Saturday, June 18, 2011

Blazing Fury

An earlier version of this review was posted here four years ago. With the Warner Archive's release of the film on DVD-R, I have updated and reposted it.

DARK OF THE SUN is one of the greatest action movies of the 1960s, maybe of all time. Released in 1968, it's a beautifully photographed and edited action picture with seminal tough-guy performances by Rod Taylor (THE BIRDS) and former football pro Jim Brown (THE DIRTY DOZEN). And until the Warner Archive recently put it out on DVD-R, few of us ever got a chance to see it looking its best in its theatrical 2.35:1 ratio. Never before released on home video, DARK OF THE SUN had aired a handful of times on Turner Classic Movies, but never looking as good as it does now.

The mission is succinctly set early on. The new president of war-torn Congo, Mwamini Ubi (Calvin Lockhart), hires Captain Bruce Curry (Taylor) to put together some men and a five-car train and take them on a journey to rescue some citizens and, oh, yes, liberate $25 million in uncut diamonds too, while he's there. Curry, who never met a mercenary job he wouldn't take if the money was right, recruits his friend Ruffo (Brown), a Congolese educated at USC, ex-Nazi captain Henlein (Peter Carsten, dubbed by Paul Frees) and his troops, and alcoholic physician Wreid (Kenneth More). Curry has just three days in which to complete his mission, partially because of the invading Simba force—African nationalists ripping a bloody swath across the country, slaughtering men, women, and children, cutting them into small pieces, and feeding them to their enemies.

Director Jack Cardiff was better known as an Oscar-winning cinematographer (BLACK NARCISSUS). He made fifteen films as a director (several with Rod Taylor), but DARK OF THE SUN is his magnum opus. Excitingly lensed in Jamaica, DARK OF THE SUN is fast-paced and loaded with rich dialogue penned by journeymen Adrian Spies (HAUSER’S MEMORY) and Ranald MacDougall (CLEOPATRA), who adapted a Wilbur Smith novel. It's just 100 minutes long, and I wouldn't be surprised if plenty was left on the cutting-room floor. Yvette Mimieux's (Taylor's co-star in THE TIME MACHINE) role as a widow rescued in the nick of time from rampaging Simbas comes across as perfunctory, and it seems that more could have been done with actor Olivier Despax’s role as a cowardly French soldier.

On the other hand, I wouldn't want Cardiff to have sacrificed any of the blistering action, including epic-looking raids, a chainsaw fight, Taylor bouncing his Jeep down a rocky stream in pursuit of an enemy on a raft, and particularly a suspenseful sequence in which Brown and Taylor infiltrate a grisly Simba celebration. DARK OF THE SUN is one of the toughest, most violent adventures of the 1960s. Blood flows freely, and Carsten’s Nazi shoots down two children in one of the film’s most shocking scenes. French jazz pianist Jacques Loussier, who rarely worked on English-language films, composed a marvelous score that effortlessly buttresses Cardiff's crisp direction.

1 comment:

Kris said...

The dubbing of Peter Carsten by Paul Frees seems to be intermittent, only being done in certain scenes. But it's very obvious nonetheless.