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The Flight of the Phoenix
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The Flight of the Phoenix More at IMDbPro »

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26 out of 37 people found the following review useful:

An enjoyable performance driven spin on the disaster movie genre

Author: bob the moo from United Kingdom
3 August 2003

Returning from an oil field with a plane full of crew etc going on leave, Frank Towns' plane enters a sandstorm over the Sahara desert and crashes. As various attempts at rescue or escape fail one passenger, Dorfmann suggests his plan to rebuild the plane as a smaller version and attempt to fly out, leaving the bulk of the damage craft behind. However tensions mount as personalities conflict as all the men face death.

I had only ever heard of this film before I finally got round to watching it last night on television. I was aware of the basic plot and had assumed it was more recent that it actually was. I watched it assuming that it was made in the early seventies when the disaster movie genre was just starting to take off (sorry – accidental pun). However this was made prior to this and is probably a much better film for it – in the seventies the film would have required more spectacle, so the crash would have been much more dramatic and horrifying. As it is now, the film is more about the men under stress than it is about anything else.

This is brought out well and the majority of the drama and tension within the film is as much from these conflicts as it is from the pressure to escape the desert. The film is longer than I expected it to be but it pretty much sustains itself for that length. The main reason for the film working so well is the cast, which has it's fair share of famous faces but also has more than it's fair share of good performances.

Stewart is really strong in the lead (although, in fairness, there is no one main character) and becomes increasingly grizzled as the film goes on. His character is not without flaws even if he does come out of this well. Attenborough is also good but is less evident in the film than some of the others. Krüger has the least pleasant of the roles given that he plays a tough German. He manages to make the character likeable while still going about his task with a strict organised German air to him. Finch is good and is well supported by Fraser. The support cast includes strong performances from Borgnine, Bannen, Kennedy, Marquand and the director's own son is thrown in for colour!

Overall this is much better than the disaster-type movie I had expected as it is a film where the plane crash isn't a blaze of spectacle and the death scenes aren't played out for full effect. Instead it is a tension adventure story that is driven by some great performances by a cast full of well known actors.

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19 out of 29 people found the following review useful:

Jimmy Stewart as good as ever

Author: iandcooper from Cheltenham, England
29 September 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The pilot character "Frank Towers" played by the wonderful (life) Jimmy Stewart is typical of the era it portrayed. Many ex-service pilots found work in the civilian aviation world - their training, paid for by Governments, was a cheap way of crewing aircraft. This film portrays such a pilot - taught to fly "by the seat of his pants" demonstrates the risks of such a policy.

"Frank Towers" flies on regardless of his navigator's (Dickie Attenborough) concerns, into a cloud of locusts. The engines air-intakes clog up and the outcome is inevitable.

Hardy Kruger's performance as "Hienrich Dorfmunn" is a classic. As an model-aircraft designer, "Frank" fails to accept the parallel between models and "real" aircraft calling them "toys". His arrogance almost scuppers the plan to build a flyable contraption made from the wreckage of the crashed aircraft.

The labour for this endeavour comes from the motley group of passengers whom include Earnest Borgnine as a simpleton, Peter Finch as a British Army officer with Ronald Fraser as his reluctant sargeant. Ian Bannen as "ratbags" plays the cynical Scot. Dickie Attenborugh's "Lew Moran" becomes the arbitor in a complex chronology of events which collectively conspire to prevent success.

Stunt pilot Paul Mantz to whom the film is dedicated, died during its making. Clearly the aircraft with skis on sand was a non-starter, and "wheels" miraculously appeared during the take-off scene. This takes nothing away from the story and it is certainly gripping stuff.

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10 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

This is not a Toy !

