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The Flight of the Phoenix More at IMDbPro »

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3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

A Strange Premise, Very Well Executed.

Author: screenman from United Kingdom
3 May 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a very daring effort in so far as there is no sexual chemistry. The men - for good or ill - left their women at home. Eminently sensible if you're travelling.

It is a study of attitudes towards disaster. What do you do? Sit around and hope? Go and find help? Or use your brains? This movie examines each scenario in turn and plumps for brains.

People are driven by custom and culture. They think within their comfort zones. And for the most part, these are sufficient. However, when crises strike, they can be a formula for defeat. In order to prevail in a disaster you may have to think beyond the box. You may have to be radical - even ruthless. Sentiment is not conducive to survival. Nature tells us that.

James Stewart plays the pilot. As such, he feels himself to be responsible for everyone. He's a 'good' man, with classic cultural mind-set. He's blinkered by his sense of morality, of right and wrong. He champions the sit-around-and-hope group. It's a hope he secretly knows is next to futile, but he can't confront the alternatives. I find him the least likable of all. In truth; everyone would perish under his benign mis-management.

Dickie Attenborough plays his long-term side-kick. He's a weak, propitiatory figure, rather feminine in his willingness to curry favour. His character is a mender of fences and keeper of the peace. He's not sure what to do, but thinks that going for help in the scorching desert is definitely a loser. As it surely is.

Peter Finch offers the military mind. He champions the go-get-help faction. He's reasonable and decent. But as a commissioned officer he's also a take-charge man, not accustomed to sitting idly about. It's bad for morale.

The others tend to languish in self pity, grim humour, and hope.

The man of the moment amongst this disparate crowd is a little German played by Hardy Kruger. I think the choice of his nationality is unfortunate as it tends to reinforce the stereotypic overtone of ruthless fascism. However, Kruger plays it with complete self-effacing conviction, and I for one find myself rooting for the callous little Kraut all the way. He and he alone has grasped the full enormity of their predicament. But instead of flailing about helplessly, or languishing in a funk, he has set his mind to determine how a logical re-application of their resources might be turned to account. He takes stock, makes measurements, does calculations, and produces a workable plan to build another plane from their wreck.

The pilot, still wallowing in guilt (some passengers have died) and unable to think beyond the box, accuses the little German of being mad, unaware that he actually designs aeroplanes - albeit models.

However, realising that resources are running low, and persuaded at last that any option is better than no option, he agrees to support the plan.

But he is embittered and grudging. It is a rare and quite courageous part for such a 'big name' as Stewart to play. The character is far more flawed than favoured. Resentful of his thwarted authority, he attempts to vex and baulk the German at every stage of the way, leading to some wonderful little confrontations. The best lines of which are deservedly Kruger's.

'Mr Towns, you behave as if stupidity were a virtue. Why is that'? and 'He (Mr Towns) has remembered everything and learnt nothing'.

These are just two of several memorable little quips that invariable leave Stewart's character with lip-quivering impotence. Towards the end, this pilot bates his German antagonist with their seven engine-starter cartridges, deliberately wasting the first four. It's an astonishing and reckless display of spite that threatens everyone's last chance of escape. If anything proves his unsuitability for leadership it is this. And if he'd not been essential to the project; I for one would have shot him.

Ian Bannen plays a slightly-unhinged Scotsman. He does it well. And so he should; he's been doing it often enough. Ronald Fraser plays a weak-willed flunkie, which is also something of a typecast. The excellent Ernie Borgnine plays the role of a man recovering from a nervous breakdown who suffers a fatal relapse. Together with George Kennedy and Christian Marquand they make up a fine character ensemble, which also includes a monkey.

It's a long, slow, struggle of a movie, which is exactly what one would expect such a scenario to be. Their days are numbered, their resources limited; how could it be otherwise. It's also a race against time. Tempers naturally become frayed as fatigue and despair set in. All of the characters are well observed and believable. They're an interesting mix who you care for and curse, just as you would if you were one of them.

Their survival is something of an anti-climax. They were only a short flight from an inhabited oasis. A short flight, but an impossibly long walk. It's an abrupt finish that doesn't quite satisfy me - another couple of minutes should have been added. But the story of logic's triumph over habit, and determination prevailing over doubt is a worthy one, and up-lifting.

