scheduled back up rendezvous with a Royal Navy ship at Sallum just over the Egyptian border.
In order of appearance
The film was based on an original script by Leo Gordon, who also worked as an actor. Gordon took the script to producer Gene Corman, who he had worked with several times before. Corman originally intended to make the film on a relatively low budget, around a million dollars, for United Artists – he had just made The Secret Invasion (1964) for that studio.
The scope of the film changed when Corman discovered Rock Hudson, then one of the biggest stars in the world, was about to leave his home studio of Universal because he was unhappy with the roles he had been playing (he had just signed to make Seconds at Paramount). Corman showed the script to Hudson who liked it, and he succeeded in getting the film financed at Universal, who wanted to keep Hudson within its fold. The film was a co production between Universal, Gibraltar Productions (Rock Hudson's company), and the Corman Co.
The film was known at one stage as The Cliffs at Mersa and The Cliffs. Hudson came on board in May 1965 (he would make it after Blindfold and Seconds) and Peppard was signed to co star with Hudson in July 1965, at a fee of $400,000.
Laurence Harvey was originally slated to play the role of Major Craig, while Dirk Bogarde was originally offered the role of Colonel Harker, but he declined.
Corman approached John Huston to direct who was interested. However, he wanted a fee of $500,000 and Universal was reluctant to use the director considering his recent films had been commercial failures. The job of directing eventually went to Arthur Hiller.
Corman budgeted the film at two-and-a-half million dollars. Universal felt it should be made for $5 million, but Corman was reluctant to make the movie for that much. His own fee was $200,000 while Gordon was paid $40,000 for his script. Corman wanted to shoot the film in North Africa with studio work done in England; however, Universal insisted it be shot in America as the studio was reluctant to film in Europe again after A Man Could Get Killed (also known as Welcome Mr. Beddoes) went over budget.
Gordon wrote himself a role as Sgt Tyne. Gordon normally played characters who died and wrote the script so Tyne did not die. Corman agreed to Gordon playing a role but only if the script was changed so Tyne died. Gordon instead decided to play the character of Krug, who lived.
Corman later commentated that Gordon "was a very witty, interesting conversationalist. His appearance probably worked to his disadvantage because to have him walk into a story conference was somewhat intimidating! I remember on Tobruk having director Arthur Hiller, who is a fey, gentle soul, taken aback when he met Leo – it took two or three story conferences before he could come to grips with that size and bulk."
It was photographed in Technicolor using the Techniscope format, and shot in Almería, Spain and the Glamis Sand Dunes in the Imperial Valley, of southern California in the United States. The film had a budget of US$6 million.
Technical advice and assistance was provided by the 40th Armored Division ("Grizzly") of the California Army National Guard.
In the convoy heading to Tobruk the trucks used are actually M135 and M54, while the Sd.Kfz. 7's are American M3 halftracks with altered bodies. The tanks in the Italian column are in fact M48 Pattons.
Producer Gene Corman would again use Tobruk's Nazi occupation as the background in his 1990 parody film A Man Called Sarge , although this time set during the Second Battle of El Alamein, in late 1942.
The 1971 war film Raid on Rommel , directed by Henry Hathaway and starring Richard Burton, made extensive use of combat footage from Tobruk and also featured a very similar story-line about a British commando force infiltrating enemy lines and raiding the Afrika Korps supply bases.
Albert Whitlock and Howard A. Anderson were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
Universal first released this film on VHS on April 23, 1992 and again on May 15, 2002 in pan-and-scan format.It was released on DVD on June 12, 2012 as part of the made-on-demand Universal Vault Series. On January 21, 2020, Tobruk was released on Blu-ray by Kino International under its subsidiary "Kino Lorber Studio Classics" with licensing by Universal Pictures.
The R1 DVD release has no optional English subtitles and thus, the non-English dialogue in the film is not translated. The Blu-ray contains optional English subtitles with limited non-English ones during certain scenes and dialogue; the film's theatrical trailer is also included as a bonus feature (in pan-and-scan format).
