Five Graves to Cairo (1943)

Five Graves to Cairo (1943)

“To safeguard ourselves against all eventualities, we prepare.”

During World War II, a British soldier (Franchot Tone) stranded in a hotel run by a nervous Egyptian (Akim Tamiroff) and a cynical French housemaid (Anne Baxter) goes undercover as a club-footed double agent, garnering vital intelligence from Field Marshall Rommel (Erich von Stroheim).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Akim Tamiroff Films
  • Anne Baxter Films
  • Billy Wilder Films
  • Deserts
  • Erich von Stroheim Films
  • Franchot Tone Films
  • Mistaken or Hidden Identities
  • Spies
  • World War II

Billy Wilder directed this adaptation of Lajos BirĂ³’s 1917 play, updating it from WWI to WWII and shifting the location from Russia to Egypt to reflect current geopolitical realities. Thanks to an authentically adoring fan letter, Wilder was able to score his idol von Stroheim:

in a pivotal supporting role as real-life Field Marshall Rommel, a suitably villainous foil (“Rice pudding in Egypt… One never knows if it’s raisins or flies.”) for Tone, who likewise gives a solid and compelling performance.

Baxter’s French accent is surprisingly innocuous; she nicely portrays the world-weariness of a woman who understands the games she must play in order to achieve her goals.

The tightly scripted screenplay — beginning with a stark, wordless opening sequence in the desert — never lets up on tension, providing plenty of opportunities for characters to risk their lives in an uncertain world of war and hidden identities. This one remains worth a look.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Franchot Tone as “Paul Davos”
  • Erich von Stroheim as Rommel
  • John F. Seitz’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a still-compelling war-time drama.


  • Good Show


One thought on “Five Graves to Cairo (1943)

  1. Not must-see, but it will likely have value for those with an interest in the subject matter – and its connection to history.

    I’ve now seen this twice – and I can’t exactly put my finger on why I find it lacking dramatically… but I do. I can say it seems to be less about the story itself than the way it’s written. Occasionally the script plays out with an authentic feeling, but often it doesn’t.

    Sometimes it feels over-written (certain characters being verbose – usually Tone – when less would be more effective). Other times, it feels like Wilder felt compelled to make sure there was humor to balance the heaviness of the war atmosphere – but that seems less successful here than when he does something similar in his other war film, ‘Stalag 17’.

    There’s also the fact that the plot is not so much about action as much as the preparation for an action (which will come in the epilogue to the film). At any rate, I didn’t feel engaged in a way I wanted to be.

    Of the cast, von Stroheim more or less runs away with the film. Most of the other performances are ok, without being much more than that. Baxter isn’t terrible – but I read that Simone Simon had tested for the role – I would have preferred the more authentic flavor and emotion that she would have brought to the part.

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