World War 1, the deserts of Mesopotamia: When the commander of a patrol
through the desert is shot dead by the unseen enemy, the command goes to
Sarge (Victor McLaglen), who has no idea about the mission of the patrol
or even its exact route. All he does know for sure is that he and his
patrol are surrounded by enemies they never even see.
make it to an oasis before nightfall, but the next day, one of their
guards (Douglas Walton), a young soldier full of hope, is found killed,
and the soldiers horses are stolen - which leaves them with the task of
trying to hold the oasis, which consists of a few palmtrees, a pond and a
badly built shack - while the enemy has all of the desert to die in. In
the following days, Sarge's soldiers die like flies, shot by the enemy,
lured into traps and the like.
Eventually, the number of soldiers is
down to three, Sarge, Morelli (Wallace Ford) and bible-thumping Sanders
(Boris Karloff), who has long gone mad and had to be tied up. Then they
are spotted by an airplane that even lands nearby, but when the pilot
(Howard Wilson) gets out, he's shot almost instantly - bad luck indeed,
but at least Sarge and Morelli are able to retrieve the machine gun from
the plane, even if it almost costs them their lives doing so. But now they
at least have a fighting chance. Thing is, Sanders has since freed
himself, and now wanders off into the desert carrying a cross in his
religious craze. Morelli goes after him to drag him back, out of harm's
way, but ultimately they are both shot dead.
With only one man left
standing, the enemies finally dare to emerge from beyond the dunes - but
they haven't taken into account Sarge's machine gun, and he mows them all
down in some kind of killing frenzy ... only minutes before another
British patrol comes by looking for him and his men.
intense (on a psychological level) and well-made war film that profits not
only from an very interesting story full of well fleshed-out characters
but also from its great desert settings and the simple but clever
directorial ploy to never show the enemy (until the very last minute) to
add an aura of unease to everything that is happening. A great cast of
course doesn't hurt either.
One of John Ford's best films from the
1930's (at least).
By the way: Philip MacDonald's novel Patrol
was previously filmed asaq silent feature in Britain in 1929 as Lost
Patrol (Walter Summers), with Victor McLaglen's younger brother Cyril
playing the role of Sarge.