Jacques Loussier’s progressive score tipples through the ear canals with mischievousness. A rescue-mission-as-subterfuge-for-a-treasure-trove framework is practically a porcine genre unto itself but it is the Simba Rebellion (as opposed to World War II Europe) as a backdrop and the central mercenaries that carve out the differences. Australian juggernaut Rod Taylor fraternizes seamlessly with Jim Brown who is less avaricious than his companion since he semi-sarcastically remarks that Africa is “his country”.
Taylor is such a knuckle-dusting charmer (bottles of scotch are a negotiation tool) that one wishes he headlined more pictures other than this, The Time Machine and Darker than Amber. Like Mel Gibson after him, when Taylor is lusting for blood, he snarls like a boar and practically atomizes his nemeses with his knife. 1968 was a climacterical turning-point in cinema in which violent content was less restrictive and characters could straddle into a grayer area of morality.
Before they can even trespass into enemy territory, the group’s steam train is besieged by a “peacekeeping” UN plane. Jack Cardiff’s banshee cry from the Congo locals to the government is “where were you” (as personified by Claire (Yvette Mimieux)) when the conflict is a self-contained tinderbox. For each soldier, the war is esoteric and compartimentalized but Cardiff tactfully avoids a soapbox on such matters.
Henlein (Peter Carsten), the whilom Nazi captain, may be affiliated with the African bureaucracy but he is still a stormtrooper at heart. After Henlein coldly exterminates two children for being potential spies, Bruce (Taylor) indicts him by saying “put your swastika back on; you’ve earned it.” Dark of the Sun is a wanton sleeper masterstroke with breathtakingly rabid set pieces. Notably, when Bruce and Henlein duel with a chainsaw and logs before Bruce nearly decapitates Henlein on the train tracks. The rage within Taylor is palpable when he ferociously pummels Carsten into submission.
Like most rollercoaster rides, the adrenaline rush of absconding with the diamonds is gravely subsided when the trains decouple and the bounty cascades backwards into the inferno. Near the hotel, Cardiff chronicles the rebels’ maelstrom like a sepia-toned Hieronymus Bosch painting with torches impaled into faces, male rape and general primitiveness.
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