Dark of the Sun - 1968
Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux
Dark of the Sun - Released July 3, 1968. Directed by Jack Cardiff
About Dark of the Sun
Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux are back together (they starred in the 1960 George Pal The Time Machine) and she is still in trouble and Taylor is still in the rescue business, though in an expanded capacity where Taylor must save an entire town. Also heading up the cast is James Brown as native-Congo mercenary Ruffo, Peter Carsten as a freelance Nazi named Henlein, and Kenneth More as the alcoholic doctor Wreid who is bribed to join the nearly-suicidal mission because he is promised a case of Scotch (later when things get rough the offer is upped to two cases of Scotch).
The film is set in Africa during the Congo wars, and Director Jack Cardiff puts onscreen an effective sequence of fistfights, gunfights, and numerous stunts involving trains racing through the scenic African mountains* while the cast battles each other and the enemies they meet along the way.
Rod Taylor is a veteran mercenary named Curry called in by the Congo leadership to lead the rescue mission into territory held by the rebel Simba army. Curry appears professional, easy-going and even jocular but that evaporates in a flash when confronted by opposition or contempt (which comes his way from a group of journalists drinking in a bar). Curry seems to be a man for whom facilitating violence isn't just a well-paid vocation, but a way of life, an effective tool that solves problems.
"How much do you get paid per month for killing people? I don't like mercenaries." Ed the Journalist
"I don't like fat hacks who sit on their butts in bars waiting for trouble to start so that they can get it wrong when they write about it." - Curry
Curry's professionalism and effectiveness is why he is the obvious man to hire and task with bringing back a train-load of civilians and, most importantly to the Congo President Ubi (Calvin Lockhardt) and the Belgian corporate interests backing him, a 'secret' extra mission to bring back $25 million dollars worth of diamonds held in a vault in the town where the civilians are gathered (this secret doesn't remain one for very long, soon complicating the relationships aboard the rescue-train).
Getting right to work Curry puts together a professional military unit made up of Congo soldiers and mercenaries, and equips a railroad engine and flat cars with weapons. They then head off with a 3-day timetable to get to the town before the bulk of the Simba army reaches it. Since the Simba's leave a wake of looting, pillage and rapine wherever they go, the urgency grows with each delay and obstacle that must be overcome along the rail-line leading to their destination.
"I Want to Fix Something"
Since Curry uses violence to solve problems, when he shoves the Nazi Henlein's head underneath a train wheel and tells the engineer "roll forward a few feet I want to fix something," he really means it the way he has said it. But it's James Brown's Ruffo who stops him and tells him "we need him, we need him" because if they're going to succeed, the Nazi must be included (it's a given that everybody in the cast hates the Nazi, but that's not the point. He's also a professional soldier who knows how to get the job done). This compromise from Ruffo has consequences, of course.
Director Cardiff & War-Movie Ethics
Director Cardiff peoples the movie with what looks like thousands of civilian and tribal extras, and the scale of the destruction of the Congo war is generally shown through the casualty rate, though bridges, trains and towns are shown being wrecked as the tale proceeds. The mayhem may be onscreen but it is also internal with the main character, Curry, who rises to increasing extremes as he tries to contain the violence around him. As the mission starts to go off the rails, so will Curry.
The film looks well-funded and is able to compete with other action military films on their own terms, but this film has a few more things on its mind. One is the corrosive effect of warfare on the men who fight it (the film is adapted from the Wilbur Smith novel of the same name). Though it is nearly impossible for a Hollywood film to not glamorize any subject it takes on, Dark of the Sun puts effort into depicting military (and tribal) warfare as brutal and merciless in a way that doesn't conform to traditional movieland rules of war. In particular are the actions of the Nazi Henlein who performs grotesque acts of brutality which make perfect sense once he starts to explain himself and why it had to be done. And that "logic" is part of the problem.
And this dilemma is best explained by James Brown's character Ruffo (who discusses the matter a few times onscreen) who has achieved an educational parity equal to white Europeans, and understands a distinction between civilization and barbarity in a way the Europeans do not fathom. And this obvious division (well, obvious to Ruffo, that is) is what threatens the stability of Rod Taylor's character Curry, whose hair-trigger ruthlessness is only tempered by the presence of James Brown and Yvette Mimieux.
Particular honors go to actor Bloke Modisane as Kataki, a Congolese soldier who becomes the conscience of the story by the end, and Kenneth More's Doctor Wreid who is forced out of his perpectual state of drunkenness long enough to suddenly embrace the hippocratic oath at just the wrong time to place himself in the path of certain extermination by the Simba rebels.
A Toyota Landcruiser is featured as a major supporting player in Dark of the Sun as it carries characters just about everywhere, and in particular Rod Taylor down a river bed in pursuit of Peter Carsten (the unrepentant Nazi named Henlein).
The stunts are impressive throughout, and Rod Taylor and Peter Carsten perform their duties as battling dopplegangers with full-on hammer and tong fisticuffs. With all the raging warfare onscreen and bullets flying, James Brown underplays as Ruffo and often steals the scenes he is in.
*Dark of the Sun was shot on locations on the island of Jamaica, including scenes in the 5,000 foot high Blue Mountains.
The screenplay from the Wilbur Smith novel is by Quentin Werty and Adrian Spies.
Music is by Jacques Loussier.
Original Page June 17, 2014 | Updated July 2015
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