However dire things may look; you don't give up until you are dead. That's life.

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3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Suspenseful; good

Author: Robert J. Maxwell ( from Deming, New Mexico, USA
13 April 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It's worth watching. The plot couldn't be simpler. A plane crashes in the desert and the handful of survivors make a new plane out of the wreckage and fly it out. The story is rather too simple for such a long movie but that's okay, because the writers and the director flesh it out with some neat characterizations. What I mean is that this is not only a story about flying an airplane out of the desert, but a neat sketch of the people involved in doing it.

One flaw, which I will get out of the way quickly. The poor Schmuck killed by falling machinery during the crash. His sentimental song is very catchy but doesn't fit in. Otherwise very neatly done.

Well, as long as we're dealing with irrelevancies, let me mention the "hallucination" of the cowardly sergeant. She materializes out of nowhere on the desert and does a seductive dance. I've always liked Barry Chase and always enjoy the display of her pubic symphysis at the end of this dance. Actually, she's quite a good dancer and did some TV specials as Fred Astaire's partner.

Those final moments when they're trying to start the engine are gripping. The make up is crummy. The score is okay. The story is good. The acting is fine. Acting. I like Dan Duryea. He wasn't a particularly good actor but he was a Cornellian and I like him for that. He's usually a weasel. Here, he's an okay kind of guy. Jimmy Stewart has a tough job on his hands, as an actor I mean. He had to portray a man who has misjudged someone. He has to show regret, which is not his forte.

Hardy Krueger is the man who designs airplanes. He's good too. (They're all pretty good.) He's the equivalent of the Nazi in the boat in "Lifeboat", if Walter Slezak had been a neurotic. He has no mercy, not even for himself, and knows exactly what he's doing. Krueger was mixed up in the Hitler Jugend during the war, but I don't care. Should we all be held responsible for the peccadilloes of our 16-year-old selves? Stone the crows -- I was a BOY SCOUT. Anyway Krueger is good in this. He's even better in "Sundays and Cybele."

If there is one outstanding performance it is that of Ian Bannon. "The war -- you know -- Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrwham!" He's superlative, not just here but in almost everything he's done. Of course you could call this hamming it up, but that's the point. The plot is so minimal that ham makes a fine main course.

I ought to mention the climax, in which the men try to start the truculent airplane engine. They only have seven cartridges to do it with. Now, I'm sure you've witnessed this sort of thing a dozen times. The engine sputters. It coughs. But it WILL NOT START. But never, I think, has it been done as well as it is here.

It's a suspenseful story alright but there's some embedded humor as well. I laugh every time I watch the scene in which pilot Stewart and navigator Attenborough learn that they've labored for two weeks in order to build the world's biggest toy airplane -- their dumbfounded expressions.

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3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Graceless Under Pressure

Author: telegonus from brighton, ma
20 November 2001

Not a success when first released, Flight Of the Phoenix plays well on television, though it's awfully long for what it is. Director Robert Aldrich does a fine job with his actors, all of whom are superb, and handles his simple story, concerning a motley group of men whose plane crashes in the desert and who must build a smaller plane out of the larger one in order to survive. It's either fly away home or die an awful and slow death in the desrt from thirst and starvation.

As the pilot of the plane, James Stewart is uncharacteristically cranky and not perticularly likeable, which is the point. Peter Finch and Richard Attenborough offer fine support, but it is the smaller parts players, notably Ian Bannen, Hardy Kruger and Ronald Fraser, who steal the show. Fraser in particular stands out, as he plays a soldier who does not want to take orders, does not want to work, and would like to get home with as little effort as possible, even if it means faking an injury. I love this character, and Fraser plays him to perfection. He is neither hero nor villain, and a lot like those of us watching the film. Indeed, he is more truly an everyman than most allegedly regular guys who are heroes underneath types one normally finds in movies. That this man is NOT an heroic type, but equally NOT a bad fellow after all, makes him a remarkable fellow to find in a movie, though in real life he is, of course, a dime a dozen.

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Plane Crazy

Author: mmallon4 from United Kingdom
31 May 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

James Stewart's career in the 1960's was characterised by below average westerns, a contrast to his amazing run of diverse and ambitious films in the 50's. The Flight of the Phoenix and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance are the two films which broke this mould.

