Dark Of The Sun – A Lukewarm Rendition of A Rich Premise

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Action/ Drama/ Suspense
Director: Jack Cardiff
Year: 1968

Rating: ★★☆☆☆


Dark Of The Sun is blessed with a premise pregnant with possibilities, rife with appropriate cynicism. In an African country torn apart by civil war, the government is running out of money to defend itself. If the rebels win, there will be a bloodbath, as in Rwanda.

But there is a way out. The president hires two mercenaries, Curry (Rod Taylor) and Ruffo (Jim Brown) to retrieve a cache of diamonds from the Northern part of the country, behind the lines of territory controlled by the rebels.

Here’s the cynical part. European diamond companies are funding the war, but they won’t continue to do so unless they get their diamonds back. The banker holding the diamonds could have gotten them out before the conflict started, but didn’t because he knew the military would abandon his people rather than expend military resources to rescue them. So the mission to retrieve the diamonds is disguised as a humanitarian mission to rescue the bank employees.

Curry is your standard mercenary who is in it for the money. On the other hand, Ruffo is from the unnamed African country, and fights out of patriotic motives. There is also a wild card character named Henlein (Peter Carsten), an ex-Nazi who still wears a swastika on his uniform as a sentimental gesture. Ruffo insists that Curry hire him for the mission because he’s most competent officer available, even though both men know that he isn’t to be trusted and might very well attempt to steal the diamonds if he finds out about them.

Aside from having a compelling premise, the filmmakers are willing to get a little nasty. One character has a flaming torch thrust into his mouth (filmed tactfully) by a rebel soldier. Another character we like is executed summarily with a bayonet in the back.

Director Jack Cardiff films the proceedings professionally, giving some scenes a nice snap.

But all that isn’t enough.

The problems with the film mostly stem from the screenplay by Ranald MacDougall and Adrian Spies, based on a novel by Wilbur Smith.

First off, there isn’t nearly enough compelling incident to make Dark Of The Sun successful as an action film. There is only one major setpiece, although in all fairness, it’s a doozy.

After a disastrous engagement with the rebel forces, the civilians have been captured by the rebels, but more importantly, the rebels have taken possession of the diamonds. Ruffo comes up with a daring and ingenious plan to retrieve the diamonds. It’s by far the most effective sequence in the movie.

Now, the lack of action didn’t have to be a deal killer, as long as the personal drama, politics, and ethical dilemmas were rich enough. As I recall, The Guns Of Navarone was very effective for just that reason.

But unfortunately, the character dynamics are nothing special. And some of the dialog is downright awful. Here’s a sample:

Claire: Curry’s a hard guy to be away from.
Ruffo: He’s a hard guy to be with sometimes, too. Between us, he’s tough and he’s mean and he won’t give you that extra little part of himself that you need. And that hurts.
Claire: So, what do you do?
Ruffo: Hurt. He’s worth it.

Mostly, the actors are serviceable, except for Yvette Mimieux, on the occasions when she is called on to project extreme duress. Her attempts at panic, grief and shock after her husband is massacred by the rebels are an embarrassment.

Finally, the screenwriters, beyond the setup, don’t have any trenchant insights into geopolitics or the moral nature of war itself.

Dark of the Sun is both shallow and, for too much of its running time, unexciting. It’s a barely okay time waster, nothing more.

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