Sahara (1943 film)

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For other films with the same name, see Sahara.
Theatrical poster
Directed by Zoltán Korda
Produced by Harry Joe Brown
Written by Philip MacDonald (story)
James O'Hanlon
John Howard Lawson (screenplay)
Sidney Buchman (uncredited)
Starring Humphrey Bogart
Bruce Bennett
Lloyd Bridges
J. Naish
Dan Duryea
Music by Miklós Rózsa
Cinematography Rudolph Maté
Edited by Charles Nelson
Columbia Pictures
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • November 11, 1943 (1943-11-11)
Running time
97 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $2.3 million[1]

Sahara is a 1943 drama war film directed by Zoltán Korda. Humphrey Bogart stars as a U.S. tank commander in Libya during the Western Desert Campaign of World War II. The story is credited to an incident depicted in the 1936 Soviet film The Thirteen (Russian: Тринадцать) by Mikhail Romm. Later, Sahara was remade by André de Toth as a Western with Broderick Crawford called Last of the Comanches (1953) and by Brian Trenchard-Smith as the Australian film Sahara (1995).[2]

In Sahara events are depicted which point to the Battle of Gazala, an important battle of the Western Desert Campaign of World War II, fought around the port of Tobruk in Libya. Bogart makes reference to events that occurred in May–June 1942. The battle had begun with the British stronger in terms of numbers and quality of equipment, and had received many of the M3 tanks, which was the tank used in the film. A small group of American advisors and crews had come to train them in use of the equipment.

The British forces were routed, and as shown in Sahara, many tanks which were only damaged, were unable to be salvaged because of the 8th Army's retreat. The British lost virtually all their tanks, although a number of damaged tanks could be evacuated. General Rommel pursued the British into Egypt, trying to keep his opponent under pressure and denying him the opportunity to regroup. As both sides neared exhaustion, the British were able to check Rommel's advance at the First battle of El Alamein, which is where the radio report calls Bogart and tank crew to rally in the film.[3]


The crew of an M3 Lee tank, attached to the British Eighth Army, commanded by U.S. Army Master Sergeant Joe Gunn (Humphrey Bogart), and nicknamed Lulu Belle, become separated from their unit during a general retreat from German forces after the fall of Tobruk. Heading south across the Libyan Desert to rejoin their command, they come across a bombed-out field hospital, where they pick up a motley collection of stragglers, among them British medical officer Captain Halliday (Richard Nugent), four Commonwealth soldiers and Free French Corporal Leroux (Louis Mercier). Halliday, the only officer, cedes command to Gunn.

The group comes upon Sudanese Sergeant Major Tambul (Rex Ingram) and his Italian prisoner, Giuseppe (J. Carrol Naish). Tambul volunteers to lead them to a well at Hassan Barani. Gunn insists that the Italian be left behind, but, after driving a few hundred feet, relents and lets him join the others.

En route, Luftwaffe pilot Captain von Schletow (Kurt Kreuger) strafes the tank, seriously wounding Clarkson (Lloyd Bridges), one of the British soldiers. The German fighter aircraft is shot down and von Schletow is captured. Arriving at Hassan Barani, the group finds the well is dry. Clarkson succumbs to his wounds and they bury him there.

Tambul guides them to the desert well at Bir Acroma, but it is almost dry, providing only a trickle of water, and the group must delay their departure until they can collect as much as they can. When German scouts arrive soon afterwards, in a half-track, Gunn sets up an ambush.

Gunn finds out from one of the two survivors that their mechanized battalion, desperate for water, is following close behind. He persuades the others to make a stand to delay the Germans while Waco takes the half-track in search of reinforcements. The two Germans are released to carry back an offer: "food for water", even though there is hardly any water left.

When the Germans arrive in force, Gunn changes the deal to "water for guns". The well has completely dried up by then but a battle of wills begins between Gunn and Major von Falken (John Wengraf), the German commander. Gunn keeps up the pretense that the well has much water and negotiates to buy time. The Germans attack and are beaten off again and again, but one by one, the defenders are killed.

During one attack, von Schletow tries to escape, stabbing Giuseppe in the process, but Giuseppe manages to warn Gunn before he dies. Tambul chases von Schletow down and kills him, at the cost of his own life. After a second parley, von Falken has his men shoot Leroux in the back as the Frenchman returns to his own side. Gunn and his men fire back, killing von Falken.

The Germans' final assault turns into a full-blown surrender as they drop their weapons and claw across the sand towards the well. To Gunn's shock, he discovers that a German shell that exploded in the well has tapped into a source of water. Gunn and Bates (Patrick O'Moore), the only other Allied survivor, disarm the Germans while they drink. As they are marching their prisoners east, Gunn and Bates encounter Allied troops guided by Waco (Bruce Bennett). They receive news of the Allied victory at the First Battle of El Alamein, turning back Rommel's Afrika Korps.



