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.