There are also various Region 2 DVD and Region B Blu-ray releases.
Oliver Passingham adapted the film into a comic book version, published by the Lion Summer Spectacular.
The Second Battle of El Alamein was a battle of the Second World War that took place near the Egyptian railway halt of El Alamein. The First Battle of El Alamein and the Battle of Alam el Halfa had prevented the Axis from advancing further into Egypt.
Operation Sonnenblume was the name given to the dispatch of German troops to North Africa in February 1941, during the Second World War. The Italian 10th Army had been destroyed by the British, Commonwealth, Empire and Allied Western Desert Force attacks during Operation Compass (9 December 1940 – 9 February 1941). The first units of the new Deutsches Afrikakorps departed Naples for Africa and arrived on 11 February 1941. On 14 February, advanced units of the 5th Light Afrika Division, Aufklärungsbataillon 3 and Panzerjägerabteilung 39 arrived in Tripoli, Libya and were sent immediately to the front line east of Sirte.
Tobruk or Tobruck is a port city on Libya's eastern Mediterranean coast, near the border with Egypt. It is the capital of the Butnan District and has a population of 120,000.
The North African campaign of the Second World War took place in North Africa from 10 June 1940 to 13 May 1943. It included campaigns fought in the Libyan and Egyptian deserts and in Morocco and Algeria, as well as Tunisia.
Operation Agreement was a ground and amphibious operation carried out by British, Rhodesian and New Zealand forces on Axis-held Tobruk from 13 to 14 September 1942, during the Second World War. A Special Interrogation Group party, fluent in German, took part in missions behind enemy lines. Diversionary actions extended to Benghazi, Jalo oasis and Barce. The Tobruk raid was an Allied disaster; the British lost several hundred men killed and captured, one cruiser, two destroyers, six motor torpedo boats and dozens of small amphibious craft.
Operation Battleaxe was a British Army offensive during the Second World War to raise the Siege of Tobruk and re-capture eastern Cyrenaica from German and Italian forces. It was the first time during the war that a significant German force fought on the defensive. The British lost over half of their tanks on the first day and only one of three attacks succeeded.
Operation Crusader was a military operation of the Western Desert Campaign during the Second World War by the British Eighth Army against the Axis forces in North Africa commanded by Generalleutnant Erwin Rommel. The operation was intended to bypass Axis defences on the Egyptian–Libyan frontier, defeat the Axis armoured forces and relieve the 1941 Siege of Tobruk.
The siege of Tobruk lasted for 241 days in 1941, after Axis forces advanced through Cyrenaica from El Agheila in Operation Sonnenblume against Allied forces in Libya, during the Western Desert Campaign (1940–1943) of the Second World War. In late 1940, the Allies had defeated the Italian 10th Army during Operation Compass (9 December 1940 – 9 February 1941) and trapped the remnants at Beda Fomm. During early 1941, much of the Western Desert Force (WDF) was sent to the Greek and Syrian campaigns. As German troops and Italian reinforcements reached Libya, only a skeleton Allied force remained, short of equipment and supplies. The defenders quickly became known as the Rats of Tobruk.
The Western Desert campaign took place in the deserts of Egypt and Libya and was the main theatre in the North African campaign of the Second World War. Military operations began in June 1940 with the Italian declaration of war and the Italian invasion of Egypt from Libya in September. Operation Compass, a five-day raid by the British in December 1940, was so successful that it led to the destruction of the Italian 10th Army over the following two months. Benito Mussolini sought help from Adolf Hitler, who sent a small German force to Tripoli under Directive 22. The Afrika Korps was formally under Italian command, as Italy was the main Axis power in the Mediterranean and North Africa.
