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British Advance Into Sinai

Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 257th installment in the series.   

November 15, 1916: British Advance Into Sinai 

Fighting in the Sinai Peninsula in 1914-1916 was unusual by the standards of the First World War, in large part because – unlike the nose-to-nose stalemate on the Western Front – the two opposing sides were separated by a “no man’s land” consisting of an inhospitable desert stretching hundreds of miles. Although both sides staged raids and larger attacks in this huge arena with scant success, in between these encounters ordinary troops might not see the enemy for months at a time.

This situation finally began to change – albeit very slowly– on November 15, 1916, when the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force under commander-in-chief Archibald Murray made its first foray into the desert with an eye to permanent occupation, rather than reconnaissance or harassing raids. Above all, the long delay in the British offensive reflected the enormous logistical difficulties attending modern desert warfare. 

The first and most challenging obstacle was also the simplest: water. With the British planning to bring a force numbering hundreds of thousands of men across the desert, the small brackish wells scattered across the Sinai Peninsula for use by Bedouin tribes were obviously going to be totally inadequate. The British decided to overcome the obstacle by building a pipeline to carry water from a base near the Suez Canal, at Qantara, across the northern Mediterranean coast of the peninsula to Palestine. 

The pipeline, and an accompanying railroad (top), were the main target of the failed Turkish campaign against the British in front of the Suez Canal at Romani in August 1916. That fall the pipeline and railroad continued to advance east, while the British received additional valuable information from Jewish Zionists who knew the terrain in Palestine, including the location of wells for when the invaders were forced to leave their pipeline behind.

In mid-November the British began their gradual pursuit of the Turkish force they’d first defeated at Romani, which had now retreated to a position at Bir Lahfan, leading to another British victory at El Arish in late December 1916 and Rafah in January 1917. But here, as in Mesopotamia, anyone expecting a colonial walkover was in for a surprise: following these early successes, Turkish resistance mounted once the British arrived in Palestine, stiffened by German officers and the prospect of a threat to the empire’s core territories. 

For ordinary British soldiers, the slow advance across the Sinai alternated with long periods of tedium, broken up by occasional leave to Cairo or Alexandria as well as a grudging appreciation of the desert’s natural beauty. Oskar Teichman, a junior medical officer serving with the British Army in Egypt, recalled the dramatic natural setting near the Suez Canal in early November: 

The landscape was grand and austere; the enormous vista of endless desert, here and there interrupted by gigantic sand mountains – fashioned into fantastic shapes according to the caprices of the wind – and by occasional palm-studded Hods nestling in tiny valleys, was most impressive. In this clear atmosphere the visibility was wonderful. Perfect silence reigned, and there appeared to be no sign of life except an occasional vulture hovering over the old Turkish battle-field or a jackal slinking homewards to his laid. At sunset the sky assumed most marvellous colours, which it is useless to try to describe. Then followed the deathly stillness of the desert night…

On the other side, conditions were already dire for Ottoman citizens living in Palestine, thanks to growing shortages of food, fuel, medicine, and other necessities. These were further underlined by disparities in the rations provided to German soldiers and officers, versus ordinary Turkish soldiers and civilians, according to the Conde de Ballobar, a Spanish diplomat who found himself acting as caretaker for Allied interests in Ottoman Palestine. On November 17, 1916 he wrote in his diary: 

Truly the contrast is notable in this Austrian-German-Turkish entente. The Teutons and Austrians live the life of princes: Sanatoriums, hospitals magnificently equipped, automobiles, economical restaurants, great free warehouses, very well stocked, while the Turks do not even have shoes, eat almost nothing and are lodged and cared for any old way. 

Lawrence Meets Faisal 

Hundreds of miles to the southeast developments marked the beginning of the end of Ottoman rule in the Hejaz, the west central coast of the Arabian Peninsula, home to the two holy cities of Islam, Mecca and Medina, as well as the port of Jiddah. Here, in late October 1916 the British intelligence officer T.E. Lawrence finally met Prince Faisal, the son of Sharif Hussein bin Ali, the feudal ruler of Mecca who rose up against the Turks in June of that year.

