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Nine Men (1943)


Main image of Nine Men (1943)
35mm, black and white, 67 mins
Directed byHarry Watt
Production CompanyEaling Studios
Produced byMichael Balcon
Screenplay byHarry Watt
Story byGerald Kersh
CameramanRoy Kellino

Cast: Jack Lambert (Sergeant Jack Watson); Gordon Jackson (the young 'un); Richard Wilkinson (2nd Lt. John Arthur Crawford); Frederick Piper (Banger Hill); Grant Sutherland (Jock Scott)

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The North Africa campaign. When their lorry is destroyed by enemy aircraft, nine soldiers are forced to make a stand in an abandoned desert hut against almost overwhelming Italian forces.

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A small-scale but stirring propaganda film, Nine Men (1943) was the first feature by documentarist Harry Watt after his arrival at Ealing from the Crown Film Unit. With his colleague Alberto Cavalcanti, Watt was poached from Crown following Ealing head Michael Balcon's unsuccessful attempt to take over the Unit.

Watt performed miracles with a tiny budget of just £20,000, with Margam Sands in South Wales convincingly standing in for North Africa. He even filmed a supposedly long march across empty desert - several minutes of screen time - without breaking the illusion.

The villains here are not Germans but Italians, and the film includes some pretty disparaging remarks about the Italians and their fighting prowess, which reflect the common low-key racism of wartime, as well as the effectiveness in the North Africa campaign of Italian troops, who were relatively poorly equipped and led, and generally much less enthusiastic Nazis than their German counterparts.

Scripted by Watt from a story by Gerald Kersh, it follows the pattern of Ealing films in the later part of the war, with a regionally-mixed team of mostly working-class men, and a focus on ordinary heroism from the ranks rather than the officer class. Characteristically, the senior officer is despatched quickly, leaving the men under the command of the tough, no-nonsense Scot, Sgt. Watson, played by serving officer Jack Lambert, who was given special leave to take the role.

While the battle scenes are effective, the film is at its best when representing the relationships between the men, and their persistent good humour in apparently desperate circumstances.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. Field Training (3:22)
2. Desert trek (2:03)
3. Sandstorm (1:39)
4. Raiding party (1:57)
Original Poster
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
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