WOW! Is Dark of the Sun a kick-ass flick or what? And this movie is not on DVD because why? Damn!
Dark of the Sun (1968) (a.k.a. The Mercenaries) Directed by Jack Cardiff Produced by George Englund Screenplay by Ranald MacDougall (under the pseudonym Quentin Werty) and Adrien Spies Based on the novel by Wilbur Smith Cinematography by Edward Scaife, Jack Cardiff (uncredited) Edited by Ernest Walter Music by Jacques Loussier Cast: Rod Taylor (Captain Curry), Yvette Mimieux (Claire), Jim Brown (Sgt. Ruffo), Kenneth More (Dr. Wreid), Calvin Lockhart (President Ubi), Peter Carsten (Heinlein) MGM, 101 min.
Dark of the Sun is: Action-packed! All-star! Ultraviolent! Brilliantly cynical! Politically astute!
When they find the slaughtered Dr. Wreid, Ruffo points to the machine gun in the dead man’s hands, saying that the doctor got farther away from where they left him than he expected.
Curry growls, "The gun's Chinese, Ruffo, paid for by Russian rubles. The steel probably came from a West German factory built by French francs. Then it was flown out here on a South African airline probably subsidized by the United States. I don't think he got very far."
This flick is almost agitprop! Yeeeeeeah! Although I remember seeing Dark of the Sun as a kid when it was on WOR-TV channel 9—my memories are vague—and I know I missed either the beginning or end or both or mom was yelling at me to walk the dogor something, but I remember some crazy slaughtering going on. I came to believe I needed to see this flickagain:
And thanks to my new best friends at TCM, on Monday, January 11, 2010, 5:30pm EST, I did get to finally see Dark of the Sun! Being Neanderthals in Ivanlandia, we have yet to acquire DVR—but I did take some (often poor) screen-snaps!
“Opening sequence (polarized silhouette shots of a train crossing an upward-sloping bridge set to tense, pounding music by Jacques Loussier) that has earned the film a cult audience.” Sez Rob Nixon at TCM.
Taylor and Brown—the two have a good camaraderie on camera, and I don’t think either of these actors is given the credit they deserve.
The mercenary below is a Nazi (still wears the swastika—although, really, wouldn’t he just be wearing the Iron Cross?), who’s totally shithouse-bug crazy. Later, Nazi Crazyman (played by Peter Carsten) tries to rapes, then drown, the saucy Yvette M. Yvette is the survivor of a Mau-Mau attack and suitably freaked out from watching her family get chopped up. As in all action flicks, the traumatized gal has to shape up toot sweet, and Yvette looks good doing it. In some of the posters (awesome aren’t they? Why don’t they make posters like that anymore? I hate the “big face trend” in posters!), there are photos of what looks like Taylor trying to bust a serious move of Yvette. I don’t think that was ever even filmed, I think it is some stills the flick’s publicity department put together, and they wound up in the poster.
The flick keeps upping the ante: towards the end, there’s even a fistfight on vines! The movie almost gets a little exhausting, it’s so action packed. Not that I’m complaining.
I like mercenary movies. They’re always fun because from the get-go because their heroes are not: They’re killers for money, and we know this won’t end well—although out of my “Big 5 Mercenary Movies” (more on that below), Dark of the Sun is the one that ends the most hopefully. I refuse to give much away, because while I don’t usually care about so-called “spoilers,” there were a lot of genuine surprises in the flick, and I’d like you to share that experience. Besides, you can go to any one of my links and find a synopsis… Here’s what Scorsese says about Dark of the Sun—
Dark of the Sun(1968). This movie -- Rod Taylor vs. the Mau-Maus -- was the most violent I'd seen up to that time. There's a scene where Taylor fights an ex-Nazi with chainsaws. In another scene, a train full of refugees has finally escaped the Mau-Maus in the valley below -- and just as it's about to reach the top of a hill, the power fails, the train goes all the way back down, and the refugees are slaughtered. It's a truly sadistic movie, but it should be seen.
I'd guess that because of its utter racism, a lot of people would have found it embarrassing, so they just ignored it. The sense of the film is overwhelmingly violent; there's no consideration for anything else. The answer to everything is "kill."