Hussein had declared himself “King of the Arab Countries,” but as Lawrence already understood he would mostly be a figurehead for the Arab Revolt, which still needed a dynamic political and diplomatic leader. On meeting Hussein’s third son at a walled compound at Wadi Safra, nestled in a valley full of palm groves, Lawrence decided he had found a true revolutionary statesman.

Lawrence later recalled their first meeting, introduced by one of Faisal’s many retainers, in typically dramatic (not to say mystical) fashion: 

He led me through a second gate into an inner court, and across it I saw standing framed between the posts of a black doorway, a white figure waiting tensely for me. This was Feisal, and I felt at the glance that now I had found the man whom I had come to Arabia to seek, the leader alone needed to make the Arab Revolt win through to success. He looked very tall and pillar-like, very slender, dressed in long white robes and a brown head cloth with a brilliant scarlet and gold cord… His hands were loosely crossed in front of him on his dagger. 

Faisal would eventually prove a great leader, as Lawrence guessed – but for now the Arab Revolt was in its infancy, and the Turks felt they had little to fear from a disorganized band of Bedouin outlaws. Lawrence would have to do something to get their attention. 

See the previous installment or all entries.

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15 Surprising Facts About Scarface
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Say hello to our little list. Here are a few facts to break out at your next screening of Scarface, Brian De Palma’s gangsters-and-cocaine classic, which arrived in theaters on this day in 1983.

1. IT WASN'T THE FIRST SCARFACE.

Brian De Palma's Scarface is a loose remake of the 1932 movie of the same name, which is also about the rise and fall of an American immigrant gangster. The producer of the 1983 version, Martin Bregman, saw the original on late night TV and thought the idea could be modernized—though it still pays respect to the original film. De Palma's flick is dedicated to the original film’s director, Howard Hawks, and screenwriter, Ben Hecht.

2. IT COULD HAVE BEEN A SIDNEY LUMET FILM.

At one point in the film's production, Sidney Lumet—the socially conscious director of such classics as Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men—was brought on as its director. "Sidney Lumet came up with the idea of what's happening today in Miami, and it inspired Bregman," Pacino told Empire Magazine. "He and Oliver Stone got together and produced a script that had a lot of energy and was very well written. Oliver Stone was writing about stuff that was touching on things that were going on in the world, he was in touch with that energy and that rage and that underbelly."

3. OLIVER STONE WASN'T INTERESTED IN WRITING THE SCRIPT, UNTIL LUMET GOT INVOLVED.


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Producer Bregman offered relative newcomer Oliver Stone a chance to overhaul the screenplay, but Stone—who was still reeling from the box office disappointment of his film, The Hand—wasn't interested. "I didn’t like the original movie that much," Stone told Creative Screenwriting. "It didn’t really hit me at all and I had no desire to make another Italian gangster picture because so many had been done so well, there would be no point to it. The origin of it, according to Marty Bregman, [was that] Al had seen the '30s version on television, he loved it and expressed to Marty as his long time mentor/partner that he’d like to do a role like that. So Marty presented it to me and I had no interest in doing a period piece."

But when Bregman contacted Stone again about the project later, his opinion changed. "Sidney Lumet had stepped into the deal," Stone said. "Sidney had a great idea to take the 1930s American prohibition gangster movie and make it into a modern immigrant gangster movie dealing with the same problems that we had then, that we’re prohibiting drugs instead of alcohol. There’s a prohibition against drugs that’s created the same criminal class as (prohibition of alcohol) created the Mafia. It was a remarkable idea."

