What’s fantastic about this classic film from 1965 directed by Robert Aldrich, isn’t just the story of a group of men who have to survive the Sahara Desert after their plane crash lands or the great cast of characters and the actors who played them, it is also about the over dramatic poster. This is the first thing you notice when you pick up a shiny new copy of the very beautiful Masters of Cinema Blu-rays. The poster features fire, smoke and sand whirling together, with James Stewart’s aging pilot, Captain Frank Towns and Hardy Kruger’s intimidatingly stern plane designer, Heinrich Dorfmann on either side brandishing weapons, while six men cast long shadows in the sand, pulling something in the distance. This poster actually tells the story of conflict, pain, hope and the very brief image of a dancer from a hallucination one of the survivors has.
The story begins in the middle of a scene, with the passengers of the twin-engine Fairchild C-82 Packet cargo plane all sitting, talking, someone is playing music and a casual remark is made about the radio not working. Bottles of alcohol are passed around quite casually and even the navigator (Richard Attenborough) takes a swig. Suddenly the plane is hit by a sandstorm and is blown off course. One of the engines fails and the pilot is forced to land. At ten minutes into the film we are introduced to the passengers and crew through very dramatic movement and freeze frame with each cast member. But we know we won’t get to know them all. With two deaths and one serious injury, we begin to slowly get to know these men. They are a group of oilmen and military personal with an exception, a German passenger who was hitching a ride after visiting his brother.
The situation seems to be in order, as the Captain Harris (Peter Finch) starts rationing the water so the group can survive while they wait for rescue. But after a few days in the heat and no sign of help, tempers rise and some of the men become desperate. There are more deaths, murder and a suicide, these just add to the pressure of not knowing what to do. But when Heinrich Dorfmann says that he has designed a plane that will fly them out of there, the group finally has hope.
The rebuilding of the plane happens quite far into the film and the actually flight of the newly named Phoenix does happen unto right at the end. There are still doubts whether I will stay in the air and get them to civilisation. A very tense and at times frustrating to watch, the film has earned cult status and rightly so but only for those you can manage to sit through this very long film more than once. The running time is problematic, especially as the scenery doesn’t change. Even the great performances, especially from Stewart and Kruger, would not be able to hold the attention of everyone. If it was cut, the story would still have its pacing and maybe even ramp up the tension between Dorfmann and Towns.
Watching the film on Blu-ray, you not only get all the fantastic detail such as the glistening sweat on the actor’s faces but the colours are brighter making the viewing experience just that bit better. Master of Cinema are known for their beautiful copies of their films as well as the shiny booklet, delving deeper into the film, making their releases that little extra special.
Dir: Robert Aldrich
Scr: Lukas Heller
Based on: The Flight of the Phoenix by Elleston Trevor
Cast: James Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Hardy Krüger, Peter Finch, Ernest Borgnine
Prd: Robert Aldrich
DOP: Joseph Biroc
Music: Frank De Vol
Runtime: 142 min
The Masters of Cinema series – The Flight of the Phoenix will be released on Blu-ray on the 12th Sept 2016 for the first time in the UK.