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Fox Lorber presents
The Fighting Rats of Tobruk (1948)

Peter: I need some water for my cattle.
Kate: Oh. Water…for your cattle. That's why you came. I see.

- Peter Finch, Pauline Garrick

Review By: Daniel Hirshleifer   
Published: February 15, 2002

Stars: Grant Taylor, Peter Finch, Chips Rafferty, Pauline Garrick
Other Stars: Mary Gay, George Wallace, Joe Valli
Director: Charles Chauvel

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild war violence)
Run Time: 01h:08m:46s
Release Date: December 04, 2001
UPC: 720917530024
Genre: war

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C- DFD- D+

DVD Review

Many war films can be viewed as propaganda, either for a certain war or against war in general. World War II films are usually the former. Most people don't object to the "rightness" of fighting the Nazis, so they can watch WWII films without any sort of jaded suspicion that might be associated with, say, the Vietnam War. However, when this much leeway is allowed filmmakers, there is a certain line past which a film looks like nothing but propaganda, and at that point people will see right through it and reject it. The Fighting Rats of Tobruk is one of those films. Made right at the tail end of the war (1944), it commemorates the men who fought Rommel at Tobruk. However, it reads so much like a recruitment film that I have to wonder if that was its original purpose. The only reason this movie is even noteworthy today is because it has Peter Finch, who later went on to win the first posthumous Oscar©.

The Fighting Rats of Tobruk celebrates the exploits of the men stationed at Tobruk in North Africa. They managed to hold off Rommel's forces for 250 days. The name "Fighting Rats of Tobruk" was original a derogatory term the Nazis used to demean the men stationed there, but eventually turned into a point of pride with the soldiers. The film follows, for the most part, three men: Milo Trent (Chips Rafferty), Bluey Donkin (Grant Taylor), and Peter Linton (Peter Finch).

The film tries to juggle humor, wartime drama, and a love story all at the same time, and ends up dropping the ball in all three cases. The humor (such as when a barber examines his new haircutting chair and finds it unsuitable) is rambling and mostly detracts from the story. The drama and love story come off as ham-handed, especially the scenes with Pauline Garrick. The film is at its best when it just shows the men being themselves. In fact, for a movie like this, there's more character development than I would have expected. Unfortunately, for every genuine scene there's a contrived scene that ruins the feeling the audience gets from the good ones.

Taylor, Finch, and Rafferty give likeable performances, but nothing great by any stretch of the imagination. George Wallace makes a somewhat favorable impression as the unit's barber. By far the worst performance comes from Pauline Garrick. A classic bad actress, she says her lines very slowly, with long pauses between words, and either shows no emotion or too few. At times it's just painful to watch, but at other times it's unintentionally humorous, so it's not all bad.

The battle scenes aren't anything to shout about, either. They're not bad, but on the other hand, the director relies a little too much on having big explosions fell a lot of guys all at once. There is a fight where guns are more prevalent at the end, but it's hard to make out what is going on. Like the rest of the movie, the battle sequences are full of energy, but aren't pulled off very well. Everything about this film (aside from Pauline Garrick) is just so-so, making the film virtually forgettable.

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: D


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The Fighting Rats of Tobruk has one of the worst transfers I've ever seen. First of all, the picture is far too dark. There are several scenes, including a significant battle sequence, where the screen is pitch black for a considerable length of time. When the action is visible, the print is full of scratches and nicks, making it difficult to watch. There are plenty of missing frames, and sometimes I wonder if there are entire missing scenes, since it looks like one starts and then the film cuts to another scene. This is just a terrible-looking movie.

Image Transfer Grade: F


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The sound is very bad, as well. There are crackles, hisses, and pops all over the place. The sound is tinny and soft, and a lot of it seems like it was dubbed in later. The score is mixed amazingly low, and sometimes it's just painful to listen to.

Audio Transfer Grade: D-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Queen of Sheba, The Barbarians, Submarine Attack (Torpedo Zone), The Raiders of Leyte Gulf, Mission to Death
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Film Facts
Extras Review: The disc is light on extras. A couple of filmographies, a few small facts, some trailers, and a weblink.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

Forgettable in almost every way, The Fighting Rats of Tobruck is only remembered for the fact that Peter Finch was in it. Looking back on it now, it looks a little too much like propaganda to be truly interesting, and not directed or acted well enough to overcome this feeling that the movie is just a giant advertisement for war, or at least for the winners of the war.


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