4. UNFORTUNATELY, ACCORDING TO STONE, LUMET HATED HIS SCRIPT.

While the chance to work with Lumet was part of what lured Stone to the project, it was his script that ultimately led to the director's departure from the film. According to Stone: "Sidney Lumet hated my script. I don’t know if he’d say that in public himself, I sound like a petulant screenwriter saying that, I’d rather not say that word. Let me say that Sidney did not understand my script, whereas Bregman wanted to continue in that direction with Al."

5. STONE HAD FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE WITH THE SUBJECT MATTER.

In order to create the most accurate picture possible, Stone spent time in Florida and the Caribbean interviewing people on both sides of the law for research. "It got hairy," Stone admitted of the research process. "It gave me all this color. I wanted to do a sun-drenched, tropical Third World gangster, cigar, sexy Miami movie."

Unfortunately, while penning the screenplay, Stone was also dealing with his own cocaine habit, which gave him an insight into what the drug can do to users. Stone actually tried to kick his habit by leaving the country to complete the script so he could be far away from his access to the drug.

"I moved to Paris and got out of the cocaine world too because that was another problem for me," he said. "I was doing coke at the time, and I really regretted it. I got into a habit of it and I was an addictive personality. I did it, not to an extreme or to a place where I was as destructive as some people, but certainly to where I was going stale mentally. I moved out of L.A. with my wife at the time and moved back to France to try and get into another world and see the world differently. And I wrote the script totally f***ing cold sober."

6. BRIAN DE PALMA DIDN'T WANT TO AUDITION MICHELLE PFEIFFER.


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De Palma was hesitant to audition the relatively untested Pfeiffer because at the time she was best known for the box office bomb Grease 2. Glenn Close, Geena Davis, Carrie Fisher, Kelly McGillis, Sharon Stone and Sigourney Weaver were all considered for the role of Elvira, but Bregman pushed for Pfeiffer to audition and she got the part.

7. YES, THERE IS A LOT OF SWEARING.

According to the Family Media Guide, which monitors profanity, sexual content, and violence in movies, Scarface features 207 uses of the “F” word, which works out to about 1.21 F-bombs per minute. In 2014, Martin Scorsese more than doubled that with a record-setting 506 F-bombs thrown in The Wolf of Wall Street.

8. TONY MONTANA WAS NAMED FOR A FOOTBALL STAR.

Stone, who was a San Francisco 49ers fan, named the character of Tony Montana after Joe Montana, his favorite football player.

9. TONY IS ONLY REFERRED TO AS "SCARFACE" ONCE, AND IT'S IN SPANISH.

Hector, the Colombian gangster who threatens Tony with the chainsaw, refers to Tony as “cara cicatriz,” meaning “scar face” in Spanish.

That chainsaw scene, by the way, was based on a real incident. To research the movie, Stone embedded himself with Miami law enforcement and based the infamous chainsaw sequence on a gangland story he heard from the Miami-Dade County police.

10. VERY LITTLE OF THE FILM WAS ACTUALLY SHOT IN MIAMI.

The film was originally going to be shot entirely on location in Miami, but protests by the local Cuban-American community forced the movie to leave Miami two weeks into production. Besides footage from those two weeks, the rest of the movie was shot in Los Angeles, New York, and Santa Barbara.

11. ALL THAT "COCAINE" LED TO PROBLEMS WITH PACINO'S NASAL PASSAGES.

Though there has long been a myth that Pacino snorted real cocaine on camera for Scarface, the "cocaine" used in the movie was supposedly powdered milk (even if De Palma has never officially stated what the crew used as a drug stand-in). But just because it wasn't real doesn't mean that it didn't create problems for Pacino's nasal passages. "For years after, I have had things up in there," Pacino said in 2015. "I don't know what happened to my nose, but it's changed."

12. PACINO'S NOSE WASN'T HIS ONLY BODY PART TO SUFFER DAMAGE.

Still of Al Pacino as Tony Montana in 'Scarface' (1983)
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In the film's very bloody conclusion, Montana famously asks the assailants who've invaded his home to "say hello to my little friend," which happens to be a very large gun. That gun took a beating from all the blanks it had to fire, so much so that Pacino ended up burning his hand on its barrel. "My hand stuck to that sucker," he said. Ultimately, the actor—and his bandaged hands—had to sit out some of the action in the last few weeks of production.

