Dark of the Sun (1968) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Dark of the Sun (1968)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

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It's weird to say this, but I can't think of the last action movie that actually attempted to push the audience outside of their comfort zone. Do you know what I'm talking about? Haywire had some punishing physical violence, but as brutal as it got, its agenda remained to entertain.

Dark of the Sun on the other other hand pushes the audience to being uncomfortable several times throughout its run. If you've ever heard about the atrocities of Post-Colonial Africa, you've already got an idea of the world Dark of the Sun is set; massacres, rapes, and lawless looting and pillaging. Director Jack Cardiff (also the director behind the excellent Girl on a Motorcycle, which definitely deserves a review one of these days) gives the film a visual pop, as the lush beauty of the Congo is soaked in blood and screams.

This film is set in the Congo, as the UN troops keep a crooked in President in power while a murderous warlord reeks havoc in the nation's countryside. The President wants to stay in power, the people are getting massacred, and there doesn't seem to be much anyone can do.

Curry (Rod Taylor) and the shit he has to deal with.

Descending into the fray are Curry (Rod Taylor) and Ruffo (Jim Brown). They're friends first and coworkers second. Their job is in the field of being mercenaries, aka guns for hire, and they've been called in to do the dirty business for the Western-backed president. He's in a bit of a bind, and one remote town may hold the key to the conflict: a vault full of diamonds. The only trouble is that the town is cut off by roving bands of thugs and murderers, looking for any opportunity to stick it to the President. He elects Curry and Ruffo to sweep in and save the stranded townsfolk... and those diamonds.

The trick is that they have three days to do it, and between them and the town are the United Nations forces waiting for a fight. And that's on top of the aforementioned roving warlord who murders and rapes anyone who dares oppose him. In summation, not a very pleasant situation.

But Curry and Ruffo are game. Since this film comes was made shortly after The Dirty Dozen, a small team is formed to take the rails to the remote village. Forty of the President's best men are to come with, but, unfortunately, with the men come their leader, Heinlein (Peter Carston). He's the charming guy who commands a legion of blacks but keeps a swastika pinned on his uniform.

The three men, along with an alcoholic doctor named Wreid (Kenneth More) and their contingent of troops, head into the abyss. In most movies, you'd be right in assuming that forty five men seems like overkill-- here it's a scenario where every man counts.

Yeah, don't fuck with Jim Brown. I said it and I'm proud.

The film soon becomes a veritable retelling of Heart of Darkness, as the civilization slips away and the mercenaries begin to find new atrocities and horrors regularly, barely escaping a few themselves. While Heart was mainly about one man, it's the relationship between Curry and Ruffo that both separate and identify it.

Curry is an American through and through, happy to take the government's money to do his job. He has no personal stake, views the world as simply screwed, and sums up his feeling about the Ruffo's indignity about another country smuggling arms in with this gem of a quote:

The gun's Chinese, Ruffo, paid for by Russian rubles. The steel probably came from a West German factory built by French francs. Then it was flown out here on a South African airline probably subsidized by The United States.

Ruffo is a Congolese; he's from the country they're fighting for now, and has a stake in returning it to a functioning society. The two men are friends, but where this conflict is concerned, they're both leery of each other. Ruffo admits he'd take fighting for his country over money, and Curry asks him what would happen if they found themselves on opposite sides. "I'd fight you. But I wouldn't like it," Ruffo grudgingly admits. Their friendship becomes especially important as the descent continues and it becomes easy for one of the men to betray the other in order to survive.

But things continue to get bleak.

I briefly mentioned the brutality of the film a couple of times before, but I kind of skimmed out on the details. Let's go into it a bit, spoilers-a-plenty.

The film's political stances start pretty early on. Away from the action of the bounty hunter politics the film will eventually explore, we instead open with a white man handing over his passport to customs as he prepares to leave the country. Opens with a man leaving the country, reporting the rest of his family in his passport family was murdered. The customs man just nods in sad agreement; its a story he's heard time and again.

The President that Curry eventually meets is black, but obviously being propped up by the United Nations, and even more obviously being controlled by some big money, fat old white men. Their nation may no longer be a colony, but it's still subjugated, even in the relative peace of the war torn capital.

For those not in power, the Africans continue to try and purge the white populace and those who collaborated with them. As Ruffo and Curry and their force escape with the townsfolk, a mishap occurs and many of the people end up stranded in the warlord's hands; one man shoots his own wife to spare her from what happens next.

Curry, Ruffo, and Henlein escape along with a couple of people and the diamonds. When Ruffo ends up being killed by Henlein for the jewels, Curry, in spite knowing that Ruffo would have forbid him to do it, chases down Henlein in a murderous rage.

Henlein has a chainsaw and isn't afraid to use it.

From this it's easy to understand that the film, in its structure, is really about the West (and specifically America) coming to grips with the ugly, violent legacy of colonialism. When Curry tracks down and beats Henlein to death in an incredibly sadistic manner, he finds himself repeating the European power games that have been cycling through on the continent for decades. No matter how well intentioned, it was against Ruffo's wishes. He himself has become simply yet another person to exploit the continent for monetary gain with a complete disregard for honor.

Dark of the Sun starts off seeming like an unremarkable action movie, good for a vicarious thrill, but it's a rather rare subversion of the genre to underline the evils racism and arrogance perpetrated on the unwilling. It never stops being exciting and intense, but it turns those early feelings of excitement into a rudimentary dread: what have we wrought?

These blights may not directly be the audience's fault, but the implication of willing ignorance exists all the same. When Curry faces up to what he's done-- his apathy towards the Congolese's situation and the murder he committed-- he's not just surrendering to redeem himself, but to attempt to redeem a world that let things like this happen.

He becomes a martyr for a better tomorrow by facing up to his responsibilities; it's a shame the world refused to follow suit.

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Posted by Danny

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