Flight of the Phoenix (1965) 2:29
dir. by Robert Aldrich
starring James Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Hardy Kruger, Peter Finch, Dan Duryea, Ernest Borgnine, Ian Barmen, Ronald Fraser
Okay. Not my most favorite Robert Aldrich movie [though it really grew on me], but not my least either (that of course would be the Rat Packer Five For Texas). But this one's pretty good, if maybe just a tad longish for my tastes.
In a nutshell: bunch of misfits in a plane flying from somewhere to somewhere else over the Sahara. Plane crashes. Bunch of guys die. Hardbitten old pilot Jimmy Stewart is guilt-ridden. Days pass with no rescue. Oh shit it's really hot in the desert. A few more guys die. Everyone's faces start to peel. German plane designer volunteers idea that they take the wreck of the old plane and build a new, smaller one. Jimmy Stewart tells the German his idea is stupid and will never work. They rebuild the plane. They fly to an oasis. Everyone else lives. The end.
Not exactly an action movie, mostly a character drama. Sort of Twelve Angry Men, rather Twelve Angry Plane Crash Survivors Stuck in the Desert, Going to Die. Of course Robert Aldrich tramples all over that loser Sidney Lumet.
Jimmy Stewart is, of course, fantastic in it. More of a grittier, angrier, Anthony Mann-ish J.S. than the gentler, meeker aw-shucks-ma'am Capra J.S. He hits a lot of really good notes here. That's some quality J.S. exasperation and anger there. Like when he finds out the German airplane designer that everyone's pinned their hopes on, including him (admit it, Jimmy!), albeit reluctantly, actually designs model airplanes. Just a perfect broth of simultaneous rage and despair. It's palpable.
It's not exactly an ensemble piece, since the real show is mostly the friction between Stewart and hyperefficient Teutonic ubermensch Hardy Kruger. It's pretty fun to watch them go at it, Stewart winging it old-school, Kruger doing likewise in his own fascistic fashion. Aldrich is wise in recognizing that the audience instinctively always wants to sympathize with Jimmy Stewart, and he undermines that by making Kruger be kind of, well, right about everything. Kruger really is a despicable person (or, at least, unsympathetically unsentimental) and you really do hate him, but then J.S. will pull some stupid shit because of banged-up pride and guilt at having caused the crash at the cost of five human lives. And you just think, 'Shut up and get back to the winch, Jimmy.'
The movie really gains momentum in the second half, when some of the non-characters have dropped dead, and the remaining characters, short on ideas and even shorter on drinking water, become more and more desperate and/or despairing. It also sort of starts to become an episode of the A-Team (which can probably trace its ultimate genesis to these very scenes), as we go through long montages of the survivors rebuilding the demolished plane under the watchful eye of Der Taskmeister Hardy Kruger.
Richard Attenborough is here a negligible quantity, as are very minor-roled George Kennedy and Dan Duryea. Ernest Borgnine, as a 'mentally exhausted' halfwit who dies about halfway through the movie, is pretty neat though.