The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX (1965) | The Movie Waffler


Blu-Ray Review - THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX (1965)

The survivors of a plane crash attempt to build a new aircraft from the wreckage.

Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Robert Aldrich

Starring: James Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Peter Finch, Hardy Kruger, Ernest Borgnine, George Kennedy, Ian Bannen, Dan Duryea

The Flight of the Phoenix might be a forerunner of the disaster movie, but thanks to the efforts of its cast, it's not entirely a disastrous movie. Eureka's blu-ray looks fantastic, with every grain of sand and stubble distinguishable on screen.

The mid-1960s was a time of transition for Hollywood. The old studio system was crumbling, with an increasing number of Americans staying at home to watch TV while European arthouse cinema was attracting the disposable income of the lucrative youth market like never before. Bonnie and Clyde, Easy Rider and the New American Cinema that would subsequently take off at the decade's end seemed a long way off in an era still beset by rigorous censorship.

There's much talk of contemporary Hollywood being clueless and out of touch with an audience that shows a steadily decreasing interest in the never-ending conveyor belt of sequels, remakes and superhero movies. The same was said of Hollywood in the mid-'60s, when studios filled their movies with all-star casts in a desperate attempt to win over viewers. Many of these all-star spectacles flopped badly, putting a dent in studio financial reports. One such financial disaster was Robert Aldrich's 1965 adaptation of Elleston Trevor's novel The Flight of the Phoenix, making back just over half of its budget and hammering another nail in the coffin of 'Old Hollywood'.

By the time James Stewart signed on for the lead role of aging pilot Frank Towns, his best days were behind him, which made him ideal for the role of a man who knows his days are numbered. Hitting extreme turbulence, Towns is forced to crash land his cargo turned makeshift passenger plane in the middle of the Sahara. Two of the flight's all male passengers are killed. Among the survivors are Towns' ex-alcoholic co-pilot Lew Moran (Richard Attenborough); British Army Captain Harris (Peter Finch) and his long-suffering Sargent Watson (Ronald Fraser); French doctor Renaud (Christian Marquand); a shit-stirring, sarcastic Scotsman, Ratbags Crow (Ian Bannen); an increasingly unstable oil driller, Trucker Cobb (Ernest Borgnine); and a quietly focussed German, Heinrich Dorfmann (Hardy Kruger), who seems to take the situation in his stride amid much post-war bigotry.

When Dorfmann reveals that he's an aeronautical engineer who believes he can construct a new plane from the wreckage of the crash, most of the rest of the men scoff at his suggestion, none more so than Towns, who is quick to point out that a smaller plane couldn't possibly hold all the men. Dorfmann is just as quick to reply with the callous observation that most of the men won't last long enough to see the flight of his 'Phoenix'. Thus begins an interesting standoff between Teutonic pragmatism and American sentiment. On the undercard, there's a class war between the upper-class Captain Harris and his resentful working-class subject, Watson.

It's this first half, in which the various parties bicker among themselves, that proves the highlight of Aldrich's film. Once the men agree to begin work on what many see as folly, much of the drama is lost and we're left to watch an all-star prototype of the sort of men and machines reality shows that pepper the Discovery Channel schedule.

Most of the men involved hold positions that indicate a high level of intelligence, yet the script has them consistently overlook the obvious. What does it matter if the new plane won't carry all the men - surely all that's required is room for Towns to pilot the craft, sending help when he lands? We're constantly told how hungry the men are, surviving as they are on a diet of dates, yet when they come across a limp camel left behind by Arabs, nobody suggests cooking its meat. And given how much effort is put into creating an entire plane from scratch, couldn't someone have had a crack at fixing the radio?

Were the drama sufficiently involving, you might ignore such trivialities, but with much of the film's second half suffering from dramatic inertia, these are the sort of questions you can't help begin to ask. The Flight of the Phoenix might be a forerunner of the disaster movie, but thanks to the efforts of its cast, it's not entirely a disastrous movie. Eureka's blu-ray looks fantastic, with every grain of sand and stubble distinguishable on screen.


Film historian Sheldon Hall discusses the movie in an informative 30 minute interview.
Along with the original mono soundtrack you get a music and effects only option.
Original theatrical trailer.
A booklet featuring writing by Neil Sinyard.

The Flight of the Phoenix is on blu-ray September 12th from Eureka Entertainment.