Wartime films such as “Sahara” from 1943 can be windows into the past for historians and laymen alike. The typical World War II film exhibits important qualities that include how the troops were meant to act as well as how the citizens at home were meant to contribute to the war effort. “Sahara” displays the feelings and realities of the war to the home front in order to promote a spirit of sacrifice, remove the societal pressures and separations that divided us, and to appease the returning troops with images of the harsh reality that they faced. This made movies like “Sahara” both idealistic and realistic.
To analyze “Sahara”, it is important to view what lead America and the film industry to join the war effort that was brewing in Europe years before. Europe’s war began in 1939 with the German and Italian troops decimating the French and besieging the British on their home fronts. The war for Americans was a thousand miles across a vast ocean. Like in the First World War, the United States chose to remain neutral and institute a policy of strict isolationism, despite the fact that our French and British allies were already long suffering the effects of the war. The film industry was forced to reflect this decision by removing themselves from the conflict and focusing on escapist films like comedies, musicals, westerns, and the occasional melodrama. The suffering and chaos of the war was hidden from most of the publics’ minds’ eye by not displaying it in the most watched and talked about form of media. The film industry was limited in what they could produce with new censorship codes in place that restricted subject matter and how it was portrayed. Films with anti-German sentiments were seen as inflammatory and too powerful. Instead war films were supposed to be about past wars and were supposed to teach the importance of peace. This was not only to avoid Government pressure, but to avoid the loss of important foreign markets and to subtly support our allies in a way that would keep those markets open as well. Still these films served to glorify war in their own way, despite their messages about the losses and ugliness of war. World War I films poked fresh wounds left by the main German antagonist on the nation, while trying to be marketed as calls for peace. In 1941, Hollywood was accused of attempting to sway the American public and the legislators toward war. This demonstrated the power the American film industry held in the 1940s and why it was so essential in gathering for war. Negative films toward the Nazis were limited even after the country entered the war in December of 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. America’s war, and thus Hollywood’s, was with the Japanese that had attacked the country rather than the Europeans that were still half a world away. All of this changed once the United States officially joined their allies in World War II in 1942 as the goal of these movies were to bridge the gaps the previous years of films had created and to show the public that the war was no longer a question—it was a reality.
This film, like many others of its time, served an important purpose. It brought the war to the far removed home front. The struggles of these soldiers on screen were meant to rally support for the ideology behind the war as well as support for the troops that were fighting in it. This was a way America’s film industry were able to head the war on the home front to bring about greater sacrifice through rationing and signing up for military jobs, bringing women and those left behind into the workplace to fill important jobs, and to increase morale and production of the United States that had come late to a war that had long been brewing in Germany. This was a challenge to the American people to switch completely towards wartime production and to catch up to the Nazi war machine. These ideas are not only shown through the films made during this time period, but in an important war time document called, Government Information Manual for the Motion Picture Industry, created in 1942. 
The film Sahara takes place in the African chapter of the war that seemed even further separated from us than the war in Europe did. This foreign landscape was used to display kinship between men of several different nations as well as to show the troops’ desperation for basic needs such as water. The main character of the film, Master Sergeant Joe Gunn, portrayed by Humphrey Boggart was an all-American, lone hero type character with flaws that humanized him and qualities that glorified him to the audience. Unlike the various soldiers around him, Joe Gunn was the natural leader for the rag-tag band of allied troops, because of his willingness to make smart decisions and his long experience as a tank commander. As he adamantly says in the film, there has to be sacrifices in war, because at the end of the day the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the individual. This is exemplified when an Italian deserter asks for transport through the desert toward the allied lines. Joe Gunn shows concern for their rations and their water, worrying that an extra-mouth will ruin their chances for survival. This causes him to make the hard decision and leave the man behind. The soldiers in the company question this decision and plead for the Italian’s life, but are answered with the same dilemma that Joe Gunn had faced, “It’s ten lives versus the one.” While this shows the desperation and harshness of the war, it also exemplified the very nature of sacrifice for the whole that the individual on the home front could make. In the end, Gunn stops and allows the man to join them under the condition that he does not steal food or water from his men, though he ends up giving it to the man later anyway. This scene was essential, because it showed the human-side that the moment before had taken from the sergeant. It showed how a soldier could lose himself to the harsh terrain and realities of war, but still somehow retain his moral compass and sense of righteousness. This scene is also vital to understanding why the American people of the home front had to make sacrifices. The soldiers were shown rationing their food and water as the American people were meant to do. This was a way to bridge that gap between the home front and the war front even further. Another need the film addressed was that for war material such as gasoline and metal for weapons. The Lulu Bell, Gunn’s tank, became an important character of its own. Gunn treated it almost as a precious child or woman, protecting it and getting offended by insults to it. This was not just for comedic effect and likeability, but to show that without this tank these troops had no way to cross the vast desert to their lines and get away from the encroaching enemy threat that was not far behind them.