13. STEVEN SPIELBERG DIRECTED A SINGLE SHOT.

De Palma and Spielberg had been friends since the two began making studio movies in the mid-1970s, and they made a habit of visiting each other’s sets. Spielberg was on hand for one of the days of shooting the Colombians’ initial attack on Tony Montana’s house at the end of the movie, so De Palma let Spielberg direct the low-angle shot where the attackers first enter the house.

14. SOME COOL TECHNOLOGY WENT INTO THE GUN MUZZLE FLASHES.

In order to heighten the severity of the gunfire, De Palma and the special effects coordinators created a mechanism to synchronize the gunfire with the open shutter on the movie camera to show the huge muzzle flash coming from the guns in the final shootout.

15. SADDAM HUSSEIN WAS A FAN OF THE FILM.

The trust fund the former Iraqi dictator set up to launder money was called “Montana Management,” a nod to the company Tony uses to launder money in the movie.

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30 Cold, Hard Facts About Die Hard
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What do you get when you mix one part action movie with one part holiday flick and add in a dash of sweaty tank top? Die Hard, John McTiernan’s genre-bending Christmas action masterpiece for the ages, which sees a badass NYPD cop take on a skyscraper full of bad guys in the midst of an office holiday party. Here are 30 things you might not know about the movie.

1. IT’S GOT A LITERARY BACKGROUND.

Think some action-loving Hollywood scribe came up with the concept for Die Hard? Think again. The movie is based on Roderick Thorp’s 1979 crime novel Nothing Lasts Forever, which is a sequel to his 1966 novel, The Detective. In 2013, Thorp’s long out-of-print book was resurrected to coincide with the film’s 25th anniversary.

2. IT WAS INSPIRED BY THE TOWERING INFERNO.

The idea for Nothing Lasts Forever was inspired John Guillermin’s 1974 disaster flick The Towering Inferno. After seeing the film, Thorp had a dream about a man being chased through a skyscraper by a group of men with guns. He eventually turned that snippet of an idea into a sequel to The Detective.

3. FRANK SINATRA GOT FIRST DIBS ON PLAYING THE ROLE OF JOHN MCCLANE.


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Because he had starred in the big-screen adaptation of The Detective, Frank Sinatra had to be offered the role in its sequel. At the age of 73, he smartly turned it down.

4. BRUCE WILLIS’S BIG-SCREEN DEBUT WAS WITH FRANK SINATRA.

In 1980, Willis made his film debut (albeit uncredited) in the crime thriller The First Deadly Sin. He has no name and if you blink you’ll miss him, but the role simply required that Willis entered a diner as Sinatra’s character left it. Maybe it was kismet?

5. CLINT EASTWOOD PLANNED TO TAKE A STAB AT THE PART.

Originally, it was Clint Eastwood who owned the movie rights to Nothing Lasts Forever, which he had planned to star in in the early 1980s. That obviously never happened.

6. IT WAS NEVER SUPPOSED TO BE A SEQUEL TO COMMANDO.

This is one of the most popular internet stories about Die Hard. But according to Stephen de Souza, the screenwriter of both Die Hard and Commando, while there was a sequel to Commando planned, the only similarity with Die Hard is that they both took place in buildings. According to de Souza, Escape Plan is the closest to his original Commando 2 idea and Die Hard was never supposed to be anything but Die Hard.

7. BRUCE WILLIS WASN’T EVEN THE STUDIO’S THIRD CHOICE FOR THE ROLE.

If Die Hard was to be a success, the studio knew they needed a bona fide action star in the part, so they set about offering it to a seemingly never-ending list of A-listers of the time. Rumor has it that Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Robert De Niro, Charles Bronson, Nick Nolte, Mel Gibson, Richard Gere, Don Johnson, Burt Reynolds, and Richard Dean Anderson (yes, MacGyver!) were all considered for the role of John McClane. And all declined it.

