November 14, 1943 [Sahara]

More about survival than conquest, Sahara offers "a little world made cunningly" by pitting Bogart's ramshackle tank crew and hitchhikers of varying nationalities, religions, dispositions (and allegiances: at one point they're joined by a German soldier) against the desert itself, drawing them closer to not only death but each other, as if the war were somehow an instrument of peace. Once more, the movies rescue us from brutal truths.

Good thing; the British thought they'd mop up Hitler in a year or two—and now we're telling ourselves the same fairy-tale. But Sahara reminds us that it really is a World War—Africa and the rest of the big and little Empires run over by one then another (and another) European power for centuries. But these were mere mercantile preludes to Hitler's honest obliteration, stripping everything clean, like Sherman's March, leaving behind nothing they want.

So it seems Hollywood rescues us after all—if not from the history we're making, then at least from defeat (mostly moral) and from the death of tenderness and even humor. Sahara makes big promises—big enough to transform the victory we hope for into a human thing. And if I'm being lied to, that's all right, just until we do win; what comes after remains, for now, just that—something "after"—while I read the papers and look at those Life photos of (thankfully) face-down corpses and see the blue stars on front-door banners turn to gold.


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