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,Trunk to Cairo

Trunk to Cairo

Made at the height of the James Bond craze of the 1960s, the 1966 Israeli-West German co-production Trunk to Cairo attempted to cash in on the popularity of movies featuring international intrigue, beautiful women, and a strong central action hero. Although star Audie Murphy was in his forties and nearing the end of a rather undistinguished film career, he still retained enough real-life credentials as the most decorated American soldier of World War II to pull off the role, even if the picture was not hugely successful stateside. (It premiered in Europe six months before its American release).

Murphy is Mike Merrick, an American agent sent to Cairo to foil the plans of a neo-Nazi German scientist, Schlieben (George Sanders), who has developed a rocket weapon he plans to use against the world's superpowers. Complicating matters are an involvement with the German's daughter and a group of radical Muslims who are seeking to destroy both Merrick and the rocket. Part of the action involves Merrick's daring escape from Middle Eastern intelligence agents after he has been captured in Italy and sealed in a trunk shipped by plane back to Cairo...hence the title.

Trunk to Cairo was filmed in Italy and Israel, with some sources listing location work in Algeria as well. It was first released in Austria under the title Einer spielt falsch, literally "the wrong game" or "false move." It was released in Italy as Commandos in azione ("Commandos in Action") and in Israel as Mivtza Kahir.

The son of poor Texas sharecroppers, Murphy's 33 combat awards, including the Congressional Medal of Honor, were all the more remarkable for someone so small and fragile looking; he was a shy, boyish-looking soldier who had enlisted before he was of legal age. His remarkable acts of bravery on the front lines captured the nation's attention, and after the war, James Cagney invited him to Hollywood, paying for the young man's acting and dancing lessons. However, Murphy just didn't have what it took to be a screen actor. He languished around the edges of the industry for a few years taking roles in a few minor productions until he won the lead in John Huston's trouble-plagued production of the Civil War story The Red Badge of Courage (1951). Although the picture did not do well at the box office, Murphy was able to parlay it into a contract with Universal, where he was cast in a series of Westerns and eventually as himself in the film version of his autobiography To Hell and Back (1955). The picture was a huge hit, Universal's biggest moneymaker until Jaws (1975). He continued in his string of modestly budgeted war films and Westerns, occasionally landing in such prestige productions as Huston's The Unforgiven (1960), with Burt Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz's adaptation of Graham Greene's Vietnam-set political drama The Quiet American (1958). Trunk to Cairo was Murphy's first non-Western/non-war film. After that, he only made three more films, all of them Westerns. In addition to his Hollywood career, Murphy was also a successful rancher and business owner, despite suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and episodes of violent temper. In May 1971, a private plane carrying Murphy and five others crashed into the side of a mountain in thick fog, killing everyone on board. He was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery, where the only grave visited by more people than his is that of President John F. Kennedy.

Even though Sanders' character is a neo-Nazi bent on world domination, the Middle Eastern characters come off even worse in the story, perhaps in part because this was an Israeli production made at the height of tensions between that country and the Arab world. (Of course, Arab characters and their depiction in other movie productions at the time rarely fared any better). Trunk to Cairo was released one year before the Six Days War between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.

This was the fourth film directed by Israeli-born Menahem Golan and the third on which he also served as producer. Since the early 60s, Golan and his cousin, Yoram Globus, have collaborated on more than 150 films, becoming leaders not just of their native cinema but for a time in the international film scene as well. Among their non-Israeli pictures are the award-winning theatrical adaptation That Championship Season (1982), the Charles Bronson thriller 10 to Midnight (1983), the Katharine Hepburn vehicle Grace Quigley (1984), the remake of Night of the Living Dead (1990), and Crime and Punishment (2002), a modern-day version of Dostoevsky's novel, with Crispin Glover, Vanessa Redgrave, and John Hurt. The two cousins ran the Cannon group in Hollywood for ten years beginning in 1979, turning out such critically acclaimed films as John Cassavetes' Love Streams (1984) and Barfly (1987), starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway.

Trunk to Cairo was written by Marc Behm, a rather surprising assignment for the man who had just done the story and screenplay for the Beatles movie Help! (1965). For this movie, however, he may have drawn on his past experience, writing suspense stories for the screen. Behm penned "The Unsuspecting Wife" that was made into the mystery-comedy-romance Charade (1963) and the German story of an international criminal mastermind, The Return of Dr. Mabuse (1961), a follow-up to movies made about the character by Fritz Lang in 1922, 1933, and 1960.

As the daughter of the German scientist, Marianne Koch is appealing in a one dimensional but decorative role. In movies since the age of 19 in 1950, Koch is probably best known in this country for her appearance in the Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western A Fistful of Dollars (1964). She retired from movies in 1971 to study medicine, a profession she practiced until 1992 while also winning awards for hosting a pioneering television talk show and broadcasting her own radio medical advice show, both in her native Germany.

Directors: Menahem Golan, Raphael Nussbaum
Producer: Menahem Golan
Screenplay: Marc Behm, Alexander Ramati
Cinematography: Yitzhak Herbst
Editing: Danny Schick
Art Direction: Shlomo Zafrir
Original Music: Dov Seltzer
Cast: Audie Murphy (Mike Merrick), George Sanders (Professor Schlieben), Marianne Koch (Helga Schlieben), Hans von Borsody (Hans Klugg), Elana Eden (Hadassa).

by Rob Nixon



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