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I have seen this film maybe, 20 times over the last 30 years. It's one of
the rare movies that entertains each and every time. Seeing movies like
Flight Of The Phoenix only reminds me just how bad "Hollywood" has
The plot. It is quite simple really. Survival. But how the writers, producers and directors mold the basic premise into a complex and compelling 2 hours of cinema is a delight.
To watch Stewart, Finch, Attenborough, Kruger and company work in this movie is to see the difference between actors of yesteryear and movie stars of today.
I am watching the movie as I type this and I'm watching Attenborough react to finding out Kruger's "secret". His laughter is both hilarious and pitiable. And the look of shock and confusion on Stewart's face says it all.
As you can tell, I love this movie. I cannot vote it or recommend it highly enough. You would be well served to find this on DVD. Enjoy and happy flying.
I agree with most of the people here that this movie is an overlooked gem.
It always comes to mind when I think of movie classics, but most people I've
known have never seen it. If it comes on TV or you get the chance to rent
it, definitely give it a look.
While the movie stands alone as a great suspense and survival movie with great dialogue and a greater cast, it also has some aspects that give it deeper significance. A couple of people have commented on the "old school seat-of-the-pants flying" vs. "mathematical engineering" conflict in the movie, and this is certainly a big part of it.
Another conflict, subtler but just as important, has gone completely unmentioned here. That's the issue of the crew's mistrust of Kruger for being German. This movie is pretty important for the way it excellently touches on the tension many people still felt by the sixties on working side by side with the former enemy in the new postwar world. It's not an accident that the three main characters that have to come together to survive are American, English and German. "Flight of the Phoenix" is one movie that is timeless in its direct appeal but should be taken in context of the time in which it was produced in order to be fully appreciated.
Taking these conflicts together, the overall message is clear. In the brave new world, unless we put aside old divisions and value input from everyone, no one gets out alive.
"The Flight of the Phoenix", based on the Elleston Trevor novel, has
little more than one set and no costume changes; and the action is
confined to the few yards around an airplane crashed in the desert. Yet
its story is more gripping than most "action" movies.
An old airplane owned by an oil company crashes at the hands of a crusty old pilot (James Stewart) whose bitterness and fatalism are brought out when he's forced to admit the crash was due to pilot error. His half-alcoholic navigator has insured that the plane was off course, and cannot be discovered by rescue craft (if any); he's a nice guy and becomes the mediator between the rancorous passengers and crew, but he lacks self-confidence (Richard Attenborough in a finely understated performance). The passengers include a company accountant (Dan Duryea); a shell-shocked employee (Ernest Borgnine, by turns touching and silly) sent home in the company of his doctor (Christian Marquand); a straight-laced British officer (Peter Finch) and his mutinous sergeant (Ronald Fraser); several oil company employees, including one who is always making vicious jokes at the expense of the others (Ian Bannen); and a German "designer" (Hardy Kruger) who went to the oil fields to visit his brother.
Stranded in the desert with no hope of rescue, they debate various schemes for salvation, all of which fail, until Kruger tells the others he is an airplane designer and he has discovered a way to build a new plane from the spare parts of the old one. All it needs for a handful of unskilled men, living on a little water and no food but pressed dates, coping with unbearable heat during the day and unbearable cold at night, to transform themselves into aircraft manufacturers before they all succumb.
All performances are good. Some of the actors (George Kennedy, the always interesting Dan Duryea) are woefully underused -- perhaps large segments of their roles wound up on the cutting-room floor. The major tension is the confrontation between Stewart's old-school pilot and Kruger's technologically self-righteous engineer (at one point, Stewart's character makes the incredibly prescient remark that one day the little men with their slide-rules and computers will inherit the earth).
Even when they all decide they'd rather attempt building the new plane with hope than sit around watching each other die, new surprises spring up that compromise the whole thing.
The script and the acting are solid, especially James Stewart in a different and challenging role. The music is sometimes overwhelming, and stings give unnecessary emphasis to some lines. Also of interest is the listing in the credits of "The Love Theme" which seems like a silly thing to call it.
A superlative story of men living on the ragged edge of survival, working together but not necessarily getting along or surrendering their own values.
Where as many films with star casts have failed, this one does not.
This film oozes quality by the bucket load. It centres round the story of the survivors of a plane crash who attempt to build a plane out of the wreckage. The tension is apparent from the start with the heat of the desert alone almost driving the characters to madness.
The combination of brilliant script and excellent acting brings to the fore a brilliant film. Ian Bannen, in particular, gives gives both grit and relish in his possibily his greatest screen performance.