(HEY, Mr. Scorsese, why not make a war/mercenary movie? You’ve yet to do that. Give it a try! I’ve got a few script ideas!) BTW, about Dark of the Sun’s supposed “utter racism”—well, the villains of this movie are a horde of savages—cool uniforms, no doubt, but can we say that their villainy is more than balanced by Jim Brown’s Ruffo, an America-educated Congolese, but also an experienced soldier, who has some very articulate arguments as to why a black man would fight against black men in this war. And of course, Ruffo’s arguments— saying that getting a third world nation involved in the modern world, that entering into the 20th century would not necessarily be a bad thing—that leaving older, more “traditional” ways behind is not necessarily destructive— some people might think that such arguments are racist, I guess.
Or else the film’s racism comes from the fact that it shows white people getting hacked to bits— but not before they get cornholed— without explaining that this is the blowback/backlash to centuries of white oppression.
Or, is any DVD release of Dark of the Sun being held up not because of fears of what people of African descent might say—but what whiny liberal white folks might squawk about? Again, I am uncertain. However, I consider the film to be a representation of the atrocities that humans can commit against each other in the name of “freedom,” regardless of race. Regarding the film’s violence: From the TCM website:
In an interview with John Bowyer for the book Jack Cardiff, the director recalled that while preparing Dark of the Sun, "I made a trip to the Congo, and I met reporters who lived through all of the troubles there [following independence in 1960], and they showed me photographs of the real thing - I wish they hadn't. I remember vividly a photograph of a man with this throat cut in the bath; his head was nearly off and the bath was full of blood. The savagery was unbelievable."
Cardiff stated, "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."
Cardiff is also the director of should-be-a-cult-film The Girl On a Motorcycle, and later went on to be the cinematographer of the 1980 mercenary film The Dogs of War (more on that flick in a moment). What I consider the Big 5 of Mercenary Movies:
Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch(1969; I’ve stopped considering a Western, really—I will admit to being completely influenced by Danny Peary’s assessment of the flick as a war movie in his first volume of Cult Movies—not to say that I don’t completely LOVE this movie: “GIVE ’EM HELL, PIKE!!!”), probably the best film on this list. But while Dark of the Sun’s “train being attacked by airplane” sequence is borrowed/swiped from Frankenheimer’s The Train, I can’t help that notice that many of The Wild Bunch’s train stunts appeared in Dark of the Sun, released one year earlier. (I guess there are only so many things you can do with a train….)
Alex de Toth’s excellent and absolutely pessimistic Play Dirty(1968; with Michael Caine (always great, but slightly miscast—he plays a naïve officer here, and he’s better when he’s cynical) In the same way The Wild Bunch isn’t really a western, Play Dirty isn’t a typical WWII movie—it’s also another of Martin Scorsese’s “guilty pleasures”—a ragtag gang of cutthroats are hired to kill behind enemy lines—but there’s a grim determinism to the flick, with a taste of ugly danger. It's more like Friedkin’s Sorcerer than The Dirty Dozen: Jeez, just rent it!) And I don’t mean to slag completely on The Wild Bunch, but I do have to point out that Play Dirty also did a “scorpion & flame” scene a year before Peckinpah did….
The Wild Geese (1978; a very violent action flick with a jaunty, very British attitude, but also a damn good movie in its own right and very recommended— but you must make sure that you see the “extended” or “director’s cut” version—for US theatrical release, the movie had about 20~30 minutes cut, completely fucking up the plot (although as a kid, I liked how bonkers that truncated version was—and actually much more grim and cynical: the edited version leaves out the coda where the surviving mercenaries get their revenge, so as it stands, the US theatrical version of The Wild Geese ends immediately after Richard Burton has to shoot Richard Harris to “save” him). )
And, of course, Dark of the Sun
But rather than the obvious choice of one of these mercenary flicks as the second flick on a double feature with Dark of the Sun in the revival theater of my mind, I’d choose the underrated and very recommended Lord of War (2005), another cynical, borderline agitprop flick that shows the hell on earth of the Congo is still going on.
That was my original idea for the title of this blog, a sort of summation of nearly everything I'd ever wanted cinematically: regularly playing on the ABC Channel 7 4:30 movie--or on WOR-TV Channel 9's 4 O'Clock Movie--the greatest monster movie in the universe, and incredible combo of miniatures, men in suits and stop motion, with entire continents destroyed!
But then there was a coup d'etat, and Tzar Ivan I of Ivanlandia took charge.