Author: thinker1691 from USA
9 June 2007

Flying across the deserts of North Africa, one can imagine how dangerous it would be to be stranded in the trackless ocean of sand. In 1965, a film called "The Flight of The Phoenix" appeared on movie marquee's around the country. From the first moment audiences took in this film, they recognized the distinctive traits of a true drama, which would establish for itself, the foundations of a classic. The tale is that of an outmoded airplane load of oil employees, who in conjunction with a couple of passengers, run headlong into a desert sand storm and are forced to crash into the forbidden wastelands below. Thus begins the impossible task of not only surviving in the empty miles of life-less sands, but to somehow return to civilization. James Stewart is Capt. Frank Towns, an experienced pilot, who realizes the 'push-button' age has made him obsolete. Richard Attenborough is superb as Lew Moran, the boozing asst. pilot. Peter Finch plays Capt. Harris who believes his army training and Sgt. Watson (Ron Frasser) will save the desperate group. Ernest Borgnine, plays Trucker Cobb, who's only concern is to move up to become line chief. Ian Bannen, Dan Duryea, and George Kennedy are the company crew. But it is Hardy Krüger who plays Heinrich Dorfmann, who astonishes disbelieving Capt. Towns and everyone else with his boost that with their help, the on-board tools and supplies and some undamaged parts of the crashed plane, he can design a model air-craft which will fly them to safety. Fantastic idea, but no one cares for his suicide plan. What ensues is a test of wills, against each other, the unforgiving landscape, hostile Arabs and the scant water supply and time they have left. *****

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13 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

one of my all-time favorites

Author: from Riverside, OH
23 December 2004

I remember seeing "Phoenix" years ago, maybe in the early 70s, when I stayed up late one night. It came on and for some reason I didn't bother to change the channel to something different and to this day I'm glad I watched it. It stayed with me and when I saw it again sometime in the 90s, it was as good as I remembered it to be. Maybe it's the story, the acting, James Stewart (in a different sort of roll being as far from dashing and handsome as any actor can be) - I don't know - but it clicks for me and I still watch it whenever it comes on. The actors are all good in their rolls and leave nothing to be desired. FX MOV is showing it as I type. The print is beautiful and the letterbox format beats pan & scan any day.

I don't know if I'll see the remake. It's hard to improve on a lot of originals and I don't think this original version needs any improvement.

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8 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

Absorbing character piece that's acted accordingly.

Author: Spikeopath from United Kingdom
3 May 2008

A transport aeroplane carrying an assortment of men crash lands in the Sahara desert, these men must group together in spite of their varying indifference's and build another plane out of the wreckage.

It perhaps, on the surface, doesn't sound much does it? We as viewers are asked to spend over two hours watching these men interact with each other with differing results. The location stays the same, it is just sand, sun, and men awaiting death. Yet the film is one of the best exponents of the character piece because the characters each have their own personal hang ups. Be it carrying scars from the war, or a class difference of upbringing, or that demon addiction to alcohol, these men have to overcome themselves before they can overcome the biggest hurdle in front of them.

Boasting what reads as a who's who of great character actors, The Flight Of The Phoenix becomes a riveting watch because we feel the stifled nature of their plight, because we are blessed to have these wonderful actors fully realising the great writing from Lukas Heller. It is absorbing, it is very sharp, and fittingly we get a twist that makes the ending even more rewarding.

Highly Recommended. 8/10

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8 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

A 'real' film in very interesting ways...

Author: pete-246 from Santa Monica, CA
9 September 2003

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

[MINOR SPOILERS] The novel this movie was based on fanned my imagination as a kid - I read and re-read it several times. Hadn't seen the movie in over 30 years until the DVD came out, and was delighted that my long-ago passion was justified - this is a great film. Well-plotted, good suspense, good cinematography, great attention to how people really react under extreme stress. In addition, the physical action is 'real' in a way no CGI film of today ever could be.

Compared to the disaster films of the 1970s, the theme of the film is Promethean - instead of simply trying to escape, the characters do something fantastic - they come up with a way to survive that practically amounts to stealing fire from heaven. Gazing at a wrecked plane lying in the desert, Dorfman ("Stringer" in the novel) sees a new plane rising from the ashes, couched in the new language of math and aerodynamics. The rest of the film seesaws between who has the power of the future - analytic, engineer-style dreamers like Dorfman versus seat of the pants Stewart's pilot character. In the end, both are vindicated - only Dorfman can envision the Phoenix, but the Phoenix can't fly without Stewart the "outstanding" pilot.

There's a moment of Christian symbolism (common in films of this vintage) when, after a night of exhausting work, one of the characters gazes at their work and comments "it looks like an airplane." Actually, the Phoenix looks like a cross with the sun behind it, in contrast to the crosses marking the dead on a nearby dune. Cool. This motif is repeated as the engine of the Phoenix powers up on the last day - a thrilling scene. There's even a Calvary reference where the half-dead survivors drag the cross-shaped plane to its launching place - if they endure this last trial, they will be reborn.