8. BRUCE WILLIS WAS CONSIDERED A COMEDIC ACTOR AT THE TIME.

Die Hard’s producers had nothing against Bruce Willis, of course. He just wasn’t an immediate choice for the role because, up until that point, he was known solely as a comedic actor, not an action star. Following the success of the film, the action genre really became Willis’s bread and butter, and although he has two Emmys for his comedy work, it has remained as such to this day.

9. BRUCE WILLIS WAS BARELY EVEN SEEN ON THE MOVIE’S POSTERS.

Bruce Willis stars as John McClane in 'Die Hard.'
Twentieth Century Fox

Because the studio’s marketing gurus were unconvinced that audiences would pay to see an action movie starring the funny guy from Moonlighting, the original batch of posters for the film centered on Nakatomi Plaza instead of Willis’s mug. As the film gained steam, the marketing materials were altered, and Willis was more prominent in the promos.

10. WILLIS WAS PAID $5 MILLION TO MAKE THE MOVIE.

Even with all the uncertainly surrounding whether he could pull the film off, Willis was paid $5 million to make Die Hard, which was considered a rather hefty sum at the time—a figure reserved for only the top tier of Hollywood talents.

11. WILLIS SUGGESTED THAT BONNIE BEDELIA PLAY HIS WIFE.

Though we suspect that she wasn’t paid $5 million for the gig.

12. BRUCE WILLIS WAS ABLE TO SAY YES THANKS TO A WELL-TIMED PREGNANCY.

The first few times Bruce Willis was asked to star in the movie, he had to say no because of his commitments to Moonlighting. Then costar Cybill Shepard announced that she was pregnant. Because her pregnancy wouldn’t work within the show, producer Glenn Caron gave everyone 11 weeks off, allowing Willis to say yes.

13. SAM NEILL WAS ORIGINALLY APPROACHED FOR THE PART OF HANS GRUBER.

But Neill ended up turning the film down. Then, in the spring of 1987, the casting director saw Alan Rickman playing the dastardly Valmont in a stage production of Dangerous Liaisons and knew they had found their Hans.

14. DIE HARD WAS ALAN RICKMAN’S FEATURE FILM DEBUT.

Though Rickman may have played the part of Hans as cool as the other side of the pillow, it was actually his first role in a feature film.

15. JOHN MCTIERNAN TURNED THE MOVIE DOWN, TOO.

And not just once, but on a few different occasions. His reason was that the material just seemed too dark and cynical for him. “The original screenplay was a grim terrorist movie,” McTiernan told Empire magazine in 2014. “On my second week working on it, I said, 'Guys, there's no part of terrorism that's fun. Robbers are fun bad guys. Let's make this a date movie.’ And they had the courage to do it.”

16. MCTIERNAN SEES IT AS A SHAKESPEAREAN TALE.

In the original script, the action in Die Hard takes place over a three-day span, but McTiernan—inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream—insisted that it be condensed into a single evening.

17. NAKATOMI PLAZA IS ACTUALLY FOX PLAZA.


Yes, the corporate headquarters of 20th Century Fox—the very studio making the movie—proved to be the perfect location for the movie’s much-needed Nakatomi Plaza. And as it was still under construction, there wasn’t a whole lot they needed to do to the space to make it movie-ready. The studio charged itself rent to use its own space.

18. THE ROOM WHERE THE HOSTAGES ARE BEING HELD IS LITERALLY SUPPOSED TO BE FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT'S FALLINGWATER.

"In this period, Japanese corporations were buying America," production designer Jackson De Govia said in the Die Hard DVD audio commentary. "We posited that ... Nakatami Corporation bought Fallingwater, disassembled it, and reassembled it in the atrium, like a trophy."

