Rod Taylor plays Capt. Bruce Curry, a hard-boiled mercenary leader in this raw, gritty action flick directed by Jack Cardiff.
ON THE SCREEN
The film, which depicts the blood-soaked war in the Congo in the 1960’s, maintains a steamy, edgy feel throughout while exploring the morality and motivations of the mercenaries.
Taylor’s intense Capt. Curry is a veteran soldier-of-fortune hired by the president of the Congo for a three-day mission: Curry and his partner, native Congoan Ruffo (Jim Brown), are to lead a train through the war-torn nation to rescue a besieged community. The mercenaries also have a clandestine objective: Bring back a load of diamonds to support the new president’s regime.
With the help of 40 of the Congo’s best soldiers, a Nazi sympathizer (Peter Carsten) and a drunken medic (Kenneth More), Curry and Ruffo set off on an odyssey, constantly facing the threat of attack by vicious rebels. Along the way, they save a beautiful missionary (Yvette Mimieux — Taylor’s “Time Machine” co-star), who softens Curry’s hard edges.
Indeed, the movie is not all gunfire and explosions; there are poignant moments of humanity amid all the tumult. Curry and his band constantly grapple with questions of hate, prejudice and “where to draw the line.”
BEHIND THE SCENES
“Dark of the Sun” is based on a novel by Wilbur Smith and was filmed in Jamaica because the Congo posed political and logistical problems.
In his biography, “Magic Hour,” director Jack Cardiff wrote:
“The Mercenaries” was set in the Belgian Congo but shot in Jamaica, because in Africa we couldn’t find a suitable steam train — a vital part of the plot. Although it was a very violent story, the actual violence happening in the Congo at that time was much more than I could show in my film; in my research I encountered evidence so revolting I was nauseated. The critics complained of the violent content, but today it would hardly raise an eyebrow.
There might have been a little violence off-screen, too, as co-star Kenneth More noted in his memoirs:
Rod Taylor had been an amateur boxing champion before he became an actor, and he and James Brown threatened to settle disputes with their fists. Taylor fancied his chance of knocking out Brown … [who was] six-foot-four and built like a solid brick privy. They appeared to hate each other. Maybe they were only acting….
“Dark of the Sun” has drawn attention from lofty contemporary sources. Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese has listed “Dark of the Sun” among the movies he considers his “guilty pleasures,” saying that the film “surprised me with its unexpected ferocity the first time I saw it back in 1968.”
It’s also a favorite of director Quentin Tarantino, who spent three years trying to acquire a good print of the film and then featured it during his fifth annual film festival, held August 2001 in Austin, Texas. A reviewer called “Dark of the Sun” one of the two “diamonds in the rough of QT 5” and noted that it had tremendous resonance with the audience.
Fans rave about the movie, praising Rod’s ultimate action role. Here’s a sample from Internet Movie Database and Amazon.com viewer comments:
- “A nasty and terrific gem of an action movie, the best of Rod Taylor’s career.”
- “Rod Taylor is really choice in this role: He was easily in his best shape ever and utterly confident as the hardboiled mercenary leader.”
- “Both Aussie Rod Taylor and former Cleveland Browns great Jim Brown are excellent as hard-bitten, greedy mercenaries with (eventually) too good a heart.”
The picture earned Taylor a Golden Laurel award from the American film exhibitors industry as one of the top action stars of 1968. Perhaps he should have won a purple heart as well.
He sprained his knee on four separate occasions during filming, including once when he jumped off a building into a moving jeep and missed his footing. “I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard on a film,” Taylor said.
But while Rod was leaping about the set and doing his own fight scenes, he paused to tell an interviewer where his head was at in 1967:
Once, I was only conscious of making a name as an actor. But in the last three years I’ve become more deeply dedicated and very much more aware of my duty to the public. That’s why I’m doing films like this one. Good old-fashioned entertainment … a big open-air drama. …
It’s funny, though, because of all the films I’ve done, I really did love making “Young Cassidy” most of all. But since people didn’t want to see Sean O’Casey on the screen, that’s OK with me. I’ll wipe it off, because it didn’t entertain.
Yet, it taught me something. I no longer believe in pictures where you have a ball all to yourself and don’t care whether audiences like it or not. And I no longer have any yearning for Olivier-type roles. If I can combine a challenging role that is also entertaining, that’s what I’m looking for. …
I must say that even though “Hotel” was a good, old-fashioned entertainment picture, I still felt rather uncomfortable walking about being sophisticated in it. I think audience find me most attractive as the wild, tough guy who is tough with men and tender with women.
— Photoplay (Britain), August 1967