Dark of the Sun (1968) is a contrast of traditions
Dark of the Sun (1968) was a movie I had never seen before, but it was a surprising treat, of old-fashioned movie traditions and modern characteristics too. If anything, this movie is not your father’s war movie. It has nothing I was expecting, even of its leading man, Rod Taylor.
The only movies I know Rod Taylor from are The Time Machine (1960) and The Birds (1963). The Time Machine has more old-fashion movie traditions than you can shake a stick at, and has a slow pace. The Birds is a Hitchcock classic. How he went from those two movies to arriving at Dark of the Sun is beyond me. You’ve got to respect Rod Taylor for stretching himself in this one, because he does good work and it shows. He holds the whole thing together, for better or worse.
Dark of the Sun takes place during the Congo Crisis and the upheaval going on in Africa during the 1960s. The same sort of upheaval can be seen in Leonado DiCaprio’s Blood Diamond (2006) and these two movies do have some things in common. Basically, both movies revolve around greed and violence, perpetrated for diamonds. I would say Dark of the Sun has MORE violence than most 60s movies I can name off the top of my head and it has an antagonistic tone which is hard to stomach. What I’m trying to say is that this movie is not very fun. It’s not trying to be fun. It’s trying to be real in a time when things were heavily censored.
The realities going on in Africa at the time were violent, desperate and grim, which the movie portrays pretty well. Rod Taylor’s character Bruce is a mercenary, and loses almost everything in the movie, from his morals to his self-respect. Taylor delivers on this descent and does a great job. The last twenty minutes where Bruce loses his mind over the death of his friend is probably the highlight. It is brutal.
I have never seen this movie on television before yesterday, and I can only guess that it is not the kind of movie for mainstream audiences. It’s the kind of movie shown late at night for some reason, probably so everybody doesn’t become depressed at its showing. Speaking of a somber and depressing tone, Quentin Taratino has Dark of the Sun as one of his favorite films, and said it influenced his work. That I can believe, as brutal and honest elements seem to be his trademark.
The contrast of traditions in Dark of the Sun makes it progressive. You’ve got the setup, which is like most other military adventure movies, like The Dirty Dozen. However, unlike The Dirty Dozen, Rod Taylor’s troop of ruffians is assaulted by the violence around them. Nothing is black and white. Rod Taylor’s Bruce teams up with an ex-Nazi for God’s sake. That ex-Nazi is a jerk is played by Peter Carsten, who turns out to be a turncoat jackass, to nobody’s surprise. His character is pretty much a jerk from beginning to end, so much so I was wondering why he was being kept around. Probably the guy with more morals than anybody is deceived, betrayed, and murdered, stabbed through the stomach on screen for everyone to see. If that’s not stepping on traditions, I don’t what is. This moral guy is Ruffo, played by Jim Brown of all people. Yes THAT Jim Brown, the football star. His character’s death signals the end of Bruce’s morals, and it is where the movie goes from a little violent to mostly violent.
In all, Dark of the Sun was a good find and an excellent movie. It has elements of adventure, which is probably why it has a good pace. It has action and fights, and a decent environment, sucking you into the violent Congo and damaged Africa. If you can get past the violence and the brutal tone, you might find it interesting. I don’t know why it is relegated to late night TV. Although The Time Machine is a personal favorite, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about with Dark of the Sun.