Starring James Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Hardy Kruger, Ernest Borgnine, Peter Finch, George Kennedy, Dan Duryea, Christian Marquand, Ian Bannen, Ronald Fraser
Dramatic. Brutal. Character-driven.
Heinrich Dorfmann: Mr. Towns, you behave as if stupidity were a virtue. Why is that?
A cargo plane goes down in the middle of the Sahara desert, hundreds of miles off course and away from any apparent civilization. Its pilot, Captain Frank Towns (Stewart), navigator, Lew Moran (Attenborough), and many passengers face death from all directions: lack of resources, limited water, oppressive heat, and a hostile band of Arab thieves. One passenger, a German and a pariah among the men, Heinrich Dorfmann (Kruger), has an idea that he can rebuild a functioning aircraft, but its up to the others whether or not they put their faith in his unlikely plan. The Flight of the Phoenix is an outstanding survival drama and maybe the best film about leadership, ego, and disparate personalities forced into working together by brutal circumstance. Captain Towns is a proud man with decades of experience fueling his stubbornness, but perhaps there are things he doesn’t know, things the younger men can teach him. Lew is the mediator. He loves and respects his Captain but he suspects that they might need Dorfmann in order to survive. Dorfmann, meanwhile, is a tyrant when it comes to it. He’s petty, arrogant, confrontational, and it’s unclear whether he’s a genius or a madman. Captain Harris (Finch) is the stereotypical British soldier, stiff upper-lip, brave, adheres ceaselessly to the book, even when the elements make that book absurd. Ratbags (Bannen) is sarcastic and apathetic. Dr. Renaud (Marquand) is compassionate. Trucker Cobb (Borgnine) loses his mind. Standish (Duryea) leans on his religion, and Sergeant Watson (Fraser), perhaps the most-loathed character across all film, is a coward. These characters are what make The Flight of the Phoenix so compelling. When the action sequences do come, they’re riveting and impressive, but it starts and ends with the actors and the fine work they do.
-Walter Tyrone Howard-