20 February 2018



Hands up who remembers the famous ad for Carlsberg beer, lifted directly from this film? You couldn't get a better advertisement for anything anywhere. Four military personnel, three lads and one lady nurse, all the worse for wear after spending days and days in the steaming hot African desert between Tobruk and Alexandria, pile into a bar and one of them, obviously the leader, tells the barman to 'set 'em up, Joe.'

Four pints of of the Danish beer Carlsberg are poured for the thirsty travellers in frosted glasses. The leader looks at his glass reverently, caressing it with the tip of one finger, drawing a line in the moisture gathered there. Then he downs the pint in one go while the others watch wide-eyed, wipes his mouth and says in a gravelly voice: 'Worth waiting for.'

There you go. What the hell else could ever beat this for advertising? Judging by all the Channel 4 list shows in which this very ad has featured in the Top Ten Of The Best Ads Ever, apparently few ads ever have. I don't care how many minstrels are singing and dancing around a box of Lyons teabags or how many hussies are simulating fellatio on a crumbly bar of Cadbury's Flake, this is my favourite ad of all time and it always will be. Take a hike, Gold Blend coffee couple. Youse are probably split up by now anyway, lol.

Anyway, the leader of the small group of bedraggled travellers is Captain Anson, marvellously played by iconic English actor John Mills. It's 1942 and the tide of World War Two is just beginning- very, very slowly- to turn in favour of the Allies. By the way, I never fully understood why the British were fighting the Germans in North Africa when the war was meant to be in Europe. That always seemed like a bit of a rum do to me.

The Allies in the film were still on the run from 'Jerry,' however, at this point in time. Captain Anson is given the job of transporting two nurses, Sisters Diana and Denise, to the safety of Alexandria from Tobruk, which will shortly be besieged by, um, Jerries. Is it okay to call them that, by the way? It's what they called them in the film. I can't be held personally responsible for Olde-Timey racism, lol...!

Anyway, Captain Anson, a top Army driver, undertakes to drive 'Katy' the Ambulance across the desert with the two nurses in tow. Accompanying them will be Anson's underling and friend, the massively built and tough-as-old-boots Tom Pugh, and an Afrikaner South African army officer who hitches a ride with them, a Captain Van Der Poel. Not 'Pole,' if you please, it's pronounced Poel...!

Anthony Quayle, an actor whom I hadn't realised was so darkly attractive until I saw him in this film in his ultra-short shorts, does a brilliant job here as the beefcake who's initially welcomed aboard as he's in possession of a load of booze and fags. Captain Anson, a man who has distinct alcoholic tendencies, is happy to hear about Van Der Poel's bag of tricks. 

I myself was more than happy to ogle Poel's sweaty bare chest, arms and thighs as he pushed and pulled the banjaxed old ambulance across the desert. Don't tell me that I'm objectifying men, you lot. Men do this to women all the time. We're allowed to have our little bit of revenge from time to time, heh-heh-heh.

As the gruelling cross-country trip gets underway, however, the little group is glad of Van Der Poel's physical strength, courage and seemingly limitless energy. As they drive Katy the Ambulance over mines, up hills and even through quicksand, he proves to be an invaluable asset to the hard-pressed team, who are really up against it.

And his little trips away from the camp with a shovel in tow straight after dinner each night are a source of great amusement to the others. Snigger. Until they start to wonder what exactly he's keeping in that pack of his, something he guards carefully and won't let anyone else get within a mile of. 

He wouldn't be a spy, would he, their enigmatic and seemingly indefatigable Captain Van Der Poel? And if he is, what the hell are they supposed to do about it, in the middle of the bloody desert with Jerry hot on their tails?

Harry Andrews, the big burly Tom Pugh, turns in an excellent performance as Captain Anson's right-hand man. He acted in about eighty films in his long career. I loved him as Stubb in MOBY DICK (1956). In this fantastic action film, he appeared alongside such acting heavyweights as Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab ('Ahab beckons! He's dead but he beckons!') and Orson Welles as the Preacher.

I forget who played the whale, but whoever it was, I think he's still alive and even still acting in the occasional picture. Despite bitching about having been typecast as a large marine animal from an early age, he's happy enough with the way his career has panned out. When asked for a quote, he contributed: 'I'm just glad I'm not soap...'

Sylvia Syms, who's still alive, God bless her, at the grand old age of eighty-four, and narrating BBC2's excellent TALKING PICTURES series to boot, plays the eye candy here. Even while sweating buckets and wiping grit out of her eyes in the desert, she still remains an ice-cool blonde who'd be the perfect side-dish to the ice-cold pint of lager Captain Anson has promised them all when they reach this bar in Alexandria of which he has fond memories. Let's hope that Jerry hasn't bombed the shite out of it first, lol...!

Ms. Syms's character, Nurse Diana Murdoch, turns sweet on Captain Anson, though personally I'd have gone for Captain Van Der Poel, whose thighs in those short shorts look like they could crack walnuts between 'em.

But Captain Anson is an alcoholic who's worked himself almost into the grave in this desert war. Will he have room in his life- and his heart- for any other woman besides Katy the Ambulance? Katy's a bit of a dirty hussy, however, having had more men in her than, well, than a woman who's had a lot of men in her, lol. Maybe the ice-cool blonde virginal type will suit him better...

I can't say I'm crazy about Nurse's Diana's rather unfeeling personality. Here's what she says about her deceased companion, Nurse Denise: 'She was a silly little thing really. An awful flirt. She wasn't even a very good nurse.' Jesus Christ. This woman was supposed to be her friend. I wouldn't like to hear how she talks about her enemies...!

Anyway, to commemorate the sixtieth (sixtieth!) anniversary of this magnificent war picture, STUDIOCANAL have released a new 4K restoration of it as part of their VINTAGE CLASSICS series. This is a showcase of iconic British films, all featuring brand-new extra content.

The film is available to buy on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital Download with a staggering array of extra features and, if you want to know what's taken them till now to release such a stunning package, well, all I can say is that it was 'worth waiting for...'


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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