Movie Review – The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)

Point of note, I watched the remake of this before I’d seen the original but it’s been a while so I won’t be doing a huge comparison between the two. 

Over the past few years I’ve become a big fan of James Stewart and he gives a pretty good performance as the conflicted pilot Frank Towns, as the plane he’s flying crashes in the middle of a desert. Without much water and without much hope the survivors of the crash have to band together to try and find some way to survive. Nearly every one of them has different ideas on how to accomplish that, but it’s only through the calculating and impassive Heinrich Dorfmann (Hardy Kruger) that they have any real chance of escaping their hellish fate. 

I like survival stories and as this one goes it’s pretty good. I think the major players here give good performances and I was especially impressed with Richard Attenborough who portrayed every complicated facet of the navigator. The rest of the cast were okay, some of the survivors were just there for window dressing and they didn’t get much development. Others were cannon fodder, although we got a glimpse into their character. Hardy Kruger was excellent and the tension between him and James Stewart was one of the highlights of the film. 

The other aspect of this film which really stood out for me was the make-up. It looked very disturbing and realistic as their skin cracked and welts broke out on their faces and hands. This, coupled with the actors’ skill at showing the deterioration of their spirits, sold the situation and gave the film an authentic feel. 

Some of it didn’t work, however. I thought the Arabs were just inserted to give the final act a bit of added danger rather than adding anything relevant to the story. They didn’t contribute to the climax in any way and they just felt out of place. I also didn’t like Watson’s story, I may have missed the relevant part because I was pretty tired when I watched the first half (I watched it in two parts) but I didn’t really understand why he was acting like such a douche. The film also dragged a lot as well. It was very slow-paced and that did help the mood because it’s what the survivors must have felt like, but I felt the film could have been trimmed a little. It was just 20-30 minutes too long. 

The cast helps to bring something to the movie but it drags a little bit and if you don’t like drama between characters you’ll hate this film because really the only conflict comes between the characters. It’s not a bad film but I wouldn’t say it’s a great one either and it’s not one that I’m especially eager to re-watch. 

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