The Flight of the Phoenix
Year:
1965
Country:
USA
Genre:
Drama, Adventure
IMDB rating:
7.6
Director:
Robert Aldrich
James Stewart as Frank Towns
Peter Bravos as Tasso
Alex Montoya as Carlos
Ronald Fraser as Sergeant Watson
Gabriele Tinti as Gabriele
Ian Bannen as Crow
Barrie Chase as Farida
Dan Duryea as Standish
Peter Finch as Captain Harris
Hardy Krüger as Heinrich Dorfmann (as Hardy Kruger)
Ernest Borgnine as Trucker Cobb
George Kennedy as Bellamy
Storyline: A cargo plane goes down in a sandstorm in the Sahara with less than a dozen men on board. One of the passengers is an airplane designer who comes up with the idea of ripping off the undamaged wing and using it as the basis for an airplane they will build to escape before their food and water run out.
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Reviews
When their cargo plane crashes in the Sahara Desert, the only hope for a crew of oilmen is to rebuild the craft before they die of dehydration.
This movie was AWESOME! Nobody overplayed their part, and Jimmy Stewart was an excellent Frank Towns. The storyline was very entertaining. Some crummy sound effects, but nothing that distracted you from the plot. In my opinion, this movie is far better than its 2004 remake with Dennis Quaid.

The ironic story of Heinrich Dorfmann was present in the original but lacking in the remake; a blond-haired, blue-eyed German during the forties and fifties...

Anyway, moving on...in my opinion, you should watch this movie and not bother with the remake.
2006-05-15
Challenged to died or do the impossible, they elect to live!
Elleston Trevor's book is dedicated to those who, given the choice to do the impossible or die, "elect to live." To do so, director Robert Aldrich's plane crash survivors must fight not only thirst and desert heat, but each other—and themselves as well. Jimmy Stewart shines as the proud but aging pilot who cannot accept the authority of the cold and calculating German designer (Hardy Krüger) who knows how to rebuild their wrecked twin-boom Flying Boxcar into a single-fuselage makeshift craft—the Phoenix. (When he finally does, it's one of the most breath-catching scenes in the film—and in Stewart's career.) The ensemble cast is uniformly excellent. Standouts: Richard Attenborough as the alcoholic navigator who mediates between Stewart and Krüger, Peter Finch as the by-the-book British army captain, Ronald Fraser as his quietly (later not-so-quietly) rebellious sergeant, Ernest Borgnine as an oil driller "losing his marbles," and Ian Bannen, nominated for an Academy Award as an acerbic Irish oilman. Even the supporting actors—Christian Marquand, Dan Duryea, George Kennedy—are experienced leads! And the one female role in the film—an Arab dancer seen only in a hallucination—is played by Barrie Chase, Fred Astaire's TV dance partner. Frank DeVol's music is the perfect counterpoint to Aldrich's visuals—especially in the opening credits, when Aldrich freeze-frames each of the actors—including his son William and son-in-law Peter Bravos, playing the two passengers who are killed even before the credits are complete! The basic story begins when a Skytruck, a twin-boom cargo plane, takes off from a remote oil drilling station in the Central Libyan Desert. The passengers are oil drillers beginning a much-anticipated leave, along with a British Army Captain and his sergeant, and a cargo of worn-out tools being returned for replacement. The pilot, Frank Towns (Stewart), is an aging, veteran flier from the seat-of-the-pants-days, when "You took real pride in just getting there." When the radio fails, and a sandstorm springs up, he continues to fly on—after all, forty thousand flying hours amounts to a lot more than "a little local sandstorm." It's a bold decision—and, for the first time in Towns' career, the wrong one. The sandstorm is overwhelming; it chokes first the starboard engine, then the port one. Towns brings the plane down with a great deal of skill but very little luck; he slams into the dunes, breaking up the starboard boom and the undercarriage. Two men are killed, another critically injured—and as the days pass, the survivors begin to realize that they are stranded in the middle of a very big desert—and no one is likely to find them, at least not before the water runs out.

The British Army captain and one of the drillers set out on a gallant—but hopeless—attempt to march a hundred and sixty miles to the nearest water point; another driller (Borgnine) has suffered a nervous breakdown, and wanders off into the desert. The score is mounting—and this is when one other man speaks up. He is a scholarly-looking young German (Kruger) who looks decidedly out of place among the hard-bitten oil workers—and he enthusiastically announces that they have everything they need "to build a new (plane) and fly it out!" They dismiss his idea as a poor attempt at humor, until they learn what he does for a living.

He's an aircraft designer.

The Skytruck is based on the real-life "Flying Boxcar." Envision a railroad boxcar with a cockpit in front, and, on either side, a boom—sort of like an outrigger—an engine, and a wing. If you take the port, or left-side, boom—separate it from the main hull, and attach the starboard wing to it—you have an approximation of single-engine, standard-fuselage airplane.

