The Black Tent

The Black Tent is a 1956 British war film directed by Brian Desmond Hurst and starring Donald Sinden, Anthony Steel, Anna Maria Sandri, André Morell and Donald Pleasence.[2] It is set in North Africa, during the Second World War and was filmed on location in Libya.

The Black Tent
British theatrical poster
Directed byBrian Desmond Hurst
Produced byWilliam Macquitty
Earl St. John
Written byBryan Forbes
Robin Maugham
Based onstory by Robin Maugham
StarringDonald Sinden
Anthony Steel
Anna Maria Sandri
André Morell
Donald Pleasence
Music byWilliam Alwyn
Distributed byRank Film Distributors of America
Release date
March 1956
Running time
93 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office1,351,181 admissions (France)[1]

During the British retreat through Libya, British officer Captain David Holland takes shelter with a Bedouin tribe and marries the sheik's daughter. After the war his younger brother, who had believed him to be dead, learns that he may be alive in Libya - prompting him to set out and search for him.

Turner Classic Movies calls the film "an odd duck... that has never received much fan love in its day or since, and in fact is barely remembered today. But it is, for one thing, the first English-language film shot largely in Libya" and which "plays like something of a prophecy - six years before the epochal on-location imagery and direct exploration of British colonialism we're all familiar with in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962), here are vast desert-dune landscapes punctuated by Englishmen and testy Bedouin on camels, with all of the culture-collision freight that implies."[3]


The film begins with a tank battle where blonde-haired Captain Holland (Anthony Steel) is sprawled unconscious beside his tank on the sand. When he comes to, he walks over the dunes until collapsing near a Bedouin encampment at an oasis. He is found by the sheik's daughter, Mabrouka (Anna Maria Sandri), who takes him to the camp which consists of several black tents. The film begins with Charles receiving a note at his country estate and proceeding to London.

The film skips forward to a point after the war when Captain Holland's brother, Colonel Sir Charles Holland (Donald Sinden), is guided into the desert by Ali (Donald Pleasence) in search of his brother. They were drawn by a promissory note that had been given by Captain Holland to the Bedouin for their help and eventually taken to the British embassy for payment. Sir Charles sets off to discover the fate of his brother and eventually reaches the Bedouin camp. He is entertained by the camp's chief, Sheik Salem ben Yussef (André Morrel) and sees a young blonde boy in the camp. Later, the Sheik becomes angry at Sir Charles's line of questioning about his brother, the boy, and note and asks them to leave. Before they leave, Mabrouka gives Ali a sock containing Captain Holland's diary which he gives Sir Charles. The film skips back in time to recount the story within the diary.

Captain Holland, having been tended by Mabrouka, recovers. He learns that Mabrouka is the sheik's daughter and is betrothed to Sheik Faris (Michael Craig) from another tribe. When a German reconnaissance vehicle arrives at the camp, Captain Holland hides in some Roman ruins. The senior German officer then finds Holland's service revolver in a tent.

Mabrouka and Captain Holland become romantically involved to the obvious annoyance of Sheik Faris. He colludes with the Germans who return to the ruins where Holland and Sheik Yussef kill them and Faris. The romance between Captain Holland and Mabrouka deepens and they marry.

Learning of the British victory at El Alamein, Captain Holland seeks to return to the British lines but finds that his wife is pregnant. A group led by the Sheik and Captain Holland travel toward the British lines but come across a column of retreating Italian vehicles. Captain Holland sustains a fatal injury rescuing the Sheik.

The film returns to the present day with the Sheik handing Sir Charles a letter with his brother's will bequeathing his estate to his son. Sir Charles discusses this with his nephew but the boy decides to remain with the tribe and burns the letter.



The film was based on an original story by Robin Maugham, who had served in the North African Desert during World War Two.[4] He later published a version of the story in Chambers Journal and included it in a later anthology of his writings published in 1973.[5]

The film was shot at Pinewood Studios and on location in Libya. The film unit was mostly based in Tripoli. The lead actress was Italian.[6]

The film used the site of the Roman ruins at Sabratha in Libya, which is by the sea,[7] although the plot suggests that the camp is deep in the Libyan desert. This is a plot device to provide a bit of eye candy to the viewer and a reason for the Germans to visit in small numbers, like regular tourists.


The Observer had trouble with the reality of the story but thought "the scenery is impressive and the tents... are interesting."[8] "Too bright, too clean, too polished," wrote The Times.[9]

The film was released in the US in 1957 on a double bill with Checkpoint, also starring Anthony Steel.[10][11]


Theirs is the Glory: Arnhem, Hurst and Conflict on Film takes Hurst's Battle of Arnhem epic as its centrepiece and then chronicles Hurst's life and experiences during the First World War and profiles each of his other nine films on conflict, including The Black Tent.[12]


  1. French box office for 1956 at Box Office Story
  3. The Black Tent at TCMDB
  4. Robin Maugham biography
  5. British Cultural Memory and the Second World War Ed Lucy Noakes, Juliette Pattinson, 2013 p 115
  6. OBSERVATIONS ON THE BRITISH SCREEN SCENE: Graham Greene Returns to Production -- New Star Is Born -- Other Matters By STEPHEN WATTS LONDON.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 25 Sep 1955: X5.
  7. "NEW DEAL FOR STAR". The Australian Women's Weekly. 23, (45). Australia, Australia. 4 April 1956. p. 52. Retrieved 15 May 2016 via National Library of Australia.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  8. Cause Celebre Lejeune, C A. The Observer (1901- 2003) [London (UK)] 18 Mar 1956: 15.
  9. Mr. Otto Preminger's Latest Film. The Times (London, England), Monday, Mar 19, 1956; pg. 3; Issue 53483
  10. Steel Plays Hero in Two Melodramas C S. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 13 June 1957: C13.
  11. British to Stampede American Screen; Fred Astaire Will Compose Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 19 Apr 1957: 25.
  12. ISBN 978-1-911096-63-4. Publisher Helion and Company and co-authored by David Truesdale and Allan Esler Smith and a foreword by Sir Roger Moore. Available here:

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