I'm not an aviation expert so I can only speak as a layman but the method in which the men escape from the desert by building a new plane out of the remains of their downed plane doesn't feel implausible, even if the man who spearheads the project designs toy planes for a living. After Frank Towns (James Stewart) and Lew Moran (Richard Attenborough) learn that Heinrich Dorfmann does not actually design real planes he makes a convincing argument that the principals of model plane design are the same and in many aspects of models require much more exacting designs as there is no pilot to fly them.

Hardy Kruger is the big show stealer here as the reserved loner Heinrich Dorfmann. He doesn't conform to the rest of the group often physically separated from them nor does he appear to care what they think of him. He is someone who deals in cold, hard logic and shows little emotion throughout most of the film until he finally warms up towards the end. The intense dislike Towns has for Dorfmann is never explained. OK it is established Dorfmann gets on Towns' nerves but the contempt he has for him is clearly something more than that; in fact on my first viewing of The Flight of the Phoenix I found myself puzzled as to why he was taking such a dislike to him. Although it's never stated the dislike could be due to post war bigotry. Although Dorfmann claims to have not been involved in the war he does hold some Nazi like characteristics such as his lack of compassion for those unnecessary or hindering the survival of the greater good (the greater good!), not to mention the blonde hair and blue eyes wouldn't help Towns' perception of him.

It's no secret that James Stewart was an aviation enthusiast, thus no surprise this role would have appealed to him. As a pilot during the war he bring an extra degree of levity to the role, however this is no nice guy Stewart. Frank Towns is a man with a violent temper - nor did Stewart ever appear in a movie with a face so beat up (kudos to the makeup department for all those nasty looking side effects on the character's faces.). The shot in which he threatens to kill the unknown person stealing water if they do it again as his face goes in and out of the light more than once is intimidating stuff. Likewise The Flight of the Phoenix is piloted by a superb international cast with characters whom have different levels of adjustment to surviving the wilderness. It's a surprise seeing Dan Duryea playing a softie as Standish the account; a total contrast to his other roles as a no good weasel.

"The little men with the slide rules and computers are going to inherit the Earth."

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It's refreshing to see James Stewart playing an aviator . . .

Author: Tad Pole from Vault Heaven
4 January 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

. . . who is NOT one of Hitler's best buddies, for a change. In fact, the main antagonist of Stewart's WWII veteran pilot character Frank Towns in THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX just happens to be a German, who misrepresents himself. Sniffing trouble, Towns fights this pesky Kraut every step of the way, since EVERYONE WOULD DIE if this was based on a TRUE story. However, greatly detracting from the effect of this tale is Hollywood's insistence that the Nazis, the Confederates, and the Commies are all simply misunderstood peoples with hearts of gold who can out-think true American heroes any day of the week. It is somewhat puzzling that Brig. Gen. James Stewart, a red-blooded Yankee war great in real life, would have consented to play the brow-beaten Frank Towns character here, let alone the Benedict Arnold of the Skies in his earlier pilot flick, THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS. Obviously, Mr. Stewart was a better fighter than a script reader. Either that, or the military's cheap pay scale forced him to take roles beyond his true character just for the sake of getting a paycheck.

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A classic adventure yarn...

Author: JasparLamarCrabb from Boston, MA
19 October 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Robert Aldrich directed this now classic adventure yarn. A rag tag group of men crash land in the Sahara with little hope of surviving unless they either walk out or build a new airplane & fly out. That's the plot in its entirety. James Stewart is the pilot, a stubborn curmudgeon who thinks making a new plane is idiotic. Hardy Krüger is the engineer who tries to prove him wrong...though his experience at building planes is rather sketchy. Richard Attenborough is Stewart's right hand man and voice of reason. Peter Finch is a by-the-book British captain and Ronald Fraser his not so brave underling. There's enough suspense and angry confrontations to keep this movie moving at a fast clip. The excellent music score by Aldrich regular Frank De Vol is a major asset as is the cinematography by Joseph F. Biroc. The supporting cast includes Ernest Borgnine as an unstable oil rig worker, George Kennedy, Dan Duryea and Christian Marquand as a level headed doctor.

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Very fine acting, very much worth the watch.