But the most amazing thing for me is that the Phoenix was actually built for the film. The original author of the novel worked hard to make sure that the story was possible. The movie producers went further - they built the actual, physical Phoenix and flew it. One stuntman died, but it flew. Other scenes have the same reality that no longer exists in film - for example, A-list actors standing a few feet in front of an unshielded, roaring propeller. Wouldn't happen now.

What would we have done today making this film? We would have hired a computer graphics company create an overhyped, impossible plane, that could only fly on their monitors. Not the same. In this film's climax we see a real plane flying. The film shares a common mood of the era seen in the real desert of "Lawrence of Arabia" and the real bridge in "Bridge on the River Kwai."

Since film today seems destined to go 100% CGI in the future we won't be making films like "Flight of the Phoenix". Is this a loss? Whatever you think of the culture of the early 1960s, their entertainment had a "reality check" that has vanished.

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5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

One of my all-time favorites

Author: Wuchak from Ohio/PA border
15 August 2012

"Flight of the Phoenix" (1965) is a survival story about a group of men who crashland in the Libyan desert. A German airplane designer (Hardy Krüger) amongst them suggests utilizing the workable remains of the wreckage to create a new Frankenstein plane, "The Phoenix," and fly out. Although his scheme is initially perceived as mad they soon realize it might be their only legitimate way out.

Even though "Flight" is a survival adventure it's just as much a drama since the setting is stationary (a relatively small area of desert) and there's very little opportunity for action, except the occasional punch or two. The action here is the tension between the men. First and foremost there's pilot Towns' friction with the Kraut airplane designer, Dorfmann. Towns (James Stewart) is a man of old-fashioned practicality whereas Dorfmann is a visionary. Between the two is Towns' assistant, Moran (Richard Attenborough), who understands & likes Towns but sees the genius of Dorfmann.

A stiff-upper-lipped British officer and his sergeant provide more tension. The officer always seems to make the quasi-heroic decision that, while admirable on the surface, is usually the dumbest choice. The sergeant realizes this and is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Does the British Army's chain of command mean anything in such a survival situation? Should he follow this boneheaded officer to a premature grave in the name of respect and loyalty or should he follow the wiser choices for the sake of survival? Towns despises the sergeant for choosing the latter, but is he really wrong? It's debatable.

Other notables are on hand, like Ernest Bornine, Christian Marquand, George Kennedy and Ian Bannen. Borgnine's excellent as a half-crazed employee sent home in the company of his doctor, played by Marquand. One passenger resorts to constant joking and mocking to cope with the situation (Bannen).

The film runs 2 hours and 22 minutes but the drama is so well-written it doesn't seem that long. Like all great films it pulls you in and holds your attention until the end.

The film was shot, believe it or not, in the desert areas of Imperial County in SE California, as well as Yuma.

DVD INFO: Some whiners complain about the DVD being butchered, etc. but I just viewed it and everything looked great and there were no scenes cut out.

FINAL WORD: "Flight of the Phoenix" is one of the greatest survival adventure-dramas ever made. Although there's a little bit of datedness, the film stands head-and-shoulders above the 2004 remake.


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6 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

grand adventure and great survival movie

Author: drystyx from United States
13 February 2008

In case you haven't heard already, this movie is about a plane that wrecks in the desert, and the struggles of the survivors to keep surviving.

The cast is all star: James Stewart is an the protagonist, an experienced pilot, but considered aged by a character who slowly emerges as his antagonist, Hardy Kruger, who is the young smart college guy who can save them. Stewart's character doesn't buy this, and the arbiter character, his navigator played by Richard Attenborough, tries to bring a peace between these two when he realizes it is the only hope they have of surviving.

Meanwhile, other characters have other ideas of survival, notably a British officer played by Peter Finch, who has one troop, Sgt. Watson, played by Ronald Fraser. While Stewart dismisses Finch's plans of traipsing through the desert, he clearly believes it better than what he considers half cocked ideas by the upstart Kruger. He learns better, but is unsure of what he is learning.

A brilliant look at clashes of personalities in a situation where everyone needs to work together. Even if George Kennedy and Dan Duryea are little more than bit players, it is good to see such giants. This is an all star cast, so some stars were relegated to smaller than usual roles. The characters are all well drawn and played.

A brilliant and scenic movie, excellent in every aspect. I can't imagine anyone being disappointed at seeing this movie.

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6 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

A must see for people over 40 and an appreciation for acting...