Operation Brevity was a limited offensive conducted in mid-May 1941, during the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War. Conceived by the commander-in-chief of the British Middle East Command, General Archibald Wavell, Brevity was intended to be a rapid blow against weak Axis front-line forces in the Sollum–Capuzzo–Bardia area of the border between Egypt and Libya. Although the operation got off to a promising start, throwing the Axis high command into confusion, most of its early gains were lost to local counter-attacks, and with German reinforcements being rushed to the front the operation was called off after one day.
The Battle of Alam el Halfa took place between 30 August and 5 September 1942 south of El Alamein during the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War. Panzerarmee Afrika, attempted an envelopment of the British Eighth Army. In Unternehmen Brandung, the last big Axis offensive of the Western Desert Campaign, Rommel intended to defeat the Eighth Army before Allied reinforcements arrived.
Five Graves to Cairo is a 1943 war film directed by Billy Wilder and starring Franchot Tone and Anne Baxter. Set in World War II, it is one of a number of films based on Lajos Bíró's 1917 play Hotel Imperial: Színmű négy felvonásban, including the 1927 film Hotel Imperial. Erich von Stroheim portrays Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in a supporting performance.
The Special Interrogation Group (SIG) was a unit of the British Army during World War II, formed largely of German-speaking Jewish volunteers from Mandatory Palestine. Disguised as soldiers of the German Afrika Korps, members of the SIG undertook commando and sabotage operations against Axis forces during the Western Desert Campaign.
The Desert Rats is a 1953 American black-and-white war film from 20th Century Fox, produced by Robert L. Jacks, directed by Robert Wise, that stars Richard Burton, James Mason, and Robert Newton. The film's storyline concerns the Siege of Tobruk in North Africa during World War II.
The Battle of El Agheila was a brief engagement of the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War. It took place in December 1942 between Allied forces of the Eighth Army and the Axis forces of the German-Italian Panzer Army, during the long Axis withdrawal from El Alamein to Tunis. The Eighth Army planned to outflank and trap the Axis forces as they withdrew to Tunis.
Operation Skorpion from 26 to 27 May 1941, was a military operation during the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War. The operation was conducted by Axis forces under the command of Colonel Maximilian von Herff and British forces under Lieutenant-General William "Strafer" Gott. A counter-attack was made on British positions at Halfaya Pass in north-western Egypt, which had been captured during Operation Brevity (15–16 May).Unternehmen Skorpion was the second offensive operation commanded by Rommel in Africa.
The Marinefährprahm was the largest landing craft operated by the German Kriegsmarine during World War II. The MFP was use for transport, minelaying, as an escort and a gunboat in the Mediterranean, Baltic and Black Seas as well as the English Channel and Norwegian coastal waters. Originally developed for Operation Sea Lion the proposed invasion of England, the first of these ships was commissioned on 16 April 1941, with approximately 700 being completed by the end of war. Allied sources sometimes refer to this class of vessel as a "Flak Lighter" or "F-lighter".
Raid on Rommel is an American B movie in Technicolor from 1971, directed by Henry Hathaway and set in North Africa during the Second World War. It stars Richard Burton as a British commando attempting to destroy German gun emplacements in Tobruk. Much of the action footage was reused from the 1967 film Tobruk, and the storyline is also largely the same.
The Raid onBardia was an amphibious landing at the coastal town of Bardia in North Africa by British Commandos over the night of 19/20 April 1941 during the Second World War. The raid was carried out by No. 7 Commando, also known as A Battalion Layforce, together with a small detachment from the Royal Tank Regiment; the raiders were supported by five navy ships and a submarine. The raid destroyed an Italian artillery battery and a supply dump. It was deemed a success despite the loss of 71 men. The more lasting strategic effect of the raid was the diversion of a German armoured brigade from the front line to provide rear area security.
The Axis capture of Tobruk, also known as the Fall of Tobruk and the Second Battle of Tobruk was part of the Western Desert campaign in Libya during the Second World War. The battle was fought by the Panzerarmee Afrika, a German–Italian military force in north Africa which included the Afrika Korps, against the British Eighth Army which comprised contingents from Britain, India, South Africa and other Allied nations.