“There are five people back there on a black mountain in a pure sand desert. They’re starving to death!”
A diverse group of individuals — including a womanizing pilot (Nigel Davenport), a domineering hunter (Stuart Whitman), a failed mining engineer (Stanley Baker), a beautiful divorcee (Susannah York), a soft-spoken doctor (Theodore Bikel), and a former Nazi officer (Harry Andrews) — struggle to survive in the Kalahari desert after their passenger plane crashes.
Released the same year as Robert Aldrich’s Flight of the Phoenix, writer-director Cy Endfield’s survival tale — based on a novel by William Mulvihill — starts with the same premise of a plane crashing in the Kalahari desert, but moves in an entirely different direction. While the survivors of the Phoenix focus on rebuilding a plane that will lift them out of the area, the motley passengers in Endfield’s film become involved in an existential fight for dominance. Indeed, it’s soon made clear that Endfield is primarily concerned with highlighting the passengers’ devolution into primitive beings (much like the tribes of fang-baring baboons occupying the area), as sexual passions flare — York, conveniently gorgeous, is the only female passenger — and Whitman’s increasingly obvious desire for mastery at any cost (he’s the only one in the group with a gun and ammunition) takes hold. While the plot and dialogue occasionally strain credulity, we’re nonetheless intrigued by the “Lord of the Flies” mentality which emerges, pitting passengers against each other. Fine on-location shooting and an unusual script makes this a worthy adventure flick for those who enjoy tales of survival under extreme circumstances.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Fine location shooting
- An often tense and gripping script
- The unexpected ending
No, but it’s recommended. Listed as a Sleeper and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.