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Five Graves to Cairo

Five Graves to Cairo
File:Five Graves to Cairo 1943 film poster.jpg
Film poster
Directed by Billy Wilder
Produced by B. G. DeSylva
Written by Charles Brackett
Billy Wilder
Based on Hotel Imperial 
by Lajos Bíró
Starring Franchot Tone
Anne Baxter
Akim Tamiroff
Erich von Stroheim
Music by Miklós Rózsa
Cinematography John F. Seitz
Edited by Doane Harrison
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • May 4, 1943 (1943-05-04)
Running time
96 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $855,000 (estimated)

Five Graves to Cairo is a 1943 World War II film by Billy Wilder, starring Franchot Tone and Anne Baxter. It is one of a number of films based on Lajos Bíró's play Színmű négy felvonásban, including Hotel Imperial (1927). Erich von Stroheim portrays Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in a supporting performance.


Corporal John Bramble (Franchot Tone) is the sole survivor of a British tank crew after a major battle with Erwin Rommel's victorious Afrika Korps. Delirious, he stumbles across the North African desert into the Empress of Britain, a small, isolated hotel owned by Farid (Akim Tamiroff). The staff consists of just Frenchwoman Mouche (Anne Baxter), as the cook has fled and the waiter Davos was killed the night before by German bombing.

Before Farid and Mouche can decide what to do with the newcomer, the swiftly advancing Germans take over the hotel to use as headquarters for Field Marshal Rommel (Erich von Stroheim) and his staff. Bramble assumes the identity of Davos to save himself. When Rommel summons him to a private chat, Bramble is stunned to discover that Davos was a valued German spy, but manages to play along. He learns that he is to be sent to Cairo next.

Later, he steals a pistol from genial, music-loving Italian General Sebastiano (Fortunio Bonanova), planning to serve the field marshal a bullet rather than coffee the next morning. Not wanting trouble, Mouche steals the pistol and waits on Rommel herself. When some captured British officers are brought to the hotel for a luncheon with Rommel, one of them (a past guest) realizes that Davos has been replaced. Bramble privately explains who he is and what he plans to do. The officer orders him to use his position of trust to instead gather military intelligence.

At the luncheon, Rommel teases his guests, allowing them to ask him twenty questions about his future plans. Bramble listens with interest. From the conversation and later remarks by Rommel, he eventually deduces that the field marshal, disguised as an archeologist before the war, had secretly prepared five hidden supply dumps, the "Five Graves to Cairo", for the conquest of Egypt. The final piece of the puzzle (their locations) falls into place when Bramble realizes that Rommel's cryptic references to points Y, P, and T refer to the letters of the word "Egypt" printed on his map.

Meanwhile, Bramble and Mouche clash. She despises the British for abandoning the French at Dunkirk. He in turn is disgusted at how she is playing up to the Germans. As it turns out, Mouche's motives are not mercenary; she pleads with Rommel to release her wounded soldier brother from a concentration camp. He is unmoved, but his aide, Lieutenant Schwegler (Peter van Eyck), is more appreciative of her charms. He pretends to help her, showing her fake telegrams to and from Germany.

That night however, when everyone takes shelter in the cellar during an Allied air raid, Schwegler discovers the body of the real Davos (easily identifiable by his clubfoot), uncovered by the bombing. In the noise and confusion of the raid, Bramble and Schwegler play a deadly game of hide and seek in the darkened hotel before Bramble kills his foe. He hides the body in Mouche's part of the servants' room. When Mouche finds out, she threatens to unmask him, despite his appeal to her patriotism.

However, she has a change of heart. Schwegler's body is soon found, and Rommel accuses her of killing his aide when she discovered he was lying about his assistance. Mouche does not deny it. Bramble leaves for Cairo, but arranges for Farid to present faked evidence the next day that Bramble committed the crime.

Bramble's information allows the British to blow up the dumps and thus thwart Rommel's plans, culminating in the Second Battle of El Alamein. When Bramble returns in triumph with his unit to the hotel, he is devastated to learn that the Germans had executed Mouche, not for murder, but because she would not stop saying that the British would be back. He takes the parasol he had bought for her, something she had always wanted, and uses it to provide shade for her grave.



Bosley Crowther of The New York Times gave the film a mixed review. He admired one performance, writing, "... von Stroheim has all other movie Huns backed completely off the screen" and " ... whenever he appears in this picture, ... , he gives you the creeps and the shivers. Boy, what a nasty Hun!"[1] However, he was less than impressed with the rest, complaining, "As though this fanciful story weren't sufficiently hard to take, Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, a couple of old-hand Paramount wags, have dressed it up with shenanigans which have the flavor of fun in a haunted house."[1] "It has a little something for all tastes, provided you don't give a darn."[1] The Variety magazine response was more generous, calling it "a dynamic, moving vehicle" and praising Wilder's handling of "the varied story elements, countless suspenseful moments and vivid portrayals in excellent fashion."[2] Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader agreed, characterizing the film as a "crisp spy thriller" and, as Wilder's second stint at directing, "Excellent apprentice work, with many Wilder themes seething beneath the surface."[3]

Production notes

  • Production dates: 4 January–20 February 1943. Filmed at Paramount Studios, Hollywood, California. Some exteriors were shot on location at the Salton Sea and at Camp Young at the Army Desert Training Center, Indio, California, where, with the cooperation of the Army Ground Forces, a battle sequence was staged, and in Yuma, Arizona.
  • Billy Wilder wanted the role of Cpl. John J. Bramble/Davos (ultimately played by Franchot Tone) to be played by Cary Grant. Grant was repeatedly asked by Wilder to star in several of his films, but though the two were friends, Grant consistently refused.
  • A Hollywood Reporter news item reported that in November 1942, David O. Selznick had agreed to lend Ingrid Bergman for this film. However, Paramount instead borrowed Anne Baxter from Twentieth Century-Fox to play the role of "Mouche".
  • The Germans are played by German actors and thus speak with the right accent, except for von Stroheim, who emigrated from Austria to the US at the age of 24 and whose accent occasionally slips. The British hero is played by an American actor who speaks with the wrong accent. to a refined ear. Anne Baxter, however, does a credible French accent.
  • The German tanks in the film are United States M2 Light Tanks which were used for training.
  • The German word for Egypt is Ägypten, seven letters.
  • The film is available on both VHS and DVD home video; it can also be downloaded.


The film was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction (Hans Dreier, Ernst Fegté, Bertram C. Granger).[4]


  1. ^ a b c Bosley Crowther (May 27, 1943). "Five Graves to Cairo (1943)". The New York Times. Retrieved February 23, 2010. 
  2. ^ "Five Graves to Cairo". Variety. January 1, 1943. Retrieved February 23, 2010. 
  3. ^ Dave Kehr. "Five Graves to Cairo". Chicago Reader. Retrieved February 23, 2010. 
  4. ^ "NY Times: Five Graves to Cairo". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-15. 

External links