On Blu-ray: Rod Taylor, Jim Brown and Yvette Mimieux in Dark of the Sun (1968)


It has long baffled me that Rod Taylor was not a bigger star. A romantic, heroic figure with acting chops to boot, he was capable of handling any role and capturing a widespread audience. His performance in Dark of the Sun (1968) is one of his best, because it captures every facet of his persona, from the rugged to the gallant. An effective cast joins him in this bleak, but riveting action flick. The film recently made its debut on Blu-ray from Warner Archive.

Taylor is Bruce Curry a mercenary who flies into the Congo with his best friend Ruffo (football-player-turned-thespian Jim Brown) to accept a job. They are on a supposed rescue mission, though they are actually there to recover a fortune in diamonds for the president. The men are given a steam train and a pack of soldiers to take them through territory made treacherous by the violent Simba uprising. Taylor also hires alcoholic Doctor Wreid (Kenneth More) and the shifty, but skilled ex-Nazi Heinlein (Peter Carsten) to fill out the team. Along the way they pick up the traumatized Claire (Yvette Mimieux) whose husband has been killed and house destroyed by the Simbas.

From the beginning of the film, violence is in the air. As Curry and Ruffo ride into town, they look out bullet hole-ridden windows at the litter of violence: trashed cars, cowering people, and the sort of quiet that always means bad news. It is a rare moment of ominous calm.

Once the mission begins, the horror of the conflict roars into view. This was a brutal film for the times, with glimpses of severed limbs, glimpses of rape, and an overall feeling of despair in the face of careless violence. That said it does have its moments of pure excitement. Brown and Taylor are magic together and their effortless athleticism in the actions scenes has a timeless appeal.

This was a perfect role for Taylor because it gave him the opportunity to both show off his action star chops and the emotional complexity he was capable of as an actor. He has a strong masculine energy, but it rarely feels overwhelming. Even when he’s slamming his fist into a desk and barking out a command, there’s a humorous lilt to it. It’s like a caress and he uses that compelling charm on both women and men.

It’s fascinating that the strongest emotional connection in Dark of the Sun is between Taylor and Brown. As in The Time Machine (1960), Mimieux has a pleasant chemistry with Taylor, but like in that film, it never sizzles. Of course this is partly because she doesn’t have much of a part to play. If you cut her out completely, you’d hardly notice.

This is not the case with Brown. He is the moral center of the film. Though it often seems it is the voices of others who are steering the emotionally conflicted Taylor in the right direction, he wouldn’t even listen if it weren’t for the empathy Brown inspires in him. It’s a great platonic love story the likes of which are rarely seen between two men in film.

Jacques Loussier’s bold, sweeping soundtrack perfectly captures the feel of the film. He alternates between pounding piano and lush melancholy strings, trading romance and brawn much the way Taylor does. It has the emotional heft of an Ennio Moriccone score and often sounds a bit like the composer’s work, though not quite as quirky.

Color is such an important part of establishing the mood of this film and the Blu-ray image is the best it’s ever looked to me. Special features include a theatrical trailer and a commentary by screenwriter Larry Karazewski, Josh Olson, Brian Saur, and Elric D. Kane that’s a blast because the guys approach the whole thing like a party celebrating the greatness of the film.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

2 comments:

Jinzo 2400 said...

Just got this myself and looking forward to seeing it on BluRay. Jim Brown was underrated as an actor,wasn't he?

KC said...

He really was! Maybe it's mostly the football player thing that causes people to overlook him, but I also think that he is SO masterful and subtle that you almost don't notice the brilliance at play there.

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