Movies We Like
Dark Of The Sun
As of writing, the tough as nails action flick Dark Of The Sun is still not available in the U.S. on DVD. To see it at home you have to endure an old pan n’ scan VHS edition, which is reportedly edited (for violence) from the original cut that graced cinemas in the late '60s. Also known as The Mercenaries, even with the low quality options, it’s worth watching. Filled with spectacular African locations, cool action, solid performances, and, most importantly, a wildly inventive score by the French composer Jacques Loussier, Dark of The Sun is a lost gem that deserves to be rediscovered.
Less preachy in its mission than more recent films like Blood Diamond, the social statements about race and economic exploitation of Africa are there, but Dark Of The Sun is more concerned with action. Ultra-cool Rod Taylor (The Birds) plays Captain Bruce Curry, a mercenary in the Congo. He is hired to retrieve a load of diamonds deep in the mountains and, while there, rescue a group of white company workers about to be attacked by rebel soldiers (Simbas). Aided by his top man, Sergeant Ruffo (American football star Jim Brown), and a drunken British doctor Wreid (Kenneth More), they put together a team of Congolese soldiers led by a nasty German Nazi officer, Henlein (Peter Carsten). Along the way they pick up a saucy Belgian care worker, Claire, who has some obvious chemistry with Curry (Yvette Mimieux, Taylor’s love interest a decade earlier in The Time Machine) and fight though UN roadblocks, rebel soldiers, and airplanes.
As World War II flicks were reaching their apex (how many more missions could a team go on to blow something up?), an equally gritty but more cynical view was taking hold in the action thriller (led by Play Dirty and The Dirty Dozen). Dark Of The Sun was part of a B-genre of the '60s and '70s about the amoral white mercenary in Africa. Films like The Wild Geese, Gold and later, The Dogs Of War surround their action with spectacular locations, cold-blooded characters, and complicated plots. They are much closer in spirit to the ugly of The Wild Bunch than, say, the glamour of James Bond (just to cite the decade's two action benchmarks).
Dark Of The Sun has one of my favorite fight scenes in movie history (along with the ones in Oldboy, Torn Curtain, The Deep, and The Ninth Configuration). Taylor fights Carsten. The Nazi comes at him with a chainsaw, but ends up with his head on the train track and Taylor threatening to crush it with the caboose. It’s a mean and brawly fight, as is much of the film. It’s often been called one of the most violent action films of the '60s (even by Martin Scorsese, no less). Though it’s graphic, it's more about the realistic sadistic nature of life in the Congo and the film reflects that more boldly than we are used to seeing from films of this era. The Simba Africans through the eyes of the Euro filmmakers are torturous monsters in the Zulu, The Naked Prey mold. When they get their hands on their Euro captives, it’s straight out of a house of horrors.
Director Jack Cardiff was once a major cinematographer, especially renowned for his work with the British team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger on two of their best films, Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes, as well as John Huston’s gutsy location flick, The African Queen. As a director of about a dozen films himself - mostly all ambitious but forgettable - besides Dark Of The Sun, the most remembered may by the cult Marianne Faithfull vehicle The Girl on a Motorcycle.
I didn’t realize other people were aware of Jacques Loussier’s brilliant main title music until Quentin Tarantino sampled it in Inglourious Basterds. It has a haunting, Ennio Morricone-like sound, both rousing and full of dread. Speaking of which, Rod Taylor also showed up in Inglourious Basterds, unrecognizable as Winston Churchill. In the 40 years between the two films Taylor lingered in movie hell; other than some TV appearances not one of his titles is recognizable (with the exception of the overrated bore, Zabriskie Point). It’s too bad because in Dark Of The Sun the Australian actor is so cool and with his big Russell Crowe-like physique he looks like he could have easily taken on Charlton Heston, Richard Harris, James Coburn or any of the action stars of his day. Hopefully one day when Dark Of The Sun finally makes it to DVD or Blu-ray the rest of the world will see what it’s been missing.