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Sea of Sand (1958)

aka Desert Patrol

There’s always something authentic about seeing an actor like Richard Attenborough in a Rank Production with a plot centered around a WW2 man on a mission adventure. That’s just what we get in this Guy Green directed tale of a group of desert commandos behind Rommel’s lines looking to sabotage a gasoline depot in the dead of night.

Filmed in black and white and on location in Tripolitania, Attenborough, is a member of a commando squad overseen by Michael Craig. The squad has been assigned by their company commander to journey 400 miles across the desert dunes while avoiding Rommel’s scouting platoons and blow up the gas depot. Coming along with the pair are the likes of John Gregson, Percy Herbert, Barry Foster, Ray McAnally and Andrew Faulds. There are a few others but in the grand tradition of an unnamed Ensign on a weekly Star Trek episode, they won’t make it to their destination alive.

As a matter of fact the group who are travelling in a number of desert outfitted vehicles will come across a German squad and though they’ll win the battle, they’ll bury four good men. The casualties have only begun. While Craig is in command of the mission he’ll have ample help from Gregson as a new officer in the division who can also speak German. This is going to come in handy when on a number of occasions he’ll switch his army cap to a German one and chat with a German scout thus keeping their identities and mission safely guarded.

The script by Robert Westerby (Woman Hater) will focus less on the journey getting to the depot as it will on getting back to the allied forces alive. It’s at the depot that the group will send four men in through barb wire and across a mine field in the dead of night to lay charges set to explode simultaneously. While Attenborough awaits at the fence surrounding the depot, Gregson, leads the way across the mine field and is soon to discover that within the compound under heavy camouflage are a division of Panzer tanks that could do some serious damage to the allied effort if they don’t send word to Headquarters about their existence. Unfortunately just as the four stealth fighters are set to return they are spotted and the battle is set to rage.

One man is shot down, the charges ignite lighting the skies and a German patrol spots the commando squad machine gunning both the men and the machines. The result is that their radio has been knocked out and come hell or high water they need at least one man to make it back alive to deliver the intel about the tank division. And that’s what the balance of the film is going to be about. The journey back.

In order to do so they’ll need to dodge patrols, a plane, sand storms and all the while keep their remaining vehicle in working order over 400 treacherous miles. With their water supply dwindling it’s going to prove a daunting task.

Best scene in the film is wrapped around the final moments between Attenborough and Herbert. Herbert who has been badly wounded will have to stay behind to hold off the squad that has been hounding them through the desert heat. And with that comes a heroic yet tragic moment for the man left to his fate.

One time cinematographer on films like Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951) and an Oscar winning effort on Great Expectations, Guy Green, would move on to directing films and 1958 proved to be good year. While he had Sea of Sand for the action fans on movie screens, he directed a first rate thriller for Hammer titled, The Snorkel. He’d follow up Sand by directing Attenborough and Gregson the next year in SOS Pacific. It’s a film I haven’t yet seen but if you check it out over at the IMDB it sounds like one worth tracking down. Please let me know if you’ve seen it and what you thought.

Attenborough is always a pro and it’s a pleasure to see him turn up in anything from these many military pictures he worked on including the amazing The Great Escape to some of his comedy escapades for the Boulton Brothers like Brothers In Law and I’m Alright Jack. It’s also wonderful to see that because of his role in Jurassic Park, many of today’s younger generation know him when the film is mentioned. “You know the old chap with the beard who brought the dinosaurs back to life.” Then of course we shouldn’t forget his own work behind the camera on films like A Bridge Too Far and of course his Oscar for directing Ghandi. Hell, he even got into a barroom brawl with The Duke in Brannigan. Not many English born actors can say that!

Bottom line. Richard Attenborough was one hell of a credit to the movie business and I welcome each and every opportunity to see him in a film that may be knew to me or the ones he starred in that I love to revisit including Robert Aldrich’s The Flight of the Phoenix which has a similarity to Sea Of Sand in that a group of men are trying to survive the desert.

Not having seen Sea of Sand previously, I have VCI to thank for it’s release on DVD here in North America. A company that has released numerous titles from across the pond.

3 Comments »

  1. Never heard of this one (but that’s not surprising, considering the size and diversity of your collection), but I like the sound of it. And I like that poster, too.

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