Monday, April 26, 2010

Guilty Pleasures at the Movie House, Part One: "Dark of the Sun" (1968)

The first one up is one of the most unusual haunting action film scores from the 1960's, a film I saw a teenager and still find that it holds up nicely. It's not without a good deal of brutality and if it were remade today could stand an unserved need to tell more of the story  from an African point of view. 

 It's still an entertaining and a well-done action film. And with the exception of ex-NFL football star Jim Brown, all the actors are top-notch veterans.  Even Brown--in his third film---does a credible job.  

 The opening track from "Dark of the Sun" by  Jacques Louisser(a pianist and composer known for his jazz interpetations of J.S. Bach's greatest pieces)suits this above-average film quite well. Set against the long and brutal conflict in the Congo, the film was directed by long-time master cinematographer Jack Cardiff (who also directed the 1961 film adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's "Sons and Lovers"). The film acknowledges the role that foreign powers had made in dominating and expiloting the resources of the Democratic Congo, a blighted nightmare of a nation carved out as a personal fiefdom by King Leopold of the Belgians in the 1880's and later used as a helpless pawn in the Cold War where atrocities abounded starting when it became independent in  1960. (The Congo was also the setting for Joseph Conrad's 1899 novella 'Heart of Darkness".)  

Hope the nutshell of the plot, courtesy of "Wikipedia" site:

The Congo,1964: Good guy soldier of fortune Bruce Curry (Taylor) is hired by President Ubi (Calvin Lockhart) to rescue the white residents of a remote jungle town about to be attacked by rebels, but his real (and ultra-secret) mission is to relieve 50 million dollars in diamonds stashed in a high-tech vault there. Curry enlists a team including his Congolese (educated in America) pal Ruffo (Brown), evil ex-Nazi Captain Henlein (Peter Carsten) and alcoholic Doctor Wreid (Kenneth More, in a should-have-won an Oscar turn). Heading by troop train into the heart of darkness, Curry rescues a beautiful civilian (Mimieux), fights an inconclusive chainsaw duel with Heinlein, and eventually evacuates the white residents of the town just as the rebels attack (the rebels manage to uncouple the coach with the diamonds , but the rest of the train gets away).

The ending is one I didn't see coming when I first saw it, and flies in the face of the conventional action-film finale where the good guy(s)  and the beautiful leading lady(ies) ride off into the sunset.   It's a movie that  was called "The Mercenaries" in Britain and "Katanga" in other parts.     
Director Cardiff said of the film at a later vantage :   "Although it was a very violent story, the actual violence happening in the Congo at that time was much more than I could show in my film; in my research I encountered evidence so revolting I was nauseated. The critics complained of the violent content, but today it would hardly raise an eyebrow."
Here's some movie-style violence as Curry tries to teach some chivalrous manners to the Nazi dead-ender Heinlein, the punk he's stuck on the mission with.  As with all romantic triangles, sooner or later a chainsaw is bound to enter into the picture ;-)


  1. I remember Jacques Loussier and his interpretations of Bach somewhere back in my life soundtrack, but hadn't thought about him much for the past 40 years until reading your post Doug. Seems like a suitably violent account of imperialism and all the things that gave Carl Jung nightmares, although I don't think he ever included a chainsaw wielding madman as one of his archetypes, although this clip seems to have every component of his fears and fascinations, including those for fascism in place.Yet another of the many films I've never seen so thanks for showcasing it. I love the opening credits and the soundtrack designed to raise the hairs on the average caucasian neck in the mid 20th century I think. An interesting choice here Doug.

  2. Yes, the visual credits are almost certainly designed for the nervy caucasian audience. I thought the remarks by the late director, Jack Cardiff, made about the true horrors of the Congo not being show-able in a mainstream film quite appropriate. The late 60's were interesting times for movies of "adventure"--they were sold as straight action and damsel-in-distress fare, but already we see that the "darkness" of mass murder is a reflection into the heart of the world at large.

    Everything I've read about that region seems a nightmare of run-amok imperialism and chaos. You might say "Dark of the Sun", for all its Boys-Own-Adventure elements, was an introduction to me of how brutal the world is in the scramble for wealth and power. In that sense I blogged about this movie because it is a sort of Jungian archetype to me--a painting in motion of politics, war, rape, greed and the grimy details of how the Cold War world operates. We see the conflicts still at work while fat cats in other capitals give artificial nations "independence" from the last gasps of 19th Century European domination.

    A doctor and his wife from our local church went to The Congo a couple years back to volunteer for the latest madness triggered by the Rwandan genocides. I marvel at courage like that, as well as how fragile the cloak of civilized behavior is given the vacuum of a region where superpowers, whites-only nations and corporations decide what terrorist to support at the expense of the only real resource worth saving anywhere--human lives.

    As popular fare, the movie I think was rather enlightened for its time (if you can buy ex-footballer Jim Brown as a Congolese mercenary with a heart of gold.)

    The soundtrack is a masterful and haunting score.

    Thank you,AA, for the enlightening takes.

  3. And isn't it tough to have a meaningful conversation with anyone when they are swinging a revved up chainsaw in your face? This is always in the back of my mind when I talk to the odd laid-off and angry timber worker about the need for environmental regulations in America's National Forests.

    Hard to win an Oxford-style debate on points when you have to fend off a whizzing blade of steel. As Woody Allen put it, Nazis seem to respond best to a large polo mallet to their craniums.

  4. LOL...this is indeed very true Doug, but what a refreshing change it is to be able to blame the Belgians for something.

  5. Ah ...fond memories of the late great Mrs Aardvark Doug :-)

  6. I really think that this ought to become part of the Oxford debating thing Doug.

    It would attract a mass audience and NIKE sponsorship, yes certainly that's what the Oxford Union needs to liven it up a bit.... you've hit the nail right on the head there Doug....

    That would put Richard Dawkin's lack of faith to the test alright and I bet Stephen Hawking wouldn't be so damned self assured, if he knew had to haul a jugernaut with his teeth to get through the qualifying heats.

    Academe needs a lot more machismo if its going to survive, quite right too Doug...bloody pen-pushers!

  7. You know it, AA! They slipped under The Blame Radar far too long. (Hiding behind the Dutch, I suspect.)

  8. LOL.
    My ex-wife preferred to swing a regulation Louisville Slugger Baseball Bat about during a domestic tiff, AA. Horst Wessel wouldn't lasted two weeks married to the likes of her.

    Chainsaw fights can be dicey. I'm always glad the first Mrs Noakes never found where I kept that extra power cord.

  9. LOL! Yes, Dawkins' self-assurance about the a god-free universe might look more doubtful if he kept calling on The Almighty to bring him safely through the next round of "Oxford's Got Trail by Combat." Watching the intelligensia committing acts of wanton mayhem on their peers would give value for the viewer and spice up the ratings.

    I think the key here of course is corporate sponsorship. We are all subject to violence as part of the advertising scheme to promnote insecurities in manhood---there's no reason to exclude The Dons or the stray American professor. "No guts, no glory!"