Directed by Jack Cardiff
Produced by George Englund
Screenplay by Ranald MacDougall (as Quentin Werty) and Adrien Spies
Based on the novel by Wilbur Smith
Cinematography: Edward Scaife, Jack Cardiff (uncredited)
Film Editor: Ernest Walter
Music: Jacques Loussier
Cast: Rod Taylor (Captain Curry), Yvette Mimieux (Claire), Jim Brown (Sgt. Ruffo), Kenneth More (Dr. Wreid), Peter Carsten (Captain Henlein), Calvin Lockhart (President Ubi)
This post was about halfway written when Rod Taylor died, and I decided not to toss it out there in the middle of the usual celebrity death news cycle. The Warner Archive Blu-Ray seemed like the perfect time to finish it up.
The Congo Chainsaw Massacre?
Put as simply as I can put it, Jack Cardiff’s Dark Of The Sun (1968) is one of the damnedest movies I’ve ever seen. Stunningly brutal, ruthlessly suspenseful and surprisingly intelligent, it’s like no action movie of its period — or any period, really. It quickly becomes obvious that all the Movie Rules have been thrown out the window, especially as they existed in 1968. We normally trust our filmmakers to get the characters, and the audience, to the end of the picture safely. And much like Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), once you get the feeling that anyone could get killed at any minute, the suspense becomes all the more powerful.
Dark As The Sun breaks a couple of other action movie rules: it gives us real characters and somehow works a very humanist message into the whole thing without seeming hypocritical — and without slowing the bloodletting even the slightest bit.
The Congo is going to hell. A mercenary (Rod Taylor) leads a strike force deep into Simba territory to bring back $50 million in diamonds that the government desperately needs. Of course, the dangerous mission goes wrong — almost everything goes wrong, and the way home becomes a real struggle to survive.
Jack Cardiff: “When I made the film, I thought that it would have been too awful for words to make it like the real violence, but it had to have violence in it… I could only say to those that I met that my film was nothing like the real thing — it was a quarter, a fifth, a sixteenth of the violence that really happened. None the less, it had the reputation as a violent film.”
Make no mistake about it, it is a violent film. Cardiff has an incredible way of insinuating far more violence, mayhem and depravity than we get to actually see.
A lot of that comes from the performances. Rod Taylor has never been better as Bruce Curry, a burned-out mercenary who’s clearly seen too much and been through too much. Jim Brown plays against Taylor well as a soldier whose morals and ideals are still intact.
Yvette Mimieux doesn’t have a lot to do as a woman they rescue along the way. Kenneth Moore is terrific as a drunken doctor who sees this mission as a way to redemption. And Peter Carsten is as evil as it gets as Captain Henlein, an ex-Nazi they reluctantly add to their team (some unfortunate dubbing hurts his performance a bit). The inevitable conflict between Curry and Henlein takes over the movie’s last reel or so as it speeds towards its bloody climax.
The cinematography of Dark Of The Sun by Edward Scaife and an uncredited Jack Cardiff is top-notch, though with Cardiff at the helm, you’d expect nothing less. The editing is very tight, making this picture a unrelenting, exhausting and ultimately haunting film.
Frank McCarthy’s original poster art.
The new Blu-Ray from Warner Archive really adds to that overall experience. It’s incredibly sharp and the color is superb — who knew Metrocolor could look like this? A batch of extras round it out nicely. They’ve really gone the extra mile for this movie, and it deserves it. Essential.