19. THAT PANORAMIC VIEW OF THE CITY BELOW? IT’S NOT REAL.

A 380-foot-long background painting provided the illusion of a breathtaking city view in the movie. And it was a state-of-the-art one, too, with animated lights, moving traffic, and the ability to change from night to day. The painting is still the property of the studio and has been used in other productions since.

20. THE FILM’S SUCCESS SPAWNED A BONA FIDE FRANCHISE.

In addition to its four sequels, Die Hard has spawned video games and comic books, too.

21. JOHN MCCLANE’S TUMBLE DOWN A VENTILATION SHAFT WAS AN ACCIDENT.

Or maybe “error” would be a better word. But in the scene in which McClane jumps into an elevator shaft, his stunt man was supposed to grab onto the first vent. But he missed. By a lot. Which made the footage even more exciting to watch, so editor Frank J. Urioste kept it in the final cut.

22. ALAN RICKMAN’S DEATH SCENE WAS ALSO PRETTY SCARY.

At least it was for Rickman. In order to make it look as if he was falling off a building, Rickman was supposed to drop 20 feet onto an air bag while holding onto a stunt man. But in order to get a genuinely terrified reaction out of him, they dropped him on the count of two—not three, as was planned.

23. BRUCE WILLIS SUFFERED PERMANENT HEARING LOSS.


Twentieth Century Fox

In order to get the hyper-realism that director John McTiernan was looking for, the blanks used in the guns in the movie were modified to be extra loud. In one scene, Willis shoots a terrorist through a table, which put the action star in extremely close proximity to the gun—and caused permanent hearing loss. He referenced the injury in a 2007 interview with The Guardian. When they asked Willis his most unappealing habit, he replied that, “Due to an accident on the first Die Hard, I suffer two-thirds partial hearing loss in my left ear and have a tendency to say, ‘Whaaa?’”

24. ALAN RICKMAN WASN’T FOND OF THE NOISE EITHER.

Whenever he had to shoot a gun in the film, Rickman couldn’t help but flinch. Which forced McTiernan to have to cut away from him so that his reactions were not caught on film.

25. GRUBER’S AMERICAN ACCENT POSED NOTHING BUT PROBLEMS.

The scene in which Rickman, as Gruber, slips into an American accent and pretends to be yet another hostage who got away was insisted on by screenwriter Steven de Souza, who wanted them in a room together to duke it out. But McTiernan was never happy with Rickman’s American accent, saying, “I still hear Alan Rickman’s English accent. I was never quite happy with the way he opened his mouth [in that scene] ... I shot it three times trying to get him to sound more stridently American ... it’s odd for someone who has such enormous verbal skills; he just had terrible trouble getting an American accent.”

26. HANS GRUBER’S GERMAN IS MOSTLY GIBBERISH.

And the bulk of his German cohorts were not German either. Bruce Willis, on the other hand, was actually born in West Germany to an American father and a German mother.

27. BRUCE WILLIS HAS FOUR FEET.

As Willis spends much of the movie in his bare feet running through broken glass, he was given a pair of rubber feet to wear as a safety precaution. Which is great and all, but if you look closely in certain scenes, you can actually see the fake appendages.

28. YOU CAN SEE—BUT NOT TOUCH—JOHN MCCLANE’S SWEATY TANK TOP.


Getty Images

In 2007, Willis donated the blood-soaked tank top he wore in Die Hard to the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian.

29. “YIPPEE-KI-YAY” STOLE THE MOVIE.

It was a simple line: “Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*cker!” But it became the film’s defining moment, and the unofficial catchphrase that has been used in all four Die Hard sequels as well.

30. CREDIT FOR THE LINE IS OWED TO WILLIS.

In a 2013 interview with Ryan Seacrest, Bruce Willis admitted that “Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*cker!” was really just a joke. “It was a throwaway,” said Willis. “I was just trying to crack up the crew and I never thought it was going to be allowed to stay in the film."

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