And eventually, that's just what they do. Under the most appalling circumstances…with nothing to eat but pressed dates…with the water supply constantly on the verge of running out…with exposure raising and bursting blisters on their skin…they bash their wrecked plane apart and bash it together again in the shape of a Phoenix…the mythical bird that rose again from its own ashes.

For James Stewart, it was the last really great role in an extraordinary career. His Frank Towns is not only an old-school flier whose day has already passed him by; he is an old man who chestnuts are being pulled out of the fire by a younger man: one of the "little men with slide rules,| as Towns pits it. And the conflict between these two is, if anything, a bigger threat to the building of the Phoenix than the heat…or the thirst…or the desert.

Finally Stewart has what may arguably be the best scene in all of his many movies. The water is about out, while the pilot and the designer have fought each other to the point that all work on the new plane has ground to a halt. Finally Dorfman appears in the door of the fuselage and tells the survivors, "I want to talk to you. I want to talk to all of you." And when they're all facing him, including the pilot, he puts the question on which their survival hinges: "Mr. Towns, who is in authority here?" Jimmy Stewart does an amazing thing. He draws himself up to his full height, staring the younger man straight in the eye…and then he visibly deflates, and he sighs: "You are." The scene is lifted almost word-for-word from Trevor's novel, as is most of the story. The film opened in 1966 and—crashed, if you will, at the box office. Despite the all-star cast, a long desert survival story with an all-male cast (except for the hallucinatory belly dancer) failed to sell much popcorn. Instead, over the next forty years, it became a staple of late-night movies and home video, and has grown in critical stature until it's regarded as a classic.

P.S. This should NOT be confused with the overblown, clichéd 2004 remake!
2007-02-05
Well-made film that keeps your attention
I saw this during it's initial theatrical release and have seen it several times since. It's a good film and worth looking into if you have never seen it. It runs a little long at 143 minutes but it's a nicely paced film with lots of emotion, conflict, duologue, tension and the dilemma that these people are in you can't help but feel a part of it. A cargo passenger plane crashes in the Libian desert and the survivors must keep their wits about them in their struggle for survival together and their imaginative plan for self rescue. To build a flyable plane out of the wreckage. This was adapted from the 1964 novel of the same name by Elleston Trevor that appeared in segment in Life magazine. Robert T. Aldrich is the director who directed such films as Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, The Dirty Dozen, Ulzana's Raid and The longest Yard. Lukas Heller who worked with Aldrich on several of his films did an excellent adaptation of the story for the screenplay. Cinematography is by Joseph F. Biroc who photographed Aldrich's Ulzana's Raid, Emporer of the North Pole and The Longest Yard and also did such films as Superman, Brian's Song and Blazing Saddles. An all-star cast with James Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Ernest Borgnine, Peter Finch, George Kennedy, Dan Duryea, Christian Marquand and Ian Bannen. Of all those familiar names it was the less familiar to American moviegoers, Scottish born Ian Bannen who was nominated for the Academy Award for 1965 for Best Supporting Actor. The film also received an Oscar nomination for Best Film Editing. Bannen acted in films right up until his death in 1999 and appeared in 1995's Braveheart. Amazingly 41 years after this film three of it's living actors are still acting, Attenborough, Borgnine and Kennedy. It's a well-made film that keeps your attention and I would give it an 8.5 out of 10.
2006-06-07
142 Minutes Of Solid Engaging Cinema
This is a wonderful movie...

You'll be drawn into the claustrophobic struggles of a group of men facing a desperate challenge. The psychology of personality, ego and sheer human determination are all examined here. As an audience, we are treated to some wonderful performances from Hardy Kruger, Richard Attenborough and Peter Finch. The cast is solid as they come with notable American actors; George Kennedy and James Stewart contributing.

Since I happen to know an aircraft enthusiast, I can assure you the passion and knowledge displayed by Heinrich (The model-maker) could get any tin can off the ground. I guess it boils down to the magic of conquering the skies. Men (and these days women) must take to the air... Resulting in the Space Race that is one of mankind's greatest achievements.

Oh, and yes - This original 1965 offering outshines the worthy remake due, in most part, to outstanding character acting.
2012-08-13
Jimmy Stewart as good as ever
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.
2004-09-29
Suspenseful; good
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.
2004-04-13
One of the best survival films ever
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.
2004-12-09
"Mr. Towns, you behave as if stupidity were a virtue. Why is that?" (Dorfmann)
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.
2004-12-22
A Missing Scene?
Like most who've posted here, I love this film, never tire of watching it, and would never think of watching the remake.

One thing that puzzles me, though, is the unresolved fate of Carlos, the character who accompanies Captain Harris on his attempted march after Sergeant Watson feigns his ankle injury.

We know that Harris returns, but Carlos never does.

Now, somewhere in a distant memory I seem to recall a version where we get a shot of Carlos lying on a beach, barely alive, but apparently successful in having walked out of the desert!

Don't know if I'm confusing this with another movie, but if I am, then Carlos remains a hanging thread in all versions I've seen for many years.
2009-11-04
Very fine acting, very much worth the watch.
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.
2013-09-30
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