Author: B. Warren from United States
30 September 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a great movie, where plane crashes in desert, and, well, tough to say "spoiler" , since it is almost 50 yrs old and when the movie title says it all. Not to add that 90% of the movie is directed to this one, and ,as movie goes on, only possible outcome.

This is like a Shakespeare play or something as sparse as "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?" Initially one would call it a 'small' movie.... a few characters and a one set stage. But after watching it, seems like a much bigger stage.

It's a good story that allows an amazing ensemble of great actors to strut their stuff. Well, maybe a couple didn't get a chance to fully develop, and one or two might have been a bit 'over the top', but the three keys players were outstanding.

May catch hell for this, but I think one of Jimmy's best. What I didn't know till quite a bit after watching this movie for first time, was how much a Flyboy Jimmy was. It was in his DNA. When he said in the movie: "Time was you could take real pride, in just getting there, flying used to be fun Lou, it really was..." You knew that character he was playing and he were one and the same.

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Survival In The Sahara.

Author: AaronCapenBanner from North America
15 September 2013

Jimmy Stewart plays a pilot of a cargo plane which flies into trouble when a sand storm hits, and it crashes in the middle of the Sahara desert, stranding the passengers in a life and death struggle for survival as they must deal with a limited water supply(though they have plenty of food...pressed dates!) as some of them succumb to madness or cowardice, all the while trying to make a desperate plan work: to use the one undamaged wing to make a new aircraft.

A fine cast that also includes Richard Attenborough, Ian Bannen, Ernest Borgnine, Peter Finch, and Hardy Kruger. Exciting and interesting film is a bit long, but also quite entertaining, and creates a believable atmosphere of desperation that makes the ending all the more satisfying.

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"Mr. Towns, you behave as if stupidity were a virtue. Why is that?" (Dorfmann)

Author: TxMike from Houston, Tx, USA, Earth
22 December 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Set in the Arabian desert, this 1965 movie stars Jimmy Stewart as the pilot of a twin-tailed plane carrying about a dozen oil field workers home for R&R, when a high flying sand storm clogs the engines and forces them down, off course, in the middle of nowhere, without a working radio. At first they are certain a search party will show up and rescue them, with only pressed dates for food, and enough water to last less than two weeks if rationed carefully. Much of the two-plus hour movie is a battle of wills between the stubborn pilot Towns (Stewart) who believes their only hope is to conserve and wait for a rescue party, the stubborn British military man who tries to march out of there, and the equally stubborn German engineer Dorfmann (Hardy Kruger) who believes they can piece together a new airplane from the wreckage and fly to safety. More than anything this is a character study of a ragtag bunch thrown together at random and forced to cooperate for survival. It is a bit slow in spots, and runs a bit long for the story shown, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I kept wondering when they would eat the pet monkey!

SPOILERS are contained in much of the remaining comments. Needing more water, they rigged a still and got drinking water from antifreeze. Their trust was placed in Dorfmann when they found out he designed planes for a living. Only near the end did they find out he designed model airplanes. Still he was their only hope, the right side wing was cut off and mated to the left fuselage, which was cut from the main compartment. This would save weight and allow them to fly with only the one good engine. With Plexiglas fairings over the wing for each survivor, each man lay on top of the wing as the pilot in his snug makeshift cockpit flew the plane on skids down the sand and into the air, where they eventually landed at an oil field oasis.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Terrific Survival Film

Author: Hitchcoc from United States
6 June 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I sometimes forget how much we miss Jimmy Stewart. He is the glue that holds this film together. It has everything one could want in an adventure/survival film. You have a group of desperate men, facing death by dehydration, water supplies almost nil. These people have a multitude of personality traits that are bound to clash. Of course there is the saint and the sinner. There is also the mysterious guy who hatches the plot to take apart a plane and rebuild it as a much smaller flying machine. Because he claims to be an aeronautical designer, everyone listens to him until he reveals that he has only worked with model planes. What starts out as hope begins to dwindle, even though he assures them that the science of aeronautics applies to all flying machines. Stewart is not perfect, but he has the bull-headedness and the respect of most of the crew members and when it comes to desperation, he is going to make it work or die trying. There is a terrific scene at the end where they must decide whether to use one of the only starter cartridge to clean the carbon out, limiting the possibility of starting the engine. It will have you on the edge of your seat. I first saw this in 1965 and remember it like it was yesterday.

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