Sahara was filmed on location in the Imperial County portion of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, near the Salton Sea, using soldiers and equipment of the U.S. 4th Armored Division, then in training at the Desert Training Center, as extras.[4][Note 1]

The German aircraft depicted attacking the tank was in actuality an early, Allison-powered P-51 Mustang, painted in German markings. Because no Sdkf-251 half track nor MG-34 machine guns were available for the production, U.S. Army equipment was substituted. The captured German half track is an American M2 with a M49 ring mounted with a Vickers medium machine gun.

In 1992, Kurt Kreuger was quoted by the San Francisco Chronicle on the emotions inherent in making the film, in which he portrayed a stereotypical Nazi:

I was running across the dunes when Tambul jumped on top of me and pressed my head into the sand to suffocate me. Only Zoltán forgot to yell cut, and Ingram was so emotionally caught up in the scene that he kept pressing my face harder and harder.

Finally, I went unconscious. Nobody knew this. Even the crew was transfixed, watching this dramatic ‘killing.' If Zoltán hadn't finally said cut, as an afterthought, it would have been all over for me.[5]


Reviews of Sahara generally were positive, with Variety noting, "Script [adapted by James O’Hanlon from a story by Philip MacDonald] is packed with pithy dialog, lusty action and suspense, and logically and well-devised situations avoiding ultra-theatrics throughout. It’s an all-male cast, but absence of romance is not missed in the rapid-fire unfolding of vivid melodrama."[6] Film reviewer Bosley Crowther in his review for The New York Times concentrated on the star-power of Bogart. "Those rugged, indomitable qualities which Humphrey Bogart has so masterfully displayed in most of his recent pictures—and even before, in his better gangster roles—have been doubled and concentrated in "Sahara," a Columbia film about warfare in the Libyan desert, which came to the Capitol yesterday. And a capital picture it is, too—as rugged as Mr. Bogart all the way and in a class with that memorable picture which it plainly resembles, The Lost Patrol."[7]

Sahara earned three Academy Award nominations: Best Sound (John Livadary), Best Cinematography (Black-and-White) (Rudolph Maté), and Best Supporting Actor by J. Carrol Naish for his role as an Italian prisoner.[8]

In 1995, Sahara (also known as Desert Storm) reprised the earlier 1943 production in an American/Australian made-for-television film shot in Australia. The film stars Alan David Lee, Simon Westaway, and James Belushi in the role of Sergeant Joe Gunn. Film historian Alun Evans in Brassey's Guide to War Films, mainly reviewed the earlier 1943 production, but compared and contrasted the two features, noting that the remake had "... sunlight so bright, you need to turn the contrast buttons right down, If you could only say that about the movie."[9]



  1. The film's dedication is to the "IV Armored Corps of the Army Ground Forces", the training organization to which the 4th Armored Division was attached in early 1943. In addition to equipment, the division's reconnaissance unit, the 84th Reconnaissance Battalion (Armored), supplied 100 enlisted men as extras to portray German soldiers.[4]


  1. Schatz 1999, p. 218.
  2. Miller, John H. "Sahara (1943)." Turner Classic Movies ( Retrieved: December 17, 2014.
  3. Barr 2005, p. 39.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Koyen, Kenneth. "War in the Sahara, Bogart Style." Eve's Magazine, 2001. Retrieved: December 17, 2014.
  5. Bernstein, Adam. "Kurt Kreuger, 89, actor portrayed Nazis (obituary)." The Washington Post, July 21, 2006. Retrieved: December 23, 2014.
  6. "Review: Sahara". Variety, December 31, 1942.
  7. Crowther, Bosley. "Sahara (1943); The screen: ' Sahara,' an exciting picture of desert war, with Humphrey Bogart as a heroic sergeant, is new feature at the Capitol." The New York Times, November 12, 1943.
  8. "Nominees and Winners: The 16th Academy Awards (1944)." Retrieved: December 23, 2014.
  9. Evans 2000, p. 162.


  • Barr, Niell. Pendulum of War: The Three Battles of El Alamein. Woodstock, New York: Overlook Press, 2005. ISBN 978-1-58567-738-2.
  • Evans, Alun. Brassey's Guide to War Films. Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books, 2000. ISBN 1-57488-263-5.
  • Schatz, Thomas. Boom and Bust: American Cinema in the 1940s. Oakland, California: University of California Press, 1999. ISBN 978-0-52022-130-7.

External links