Recently, I watched the 1943 movie Sahara staring Humphrey Bogart. It is a remarkable movie for a number of reasons. As the movie was made in 1943, the equipment used was all state of the art. The Allied vehicles were all authentic. At various times in the movie, there was a M-3 Stuart/Honey, several M-3 Lee tanks, one of which was Lulu-Belle and a M-2 White Scout Car. As the war was at its height, there was no German equipment to be had. The White was presumably supposed to be an SDKFZ-250 half-track.
The movies that came about after the war in the early 60s had a curious negative tone toward our Allies, especially the British. Thankfully, the tone of this movie is more of a cooperative one. There are a managerie of characters from all arms, mostly explained away because they were at an aid station for various reasons. They were fighting in the battle of Gazala and a general retreat had been ordered. So why an American? Well, the Allies were planning on invading Morocco and the Americans needed some experience fighting in the desert. Our hero was part of a tank company sent to North Africa to fight along side of the British and gain some practical experience against the Germans.
There are a few stereotypical characters as well. There is an Italian who is both a little round and has no real stomach for a fight. He is, however, a pretty good mechanic. There is a Frenchman who was driven out of France when the Nazis came and executed most of the people in his village because they were suspected resistance fighters. He is also a bit round and has a love of good wine and good food. Also not a terribly good fighter but he is willing to kill a German at first chance. Finally, there is a Sudanese tracker who is a good fighter and is well respected. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this is that the movie was filmed well before the civil rights movement. The character is both believable and well done. Not a second banana by any stretch.
A remake of this movie was made in 1995 staring, oddly enough, James Belushi. This was an Australian made movie. I saw it on IMDB and thought Id give it a trying. With lowered expectations, I watched it and was pleasantly surprised. The cast of characters was quite good. Most of the story was the same from the older classic. The opening scene is still the same. There are a few classic tanks, including a Matilda. There is no German halftrack but there is a LRDG patrol that finds the gang. They have a vintage Chevy and a Jeep. The characters were similar to that of the classic movie but somehow were more endearing. Luigi the Italian was less of a caricature than previously. he was still a whiz bang mechanic and still just wanted to get home so he could live out his life with his wife and child. Frenchy was portrayed a bit mean and even a little sinister. When he switches out to the famous scene where he talks about what he would do if he were back at his vineyard, he was really likable, much like the classic Frenchy. But then he remembers that it is not there anymore and he begins to brood again. It was after this scene that you really see the lads bond.
The attacks were very similar though Waco never goes for help. He stays to fight and pays the price like the rest of the men except two. The big difference is that in the old movie, Lulu Belle never moves during the fight. In the new version it goes on a bit of a joy ride hitting the German attackers hard. Note that at this stage in the war, German infantry had no effective means of dealing with an M-3. This is a recon battalion so even if they had a 37mm gun, it would have been ineffective against the 2″ sloped plate of the Lee. Perhaps not as cool looking as the tank assault on the tree line in the movie “Fury” but a pretty good scene none-the-less.
Finally, there is Joe Gunn. We all probably know about Bogart and his role. He does do a fabulous job. He is quite capable and brave but it not the “Mary Sue” that other action heroes are. In fact, he is kind of flawed and can even be mean at times in his own right. As played by James Belushi? Surprisingly good. My objection to him is not with the acting but rather with the look. Belushi just didn’t look “military.” he did not have a tanker’s uniform which almost certainly would have been a khaki coveralls like the one Bogart wore. His hair was too long and the hair style a bit too modern. But his acting was quite good.
You can’t go wrong watching either movie. They tell the same story. The acting is quite good in both though the style in the classic movie is a bit dated. The sign of the times I suppose. Get them both. Watch them side by side. Well worth the 3+ hours you will spend.