Rock Hudson, George Peppard, Nigel Green, Jack Watson, Norman Rossington, Percy Herbert, Guy Stockwell, Anthony Ashdown, Robert Wolders, Leo Gordon, Liam Redmond, Heidy Hunt, Rico Cattani, Lawrence Montaigne and Peter Coe.
Loosely based on fact, “Tobruk” tells the story of an Allied mission to destroy Rommel’s fuel supply at the port city of Tobruk. The film is quite entertaining, and there are some good ideas in the script, and some nicely shot action scenes, but the film never really rises above average.
In 1942, the fate of the Mediterranean hangs in the balance. The Allies have devised a scheme to stop Rommel’s advance to the Suez Canal. A group of German Jews led by Captain Bergman (George Peppard), now working with the British, will escort a company of English commandos led by the staunch Colonel Harker (Nigel Green) across 800 miles of harsh desert right into the port of Tobruk, where they will knock out the harbor guns which prevent British troops from landing in the harbor. Then the British will land a strike force to destroy Rommel’s colossal underground fuel dump. The movie follows the trek across the desert, where the characters bicker over opposing ideals and motives, discover a traitor in their midst, get stuck in a minefield, etc. etc., and as expected, resolve their differences during a climactic encounter with the enemy.
“Tobruk” is ultimately a movie about conflicting ideals. There are plenty of noisy action sequences and suspenseful moments, but at the heart of the story is a weakly established conflict over different moral standards held by the main characters. Director Arthur Hiller had a significant background in directing TV shows, and it shows. “Tobruk” has a small-scale feel to it from start to finish. The sets – even the vast outdoor desert plains – are never filled with thousands of extras. This is a movie about what goes on between a few main characters. What’s unfortunate is that in “Tobruk” they’re never fully developed and, therefore, it’s hard to care when they are settled. Major Craig is a selfish pacifist, but all he really does is bicker about how much he hates being on the mission. Nigel Green’s Colonel Harker is a typical English officer, playing a part written as most Hollywood roles for the English characters were. He demands order, obedience and when men don’t stand up to his authority he just shouts a lot and gets his way. Of the leads, George Peppard makes the most of his role as Captain Bergman. Bergman, a victim of Nazi terror, is out for revenge and out to help re-unite the Jewish people. What’s hard to swallow is that Bergman already seems to know the Jews will re-unite in Israel, when it wasn’t re-formed into a nation by the U.N. until sometime after the end of World War II. Despite this, Peppard is passionate but never overacts. This is the type of role he was perfectly suited for, and it was fun to watch his performance.
All that said, “Tobruk” is still a pretty good movie. The question of heroism and duty is answered quite well near the film’s conclusion, as each of the leads is forced into a situation they would rather not be in, where they must put their lives at stake in order to accomplish something important bigger than they are. Harker states, “We have few saving graces… perhaps our willingness to die for what believe is all that matters.” Craig comes to respect Bergman’s religious ideals and backs him up during the final battle sequence. And with that said… the final battle sequence is, quite simply, incredibly well-filmed. The Allied assault on the harbor guns is fantastic. There are dozens of soldiers running about on the beach as a huge artillery installation is blown to bits, and not the least part of it looks staged or faked. Later, this scene is put to shame as some of the heroes take out the entire fuel supply for Rommel with a tank. The fuel dump explodes in grand fashion, with dozens of huge explosions and orange fireballs, some of which must have been real. The visual effects are state-of-the art, especially when one considers that this film was shot in 1966. (It was nominated for Best Special Effects at the 1968 Oscars, but lost to Doctor Dolittle).
“Tobruk” is entertaining and a sufficient afternoon adventure story. From start to finish, and it looks and sounds very authentic. Nothing about this movie seems staged, and despite an average-quality script, it’s engaging and thought-provoking. I would suggest renting it at some point.