By Richard Winters
My Rating: 8 out of 10
4-Word Review: Stranded in the desert.
Based on the novel by William Mulvihill the story centers on a group of six individuals, five men and one woman, who fight to survive the blistering heat of the Kalahari Desert when their plane crashes after it’s struck by a large swath of locusts. Instead of working together as a team the group quickly disintegrates with infighting and tensions. The young and virile Brian (Stuart Whitman) who initially takes control of the situation starts to feel that his own survival would be heightened if there were less people needing food and water, so he decides to carefully eliminate them one-by-one, which leads to many interesting confrontations and a very unusual climactic finale.
Filmed on-location in Namibia the desert becomes its own character. The stunning sandy landscape is breathtaking and watching the characters walk along it under the crystal blue sky becomes almost awe-inspiring particularly during birds-eye view shots. The viewer feels like there are right there feeling the heat along with the rest of the characters. Writer/director Cy Endfield keeps things on an authentic level and stays for the most part faithful to the book with the exception of changing one of the characters who had been African American in the novel to Caucasian here. His use of actual animals is what impressed me the most particularly the baboons who become a major part of the story as well as seeing a live scorpion crawling up a man’s arm. The only real technical weakness is the cloud of locusts forming on the horizon, which looked like dust being sprayed on the plane’s windshield and when they started to splatter onto the window it looked more like scrambled eggs and not quite as impressive as I think the filmmaker’s had hoped.
I also had a bit of a problem with the Sturdevan character, which had been the plane’s pilot and is played by actor Nigel Davenport who attempts to rape Grace (Susannah York) after they had only been stranded in the desert for a day and a half. I felt this was too quick for people to so suddenly drop their civilized veneers and cave into their more animalistic urges. I could see this maybe occurring after being there for weeks or months, but I would think initially the urgency would be finding help and just plain surviving and sex being the last thing on anyone’s minds. This same issue occurs with Grace who becomes romantically attached to Brian and even professes her ‘love’ for him after only a couple of days, which again seemed too rushed. The romantic scenes make the film seem soap-opera like and gives it an unnecessary melodramatic feel that does nothing but bog down the pace.
Whitman whose career dissipated after the 60’s and was confined with less significant roles and films is memorable here. The character who comes onto the plane at the last second is initially big and brawny heroic and watching him devolve into a selfish anti-social man is interesting as are the scenes with him trapped in a hole. The segment where he throws a fire into a cave filled with baboons and then shoots the animals as they run out is quite startling. I also enjoyed York. She has always been a splendid actress, but here with her blonde hair matched against her red skin and torn dress looks genuinely sexy.
The one-on-one confrontations between the characters especially the one between Grimmelman (Harry Andrews) and Brian and then later between Brian, Grace and Mike (Stanley Baker) is what helps the film really stand-out. I would have liked it played-out a bit more, but the twist that comes at the end is indeed unexpected and leads to one of the more unusual climactic sequences you will ever see.
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Release: November 24, 1965
Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes
Director: Cy Endfield
Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video