Edwin Aldrin the second man to walk on the moon was asked once if he was in
his spacecraft and his engine quit running and he was going to die in an
hour how would he spend that last hour? He replied `I'd work on the
engine.' This film essentially is about that same type situation. A cargo
plane with passengers aboard goes down in the Arabian Desert and the
survivors quickly come to the realization that they eventually will be found
but probably by that time they will be dead. One of the passengers says he
can build a flyable plane out the existing wreckage and they can save
themselves. However he's never taken on a project quite this large before.
There are a number of little subplots with the characters to include a hard-nosed pilot, his booze guzzling co-pilot, a British Army sergeant who has a dislike for officers, A by the book British Army officer, A doctor, A mental patient, A cynical oil field worker, an accountant, and so forth. It's somewhat of an all star cast so it helps the picture. Although a little long the film is intriguing. The only damper on this movie is that Paul Mantz a superb pilot was killed in the making of it.
This masterpiece is now 40 years old and has lost nothing of it's
excitement due to it's fantastic, outstanding actors (Attenborough and
Kruger have never done better from my point of view), director, scenery
and the simplicity of the story itself. A plane lost in a desert, no
help and a challenge to master by people, who never chose to master
their destiny together in a hostile environment.
The way the conflict is layed out can serve as an example for organizational conflicts, cultural conflicts, simply: whenever humans have to solve a problem that jeopardizes their future under resource constraints. Or even mankind on earth in the hostile universe, who need to solve their very own conflicts? All actors are able to deliver fully convincing natural emotions in this kind of situation to make the audience understand why humans usually fail to solve these conflicts. How many actors can you name today that are superstars and can do it like them? It's becomes evident how difficult the first step to compromise or to accept leadership of another person is, especially for western individuals. Accept leadership and downgrade oneself in the hierarchy, despite the fact that there is usually one solution which suits the groups interest as a whole better? How many leaders or e.g. managers are able to do this? In the end, the collaborative approach is successful, staged behind a general struggle for power, influenced by the cold war environment, containing an explosive mix of historical facts and clichés on British imperialism/militarism, American heroism, German nazihodd/engineering rational and various other aspects. You could easily work out how difficult the situation would be, if nowadays a e.g. member of priest of a Christian church would crash land together with a Muslim mullah. How would they be able to work together to master the hostility of the desert? Would they be able to accept a compromise? You can spend months to identify all the clichés that are used to increase the tension between the characters they have to understand to manage their faith, unfortunately you need a lot of historical background knowledge on 19th century till cold war to understand all the details, but that is only another good reason to start studying this.
The movie also shows that every specific cultural background has it's advantages closely tied to its disadvantages, e.g. the heroism advantage of attack eaten up by a lack of rationality (for example due to alcoholism/boredom). Actually, this movie should be screened as an example for success for conflicts of international companies, global organizations or just humans between the frontiers of different cultures.
And if this is too educational for you: It is even great entertainment, if you are just watch it from a pure emotional point of view. Myself being a German I would wish that we still can show of some of the engineering mastership that Dorfner shows of - however I'm happy that no technocrats are now ruling my country.
In the end: What a masterpiece!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A twin-engine propeller airplane, carrying a group of oil company
people to a Saharan outpost, crashes in the African desert
On board, a handful of disparate characters: a jovial pessimist, a noble doctor, a 'frantic' fellow, a distrustful bitter pilot, determined to contradict most suggested plans; a British military officer who reacts in the only way he knows; an insubordinate sergeant who refuses to take any risk; an eccentric airplane designer proposing a seemingly impossible goal and a nervy navigator who tries to hold the group together
The marooned survivors (with no hopes of being found or rescued) realize their best hope is the 'impossible': to accept the task of building a smaller plane, a "Phoenix," from the wreckage of the old
The depiction of the construction is fascinating as much of the true characters of the men (facing the savagely violent environment) come out under the threat of thirst, hunger, and exposure The degree of their weakness, consternation, arrogance, selfishness, and cowardice is successfully described
Aldrich tries to build a film filled with self-sacrifice, crazed arguments, and, above all else, a slow descent into foolish acts by all He keeps us in constant suspense, wondering if the rebuild plane will get successfully off the ground?
I use snippets from this film in a project management class. It is hard
to imagine how the casting could have been any better. Jimmy Stewart
plays the part of the aging pilot with an adventurous past so well not
only because he was a terrific actor, but because he really was an
aging pilot with a an adventurous past. Richart Attenborrow (spelling?)
is wonderful as the diplomatic copilot that stands between Stewart and
the engineer played by Kruger.
