Synopsis by Aubry Anne D'Arminio
Billy Wilder's Five Graves to Cairo is the third take on Lajos Biro's theatrical tale of romance and espionage, Hotel Imperial. This time, the action is transplanted from World War I Galicia to World War II Egypt as Rommel's Afrika Corps viciously forces the British Army to retreat towards Cairo. Protagonist John J. Bramble (Franchot Tone) is stranded in the Sahara, the lone survivor of a British tank crew. In shock and suffering from sunstroke, Corporal Bramble deliriously staggers across the desert searching for the nearest outpost. What he finds is the Empress of Britain Hotel in the Libyan border town of Sidi Halfaya. The city has been deserted and destroyed; no one remains but the Inn's owner, Farid (Akim Tamiroff), and the French chambermaid, Mouche (Anne Baxter). To the woman's chagrin, Farid conceals the English soldier as the Germans commandeer his hotel for the lodging of General Rommel (Erich Von Stroheim). Mouche is unsympathetic toward the plight of any Englishman. She feels the British had abandoned the French Army at Dunkirk, where one of her brothers was killed and another was captured. She has remained in Sidi Halfaya only to wait for the German Army and to bargain for her sibling's freedom, not to help the British. Despite Mouche's protests, Bramble assumes the identity of the hotel's deceased waiter, Davoss, who was crushed during an air raid. Surprisingly, the disguise affords him an immediate audience with Rommel. Davoss was, in fact, a top-secret Nazi spy. This access to Rommel, the invincible Desert Fox, inspires Bramble to remain at the Empress. It becomes his mission to steal the crucial secret of the five supply depots the Germans have buried from Tobruk to Cairo -- which gave them a fighting advantage -- and possibly turn the war in Britain's favor. Meanwhile, after being rejected by the General, Mouche is desperately reduced to "entertaining" Rommel's deceitful lieutenant in order to help her brother. She and Bramble inevitably grow closer as they each struggle to save what is dear to them. When the body of the real Davoss starts to emerge from the rubble in the Empress' basement, it becomes Mouche's fate to make the ultimate decision between saving one brother and saving many.
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