By Brian Lafferty
August 9, 2011 (San Diego) – Dark of the Sun (1968) was one of the first films to cash in on The Dirty Dozen’s success. Both films are set in war-torn countries, both are about do-or-die missions, and both feature football great Jim Brown (his second film after his retirement). The similarities end there. Judging it on its own terms, Dark of the Sun is uneven but when it’s good it makes you wish the rest of the movie were just as brutal and action-packed. When it drags, it really suffers.
The film is set in the then-war torn Congo, a nation rebelling against colonial rule. Curry (Rod Taylor) is assigned a Mission: Impossible-esque task: To rescue a horde of innocent civilians held hostage by Congolese rebels. In addition, they need to retrieve a cache of diamonds worth tens of thousands of dollars. He has three days to assemble a crew, which includes a German soldier unashamed to wear a swastika (Peter Carsten) and a native Congolese educated in the United States (Brown).
The second half is brutal and shocking in a magnitude much larger than I’ve seen in many contemporary movies…or many movies in general for that matter. Many movies play things safe. Dark of the Sun dares to be brutal. Women are chased and raped by the savage rebels. Men get burned alive and have their eyes gouged. That, believe it or not, is just for starters. It’s one of those sequences you can admire but at the same time you doubt you can watch again.
The director is Jack Cardiff, who was better known as a cinematographer (netting an Oscar for his photography of Black Narcissus). The Warner Archive does a great job remastering the film, bringing out the colors such as the greens of the jungle and the glaring orange of the torched city. The 2.40 aspect ratio (the DVD is anamorphic widescreen) enlarges the jungle’s expansiveness and provides ample sweeping dive shots of the aerial attack on the train.
This movie contains the first fight scene I’ve seen that involves a chainsaw. Editor Ernest Walter (who cut Robert Wise’s The Haunting five years earlier) helps the scene transcend gimmickry by fluid and natural cutting. Whereas many fight scenes today are edited Michael Bay style, this fight scene takes its sweet time with each shot. Because Walter lets the action dictate the editing, and not the other way around, it allows for a bigger buildup of suspense and the deadliness of the chainsaw isn’t diminished.
My only complaint is that the movie is too talky at times and it seriously threatens to undermine the film. Other than the chainsaw fight and the aerial assault on the train, it doesn’t get really good until more than halfway into the film. I wanted to see more action and less conversation. Yvette Mimieux, playing a rescued damsel in distress, is gorgeous but she overacts. I suspect her purpose in this film is to provide some eye candy for the men during the long (and I do mean very long) interludes between action sequences. Rod Taylor and Jim Brown perform well but this movie could have used Charles Bronson.
NOTE: Dark of the Sun is only available via manufacture on demand through the Warner Archive. You can purchase it here.