The film also serves as a way to present the war to the American people as a universal effort for democracy and against oppression, rather than a flippant war fought over issues that did not involve the American people as it previously might have been seen. By having Joe Gunn and his two American comrades meet soldiers from all over Europe and Africa, the movie seeks to portray a sense of unity between the foreign allies by allowing them to work together towards a common goal. One of the most important introductions to the film is that of the Sudanese Sergeant Major Tambul. His shared rank with Joe Gunn is something that demands respect, though his willingness to follow Gunn’s orders allows for the film to continue without much controversy over Tambul’s race. The only person who refers to Tambul’s race in a derogatory way is the Nazi prisoner the allied troops capture and one of the American soldiers even asks about his culture and belief system to find similarities. The introduction of an African character with dark skin is a vital piece in bridging the gaps that society has created in the still segregated America. Though there are differences between all the soldiers among Gunn’s comrades, they are all able to find common ground that might have seemed ambiguous if not for the portrayal of German troops that followed after them. While the band of Allied soldiers search desperately for water with the assistance of the native Tambul, they discuss their shared losses of homes and loved ones at the hands of the Nazis. The French man that the men affectionately refer to as Frenchie describes the loss of his village, the subsequent occupation, and his membership of the French underground that were still fighting under harsh oppression of Nazi rule. Gunn and the rest of the troops also tell stories of their home life and what the war has cost them. The end result is an appeal to the emotions that no longer allows the American people to question what the war is about. It is a war of the people; all of them, not just the soldiers that were fighting the war, as well as one for democracy and freedom that the Axis powers sought to snuff out. Gunn and his troops make a decision near the end of the film to turn towards their enemy rather than keep running in order to hold the five hundred Germans for the sake of warning their allies and allowing for an Allied victory. This ultimately seems like a fools-errand with only nine men left among them, but Tom Gunn was able to rally the men and prepare a clever trap that elevated their chances and made the fight possible by displaying the Germans as defeatable and desperate. A British captain makes an important statement as the all of the men slowly agree to this last stand that finally strikes the right chord with all of them and convinces to lay their lives on the line for a singular idea. The line, “Do you know why we’re able to do it? Because we are stronger than they are…I don’t mean in numbers. I mean something else. You see, those men out there never knew the dignity of freedom,” exemplifies this ideal as well as separates the soldiers from that of their enemies and what the war was thought to be fought for. The end of the film describes the Allied victory at El Alamein as the majority of Gunn’s bands graves are shown in order to draw the story to a close with a sense that these men’s sacrifice were not in vein and that their contribution was their plea for the greater good. Gunn reads off each name with great reverence and sadness to display each soldier as an individual who fought and died for their loved ones and their countries.
The World War II film was meant to show sacrifice of the troops, the similarities of our allies, the righteousness of our cause, and the desperate need for support these soldiers needed. Sahara did all of these things and more by displaying individual soldiers in a beyond severe environment. Films such as Sahara can not only now show us the attitudes and events that in the 1940s, but made the war effort part of everyday American life in 1943.
 Jacobs , Lewis . “World War II and the American Film.” Cinema Journal 7 (1967): pg. 1-2.
 Mintz, Steven, and Randy Roberts. Hollywood’s America: Twentieth-century America through Film. Pg. 129-131.
 Government Information Manual for the Motion Picture Industry. Washington, D.C.: Office of War Information, 1942.
 Mintz, Steven, and Randy Roberts. Hollywood’s America: Twentieth-century America Through Film. Pg. 130.
 Government Information Manual for the Motion Picture Industry. Washington, D.C.: Office of War Information, 1942.