What follows is a desperate bid for survival amid the terrors of the elements, the dangers of the Arab tribal raiders and most of all the clashing factions of the crash survivors. The light at the end of the tunnel comes in the form of Hardy Krüger's airplane designer Heinrich Dorfmann, who holds the key to building a new, smaller plane from the ashes of the old one... hence the title.
And while the title belies any real worry about what might happen in the end, how they get to that end is a wonder to see, and not even a little bit predictable in its twists and turns! Aldrich takes his time in the building of the plane, allowing for each actor to shine here, there and everywhere as the drama and tension builds. This is no mere second act where the script says "They Build the Plane", but instead is a slow and tense build in more ways than one.
Most of the Drama surrounds Stewart's character as he clashes in both personality and ambition with Krüger's Dorfman, even as he puts all his money on Dorfman, and blames himself for the deaths of the passengers he couldn't save. All the while Attenborough plays the barely successful peacekeeper, consistently imperiled, but never losing his cool.
Ernest Borgnine is great as always playing the psychotic simpleton Cobb, who can help and hinder at a coin toss. George Kennedy's Mike Bellamy and Christian Marquand's Dr. Renaud are both excellent additions too.
What really makes this film work, though, is the complexity of the characters. There's no direct "Let's Go Troops" that you see in many films. Instead the growth here is stunted by fifteen distinct personalities, fifteen distinct agendas, and fifteen distinct modus operandi. This is no simple story, and the complexity makes this worth the viewing.
The Flight of the Phoenix shows its age here and there, however. In many cases the elemental menace is suggested, but not easily believed as most scenes look like they might have been shot on a sound stage. There are also just a couple of logic-leaps one is asked to make before really buying into much of this. However these are small things, and all told, The Flight of the Phoenix is a hell of a well-paced, well acted and rewarding action film for the thinking viewer, and it's highly recommended!
What's surprising here is that the film does not seem to be showing its age in the Special Effects department. Sure there are no Computer Animations and flashy crashes, but there is some excellent use of miniatures and matte paintings here that make the whole shebang feel real!
This is a rare gem, and it's really only getting its second look now that a remake has hit the big screen, but for any reason, it's worth that second look! Hey, the title might make you think the ending is a foregone conclusion, but don't be so sure... there are more surprises here than a jar of beer nuts filled with Spring Snakes, and an ending that had me cheering. Here, the journey makes the final act so rewarding, and it's a great journey to become a part of! Four Stars out of Five for The Flight of the Phoenix, an exceptional action film that requires some intelligence to get behind. So, until I build a motorized unicycle out of my beat up, red, 1988 Mustang, I'll see you in the next reel!
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