Warner Bros. // 1968 // 101 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // June 17th, 2011
A strike force of crack mercenaries fight the hottest battles in all the blazing fury of today's strife-torn Congo!
To most movie buffs, Jack Cardiff is best known as one of the world's greatest cinematographers. He won an Oscar for his striking work on Black Narcissus, and did sublime work on such films as The Red Shoes, The African Queen, War and Peace, and many others. However, Cardiff also had a secondary career as a director, turning out an eclectic blend of films ranging from an adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers to the James Bond knockoff The Liquidator. One of Cardiff's most curious films is Dark of the Sun, a violent, odd, stylish "men on a mission" film that generated a considerable amount of controversy upon its initial release.
Our story begins in war-torn Congo, where we're introduced to a hard-boiled mercenary named Curry (Rod Taylor, The Time Machine). His mission: to rescue a group of civilians and recover a large pile of diamonds from a very dangerous area. Joined by the good-hearted Ruffo (Jim Brown, The Dirty Dozen), the slippery ex-Nazi Henlein (Peter Carsten, The Quiller Memorandum), the drunk Doctor Wreid (Kenneth More, Battle of Britain) and dozens of others, Curry boards a train and rides full steam ahead into the most violent areas of the Congo. Will they complete their mission successfully? If so, how many will make it back alive? (Hint: not many.)
There's some very puzzling logic at work in Dark of the Sun, or perhaps I should say there is occasionally a puzzling lack of logic. If the movies have taught us one lesson over the years, it would be, "you can never trust a Nazi." It's one thing if you didn't know they were a Nazi at first (hey there, Christopher Plummer in Inside Man!), but it's another thing entirely if they're proudly sporting a swastika when you meet them for the first time. It's clear within seconds that the surly Henlein is going to be trouble, but I guess his inclusion is supposed to be a testament to Curry's willingness to work with folks of all stripes (the film makes a big deal of the fact that the best-friends-for-life main characters have different skin colors) in order to get the job done? Curry's just tolerant that way, I suppose. He even tolerates it when Henlein murders two young children in cold blood.
Despite the fact that we see endless instances of hard men engaging in brutal violence over the course of the entire film, Dark of the Sun bizarrely dovetails into a stern anti-violence sermon during its closing moments. Suddenly, it decides to harshly object to the notion of one character killing another, despite the fact that the character being killed probably deserved it more than anyone else in the film.
The final message seems to be something along these lines: "Kill whoever you need to if it's part of the job. But never, ever, ever kill a member of your team, even if that member is a Nazi who has betrayed the team, tried to rape your girlfriend, killed your closest friend, and murdered children." As warped codes of honor go, that's a pretty odd one.
And yet, despite the film's bothersome peculiarities, Dark of the Sun is an immensely engaging cinematic experience. This is not only due to the generous supply of striking visuals Cardiff supplies, but also due to the film's hypnotically fatalistic tone. The score by little-known composer Jacques Loussier is perhaps the film's strongest element; boasting an unforgettably melancholy main title theme, jittery staccato piano and a striking sense of minor-key elegance that's vastly different from the bombastic scores films like this generally receive. There's something deeply haunting about hearing Loussier's darkly beautiful melodies play as these stone-faced men ride their locomotive towards certain doom. Taylor's performance is another asset, as he plays the hard-edged character with surprising conviction. Jim Brown's character is perhaps a bit too saintly for this rugged crew, but Brown demonstrates a good deal of charisma in the role. Carsten plays a typically hiss-worthy Nazi effectively enough, and More has fun in his colorful role as the doctor. But what on earth is Yvette Mimieux (The Black Hole) doing in this movie? She appears midway through for seemingly no better reason than that the filmmakers felt a need to insert a pretty face into the proceedings, and has nothing of interest to do at any point.
The transfer is middling, but that's the norm for most releases from the Warner Archive. There are plenty of scratches and flecks and the picture appears a bit smudged at times, but detail is respectable and black levels are deep enough. Flesh tones sometimes appear a bit off. Audio is similarly hit-and-miss, as everything comes through with clarity but lack of balance; the dialogue scenes are much quieter than the action scenes. The only extra on the disc is a trailer.
It should also be noted that this appears to be the same "censored" version of Dark of the Sun that's been floating around for years; it seems some cuts were made decades ago that haven't been restored since. It's obvious in a couple of instances (such as when Taylor says, "Son of a..." just before the sound goes mute for a moment), but it won't feel too messy if you haven't seen the original before (as I haven't). Still, it's a problem when the cover art for a film prominently depicts a scene that never actually appears in the movie (a seemingly violent love scene between Curry and Mimieux). A famous scene in which a nun gets fed to a crocodile is also missing from this release, as is a brutal male-on-male rape scene. Bear in mind that while you're probably getting the only thing Warner Bros. could find a decent print of, you're getting a heavily censored version of the film.
Dark of the Sun is a mess (this censored version in particular), but it's certainly an intriguing mess. It's worth a look, though the usual $20 Warner Archive price tag seems a bit steep.
Guilty of trusting a Nazi.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 1968
MPAA Rating: Rated PG