Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Flight Of The Phoenix

' behave if stupidity were a virtue.'

 Dorfmann to Towns.

  Even though The Flight of the Phoenix was nominated for two Oscars it has somewhat faded away into obscurity. When released in 1965 it was a commercial success but critics weren't as impressed. This is shame because it has a stella cast which provide some very fine  performances in a quite entertaining movie.  I knew of this movie but didn't realise it was based on a 1964 Ellison Trevor novel of the same name. Unfortunately I believe there is to be a re-make in Holywood's mania to re-make everything because it is easier to do so than find some originality.

 One critic at the time called this movie ' grim and implausible'. Grim I absolutely agree with but that is the whole point!! A plane load of men crash landing in the Sahara with little water and nothing but pressed dates to eat is a grim situation. Which leads to the critics so called ' implausible' situation of the rapidly dwindling survivors building an aircraft from the wreckage in which to save themselves. To me this critic has got it wrong as the movie is no different from any other Hollywood movie. They are entertaining and 9 times out of 10 based on implausible, unrealistic situations, which inthemselves provide an escape from reality for a few hours. I don't see anything wrong with that.

 The problem arises if the plot and implausibility aren't backed up with a good script and acting. In this case we get both. This is where it is somewhat unfortunate that Phoenix has somewat disappeared as the acting in particular is extremely good. We all know James Stewart ( my favorite actor bar none ), was one of the very greatest actors ever, and that Richard Attenborough was a fine one too. But here it is Hardy Kruger who is the standout. Like many of the movies he starred in he again plays a German named Heinrich Dorfmann. As a character he isn't exactly a nice guy and unhesitatingly calls those around him 'ignorant' and 'stupid'. He is extremely arrogant and yet Stewarts character, pilot Frank Towns sees in him the future and the death of is own type.

 The survivors are put on a strict water ration as they believe they will be found, but as it dawns on them they won't Dorfmann, who states he is an aircraft engineer, advises building an aircraft from the wreckage. Towns is dis-believing and laughs at him asking ' are you joking with me'! This reaction brings to the fore Attenborough in a very fine performance as Lew Moran who mediates between the two. As Dorfmann convinces them his plan will work the survivors set to work as it is deemed better than waiting to die from lack of water. Also the numbers are dwindling due to murder from a few rouge Arabs, and several members trying to walk out to an oasis 106 miles away.

 Stewart, Attenborough, and Kruger are the three protagonists here but both Ernest Borgnine and George Kennedy star as well. Borgnine plays a man who is somewhat slow and off his rocker, and he dies off early in the movie. Kennedy at the time was a realitive new comer with a minor role, and yet is one of those who reach safety. The rest of the cast is virtually unknowns and I didn't know any of them. But really they are there to make up the numbers because the movie is more about the battle of wills between the old world of Stewart and the new of Kruger.

 A battle of wills it is to. Stewart is pragmatic and can't believe a cobbled together aircraft will fly and is horrified the survivors will be flown out lying on the wings!! As things tense up Attenborough finally turns him around suggesting it is betteer to die in a ball of flame if the craft crashes than to die of thirst. Things really reach a head when Stewart and Attenborough find out Kruger was a model airplane designer!! They are literally speechless but realise it is too late to tell the others and wreck their morale. They both have serious doubts as to whether the craft will fly.

 One interesting by plot is the slow decay of the men mentally. Some hold up well where as some fall to pieces. Stewart at one stage asks himself,  'what is happening to us'. I think this was a good part of the plot as it added to the desperate situation and was a fair reflection of humanity when faced with a very real slow death. 'Grim' the critic stated, well of course it is!

The building of the plane proceeds with various deaths and power struggles along the way until it is finished. The last part of the movie sees the attempt to get the aircraft flying and Kruger having one final fit as he loses it completely with Stewart. Of course we get a happy ending with them all arriving safely at a near by oasis and many of them diving into it. The movie ends with Stewart and Kruger begrudgingly acknowledging each other. They realise they needed each other and without the one or other they would all be dead.

The DVD cover.
 The Flight of the phoenix  is a fine movie. It is not a masterpiece or in the great realm but it is far above the average. The performances of the three big stars are impressive but especially that of Hardy Kruger who probably never played anything as good again. It has the usual 1960's effects and the difference between the indoor/outdoor sets are very obvious. But I can ignore that as this is a movie about the battle of wills between two strong willed men, and how they come to appreciate one another through the cool head of Richard Attenborough's character. It certainly is a fine movie and well worth a watch, because I believe it is a somewhat forgotten gem.

 Well worth your time to see. Sadly neglected but the performances must be seen as they lift The Flight of the Phoenix up well above the average movie it could well have been. Take a look as I think you will surprised at its overall quality.

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  1. Another classic that I need to see which you have reviewed. I am the biggest of James Stewart fans, and Harvey and this are at the top of my list. Great review!

  2. This classic movie sound really intresting. Good Review!

  3. Thanks guys. It is sadly ovelooked these days and yet it is a fine movie. The three performances I mention are well worth seeing.

  4. I'll need to give this a try someday, there was a remake done a few years ago which I never say but I'd heard of this previously as well.

  5. Daniel...with both Stewart and Attenborough on board you really can't go wrong. But if you are like me and have a love affair with anything 'classic' then this will satsify. So it has been re-made...think I will avoid it because anything with the GREAT Jimmy Stewart is sancrosant as far as I'm concerned.

  6. You are totally right Brent, can't go wrong with those talents, there's a reason they are legends. Yes it was remade with Dennis Quaid in the main role.

  7. Ah Denis Quaid huh?! Will still avoid it I think! Quaid canbe somewhat hot and cold and I'm not sure where I sit with him as an actor. But like I say since it is a Stewart film that is re-made I won't watch it on principal.