Monday, March 18, 2013

Balls To the Wall Action Movie Night - Dark of the Sun 1968

    One of the greatest war/guys on a mission/adventure films ever complete with trains, machine guns on the top of trains, planes attacking trains, Nazis, Nazis with chainsaws, fistfights while vine hanging over cliffs, more machine guns and lots of sweat. In war-torn 1960's Congo mercenary Capt. Curry (Rod Taylor) is hired to rescue by train a group of Europeans at a diamond mining town cut off by the Simba rebels - while also picking $50 Million in diamonds held by a mining company executive.  Along for the ride is Curry's friend Sgt. Ruffo (played by soon to be black exploitation star and ex-footballer Jim Brown), an alcoholic doctor ( Kenneth Moore) and a Nazi turned mercenary Henlein (Peter Carsten - dubbed by veteran voiceover guy Paul Frees) and a missionary picked up along the way (Yvette Mimieux). Her presence at first seems like a plot point to develop a romance thing with Taylor , but thankfully that's pretty much ignored.

    Directed by famed cinematographer Jack Cardiff (Black Narcissus) and based upon a novel by Wilbur Smith, this is a non-stop blast of adrenaline with Taylor giving one of his best performances. Although he's technically the "hero" of the story (with a great deal of ambiguity), its Jim Brown who serves as the film's moral voice. Brown had previously co-starred in 1967's The Dirty Dozen and between these two roles did an excellent job of dispelling the myth at the time that athletes couldn't act. Mimieux doesn't have a lot to do, bit it is kind of neat to see her reunited with her Time Machine co-star Taylor.

   After a short, concise set up that introduces the main characters and their motives the story then moves toward the main action and pretty much never lets up. Although there is some political overtones (which can't be helped considering the location & time period) the film pretty much sticks to the mission at hand and sets up some amazing set pieces. If anything the film ratchets it up even more during the last half after the arrival of the train at the village. Highlights include - the massacre after the train gets hit by mortar and the car full of civilians does a slow, agonizing roll back to the rebels (with lots of implied rape & torture - this is the scene that most people remember and where the violence issue arose from) and an amazing action set piece/shoot-out in a hotel as Brown & Taylor rescue the diamonds (and kill about 200 guys with machine guns). Plus you've got hand to hand combat with a chainsaw, Rod Taylor driving the hell out of Land Rover and lots of sweaty, bloody action. Last but not least there's a great score by Jacques Loussier (some of which was used in Inglourious Basterds).

   After its theatrical run the film pretty much disappeared with no video release and would only show up occasionally on TV and later letterboxed on TCM. - which helped the films growing stature and also cries of "Where the hell's the DVD !?"  After a long time waiting MGM finally released a decent looking DVD as part of their MOD program a few years ago.  There was some complaining on the internet that it was cut and as mentioned before there was a pretty big outcry at the time of the original release because of the violence, although by today's standards it seems kinda tame. Most of it occurs off screen and because of the film's intensity people might be remembering more then they actually saw. A really great movie, that in the past few years has finally getting some of the recognition that it deserves.