Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Review - The Flight of the Phoenix (1965 - Dir. Robert Aldrich)

Everything is going swimmingly, apart from the fact that a plane piloted by Frank Towns (James Stewart) and co-piloted by Lew Moran (Richard Attenborough) has hit a sand storm and both engines have stopped. The tension has been built up slowly to maximise the impact of the crash. But then we are treated to a bizarre Are You Being Served style credits  sequence. The characters all get a beautiful mid-grimace freeze frame - just as they about to be smacked in the face by some hurtling loose luggage - accompanied by the actor's name. This completely kills any excitement but is pretty funny. Besides it's what happens after the crash that leaves them stranded in the desert, that is the source of the real drama.

In virtually all air crashes someone has to die and this is no exception. But lets take a closer look at a couple of people who bite the bullet. One of them is seen reading an adult specialist magazine in an earlier scene. The dirty little pervert has to die. As for the next villain, thoroughly deserving of his grizzly death, his crime was to play music of an ethnic nature. Good job Doccortex doesn't fly too often.

Another character refers to the aforementioned music in a slightly more racist way. In fact, he refers to most things in a slightly racist way. But it's only the one character who's a racist so it must just be part of his character, although he doesn't get any comeuppance or have a change of heart to complete a character arc. He's just a big racist. The film doesn't do itself any favours either by including a German plane designer, Heinrich Dorfmann (Hardy Kruger), who is rather efficient at his job, to say the least. In its defence it was made in 1965. (Chorlton and the Wheelies was made in 1976 and is also pretty racist, so we'll give it a break.)

Let's get the last negative out of the way: Borgnine. Not the attractive Borg lady from Voyager but Ernest Borgnine (decide which is better using the handy photos below). Overacting is his speciality and his performance here is exemplary. But this isn't too much of a problem. (Watch the film to find out the reason why.)

Despite being fairly studio bound the heat of the desert and the danger of their predicament is all too apparent. One scene deals very intelligently with the obvious idea of walking back to civilisation. It's something that I'd probably think I'd give a go but this shows just how stupid the idea is. They come up with a craftier plan: make a new plane out of the wreckage and fly out of there. Not stupid at all. Regardless, they crack on and work through the night and kip in the day. Slightly better plan.

I doubt that it's much of a spoiler to say that they manage to build an aircraft. My big problem with it though is that the passengers don't have lovely seats to sit on, they have to hold on to a metal pole welded on to the top of the wing. Surely Health and Safety would have something to say about that. Couldn't they have made some kind of harness or at least a little seatbelt. (NB Alton Towers: Air would be a lot safer if it had a little seatbelt too, like Nemesis. Sort it out.)

Flight of the Phoenix is all about the drama between the three main characters. Stewart is great, as always, in the role of the not-so-heroic Frank Towns. He is such a flawed hero that he's almost not a hero at all. Yet you're with him every step of the way. Dorfmann is a right little show off and, as Towns points out, is always right. Hardy Kruger is spot on in this role, making every line believable. Richard Attenborough is stuck in the middle of these two. When all three of them come together at a major plot revelation it must be one of my favourite scenes in any film. It's drawn out for so long but all three actors sell it completely. Some of the expressions on Stewart and Attenborough's faces are priceless.

It's quite a long film but worth watching for a Spanish Doctor who looks a bit like Shatner. If that's not a recommendation, I don't know what is.

If you like this you could also try:
Flight of the Phoenix (2004), Ice Cold in Alex, Anatomy of a Murder.


  1. I really wanted to like this movie. I was hoping for something along the lines of Indiana Jones, but The Flight of the Phoenix was just too slow for me. I suposse I had the wrong expectations.

    1. Yeah, it's nothing like Indiana Jones, despite a title that sounds like it could be. It is quite slow, but then being stuck in a desert must feel like pretty slow going. It's is probably worth watching again with different expectations. I've just done that with Wolf Creek and enjoyed it a lot more the second time round.

  2. I remember watching this film many, many years ago and I loved it. So much so, that I bought the newer Flight of the Phoenix. In true fashion, I've never watched the new one. You're making me want to watch the old one again! Ha ha. Great review evl!

    1. Cheers matey! The remake is actually pretty good, way better than it should be. Dennis Quaid isn't James Stewart by any stretch of the imagination but it's well worth a watch.

  3. I have watched this movie now for about 25 times and I hope dearly to watch it at least 25 times more.
    It is indeed a movie about feelings (of men!), about bravery in the face of death and how to get out of a dangerous situation: not by individual heroism, but by by working together with people one does not like too much.

    It is a movie about what life is about.

    Every time I watch it, I see something that I have not noticed before, every time they try to start the engine I hope it will work - but will it?

    Watch this movie and then watch the remake from 2005, and then you know what has gone wrong in Hollywood all these years: Instead of making movies for intelligent adults they cater for boys.

    This is one of the best movies ever made.

    1. I'm the same when I watch it, wondering whether the engine will actually start this time. I didn't actually mind the remake too much but you're right, it's not as good as this.

  4. Did you know that you can create short links with AdFly and get $$$$ for every click on your short links.

  5. If you want your ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend to come crawling back to you on their knees (no matter why you broke up) you need to watch this video
    right away...

    (VIDEO) Win your ex back with TEXT messages?