Thursday, February 09, 2017


The Trans-Africa Oil Company has sent four men out from Casablanca in a scouting plane looking for possible oil field sites in the Sahara Desert. The pilot (Rod Cameron) is a tough, no-nonsense type; the mechanic (Richard Erdman) is level-headed and friendly and missing his buxom blond girlfriend; the surveyor (John Dehner) drinks too much; which leaves the radio operator (Tab Hunter) as the young wet-behind-the-ears kid. As tensions begin to show, they hit a nasty sandstorm which grounds the plane and damages the radio—they can receive but not transmit. Knowing a rescue plane will be coming, they take turns keeping watch, but Hunter, who stayed awake too long working on the radio, falls asleep at his post and they miss the plane. However, they find a German WWII tank buried in the sand, get it started, and, with barely enough water for drinking and for the tank, decide to use it to get to a nearby Foreign Legion outpost. The increasingly drunken and sullen Dehner finds some gems hidden in the tank and doesn't tell the others. When they reach an oasis at which a Bedouin tribe is camped, they are given a friendly welcome and even an offer to buy the tank—it likely contains the Treasure of Calipha, stolen by the Germans during the war. Dehner realizes that the gems he found must be the Treasure so he sneaks into the tank and takes them, but he drops one; later, when the Bedouins search the tank, they see that lone gem and think the men are trying to steal their property. After a fistfight and shootout, the men escape—though Hunter is seriously wounded—and when Cameron finds out that Dehner actually did take the gems, he gets pissed. Soon, they find themselves surrounded by tribes with guns, but Hunter has also managed to get the transmitter working briefly—will help come in time?

This is a nifty little desert adventure B-movie that benefits from solid performances and the "Nazi stolen treasure" vibe of the McGuffin. The characters are developed just enough for us to care a little bit about their interactions, and the heat and grime and sweat and thirst all feel real enough. Only 22 at the time, Hunter feels a little less assured than the others, but it's not a bad performance. Cameron was mostly a star of Westerns on the big screen and played cops on TV; I only remember him as a minor player in NO HANDS ON THE CLOCK. Dehner, who I mostly know from 70s TV, makes a nicely slimy villain. The "Steel Lady" of the title is the tank. Overall, a good popcorn movie worth searching out. (Pictured left to right are Hunter, Erdman, Dehner and Cameron) [TCM]

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