The dialogue was some of the best I've ever heard. "Mr. Townes you behave as though stupidity were a virtue..." You have to love it.
I'm almost sorry to see this movie being remade since it was done so well, but I'll still line up for the new one just to see if the magic can be made to work twice.
These comments are partly inspired by other comments and the message
boards. This film presents a hypothetical survival situation and does a
great job of showing how innovation and persistence bring the survivors
through. Strengths and weaknesses are plausibly portrayed in characters
who have depth and a mix of vices and virtues. That Sgt Watson does not
suffer for his sin is just the sort of thing that makes this an adult
movie. That's what "real life" is like. Often people who do the wrong
thing seem to go unpunished, or worse, to actually benefit. You could
get a whole other novel out of the Sgt's subsequent life. There was a
real survivor story a few years back where a trimaran, the
"Rose-Noelle" capsized, and the crew existed on the overturned craft
for many weeks. There were tensions between people. Each individual
seemed to be weak in some ways and strong in others - eg one guy was
very despondent and was often treated with contempt by 2 others, but he
was also far more patient at fishing, he caught a lot more than anyone
else. The skipper/owner kept up his leadership role and the others
resented him being hard on them (I thought no harder than was needed).
When the trimaran eventually ran ashore, and they were picked up by
emergency services, at least 2 of the crew immediately separated
themselves from the skipper and never contacted him afterward,
according to his book. When these two wrote their own book, they stated
that they had taken food from the common store when they weren't being
watched. I was flabbergasted that they would admit such a thing without
feeling any guilt. They didn't express any anyway.
In the 70s I read a self-improvement book about so-called "non-eroneous" people who would never worry about what other people thought about them or what they did. I now believe the old saying that "Only very competent men, or very beautiful women, or very rich people of either gender can afford to be totally forthright all the time." Hardy Kruger's character was a wonderful example of the "non-erroneous" person. His view was that he worked harder, he planned everything, he was essential to the project, so it was OK for him to take more water than the others. He openly admitted it when confronted by the pilot (James Stewart). However he changed his behaviour because he saw that he had to get people on-side if the project was to succeed. That a model aircraft engineers skills were as good as a full-size engineers was self-evident to him.
He was not without his faults however. During the engine-starting sequence, he rather lost his nerve. He was not able to trust the best man for the task (the pilot), to do the task, without trying to interfere. Hardy Kruger is one of my favorite actors, very versatile, he always managed to please even when cast in utter tripe like Hatari!
The movie talks about a motley group in a small airplane piloted by a
stubborn and obstinate man (James Stewart) and a navigator (Richard
Attenborough) . The aircraft crashes on Sahara desert rounded by sand
seas and passengers crew (Peter Finch , George Kennedy , Ronald Fraser
, Christian Marquand..) have to survive against extraordinary odds and
risks and they try to rebuild their plane in order to avoid sufferings
caused for hostile elements . This has a well sense desert atmosphere
filling one with revulsion for the conditions in which unfortunates are
forced to exist stranded on an Arabian uninhabited spot : starvation ,
famine , heat , thirst , enemies and confrontation among themselves .
This exciting movie is an intelligent variant upon the Hollywood scripts in which aircrafts crash in remote locations such as : ¨Airport¨ series or ¨Alive : Miracle of the Andes¨ . It's a thoughtful and broody film with excellent interpretations and an utterly male star-studded casting . James Stewart as a veteran and embittered pilot is the intrepid hero who's considered guilty of the accident for his error , he's magnificent likeness to Richard Attenborough , a previous RAF pilot and now a boozy alcoholic navigator in a damaged plane . Hardy Kruger as the cocky German engineer is splendid . John Finch as a rigid and stiff officer is very fine and similarly to his coward subordinate Ronald Fraser . Ernest Borgnine as a nutty with enormous eager to escape is sensational . George Kennedy , Gabriele Tinti , Christian Marquand , Dan Duryea are well but make roles quite secondaries . Special mention to Ian Bannen , as the group's mechanic , he only achieved the Academy Award nomination but he didn't obtain it . Frank de Vol musical score (Robert Aldrich's usual musician) is spectacular and lively . Joseph Biroc cinematography is glimmer and colorful . The motion picture is stunningly directed by Robert Aldrich . The second and recent version with Dennis Quaid , Giovanni Ribisi and Miranda Otto is worst deemed . Rating : Awesome and astounding .
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