Author: dznutz45 from United States
18 August 2005

I would have a hard time omitting this from my top 25 movies of all time. To start I have not come across this movie on ANY list of top 100 movies ANYWHERE. This movie isn't from the 90's so if you're looking for special effects you're better off watching Die Hard or Lord Of The Rings.... Flight Of The Phoenix was made in the 60's and relied more on acting than it did special effects. Honestly I thought Richard Attenborough did about as terrible a job of acting as he possibly could while Hardy Kruger (Heinrich Dorfmann) a virtual unknown more or less made the movie as good as it was. At the time I am writing this there was 2812 votes and it had a rating of 7.6 out of 10.... not bad considering it doesn't make the top 100 lists. I have to note I am very curious as to why 19 people gave it 1 vote and 11 people gave it 2 votes. Were they watching the same movie that I was? It is simply a story of survival and human reaction under very stressful circumstances. I have watched it at least 10 times and it keeps getting better each time. Knowing people in their 20's i can tell you right now most of them (97% or higher) won't like it because it doesn't have special effects and relies solely on the ability of actors who had to act.

A MUST SEE movie if you are over 40... in my opinion of course.

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6 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

The Nature of Machines

Author: Sabrejetp from United Kingdom/Germany
15 April 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Phoenix is one of the whole time greats. I saw it when it was new in the cinema and I must have seen it fifty times on TV since then, usually turning on half way in and then getting hooked again. I decided to get the DVD so I could watch it from the start.

This movie has a great cast and a great story. James Stewart plays the pilot who feels he is responsible for the deaths of several of his passengers following a forced landing in the desert. Eventually, he and the rest of the survivors are persuaded by Dorfmann (Hardy Kruger) to attempt to build an aircraft from the remains of the old one. The survivors are a very mixed bag; Ian Bannen does a wonderful job as Crow the obnoxious one. Ronald Frazer has Sgt Watson is another beautifully played sad case but by the end of the movie they've done enough to make us care about them.

Aircraft bits dominate almost every shot and the movie illustrates beautifully the nature of machines; normally we see aircraft only has complete things, continuous and perfect. We could miss the fact that they are made of parts, each one crafted to a determined shape. Parts which if put together in a certain way can subjugate the laws of nature.

Dorfmann has to figure out how to make a plane from what's left intact of the old. He must come up with a design that's viable. He has to work everything out, how the old plane must be torn apart, how the parts of it will be moved around, and how they will be reassembled, how the controls must be rigged. In reality this would be an almost superhuman feat. Could a real life aircraft designer do such a thing? And Dorfmann is very young, what young engineer would have been involved in the entire lifecycle of aircraft production? But of course Dorfmann's company makes model planes, and Dorfmann has always had to design everything on his projects!

The pilot Towns (James Stewart) has to surrender his authority to Dorfmann so that the new plane can be built. Towns doesn't believe the plane is feasible but he is persuaded that the project is better than letting them sit around waiting to die. Towns doesn't want to be responsible for more deaths should the plane get finished. Towns rails against Dorfmann long and often but always Dorfmann is right and Towns wrong. But Dorfmann knows he needs Towns' skills to fly the plane.

After many problems the plane is finished and Towns must start it up and fly it. The point where Towns climbs aboard and pulls the ladder up behind him is very sweet. This is where the Towns takes the plane back from Dorfmann. He must use all his skill and experience to get the engine started.

The engine can only be started with a Coffman starter, a cartridge system. If the engine does not start all their efforts have been wasted, but at least Towns won't have killed more in another crash. But Towns will have failed as a pilot if he does not get the engine started.

In the event, of course Towns chooses to start the engine and is shown to have skill and knowledge that Dorfmann does not have. In one sense getting the engine going is the end of the story, Towns has finally made his choice and committed wholeheartedly to the project and in doing so got his self respect back.

And now with the motor going the Phoenix has ceased to be a collection of useless parts, it's become the difference between life and death and every last one of them has made it happen.

Paul Mantz a veteran pilot of movies from Howard Hughes's day was killed flying for this movie. Perhaps that is why the actual flying shots look a bit truncated; we don't actually see the Phoenix land and the scene where the survivors appear over the horizon looks rather naff and smacks of cheap TV movie. Well nothings perfect but Phoenix comes pretty close.

BTW in the original story Krugers character is called Stringer, (model aeroplane fans will get it)

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