Friday, 20 December 2013

Flight of the Phoenix (1965) - ★★★★★

Director: Robert Aldrich
Writers: Lukas Heller (Screenplay), Trevor Dudley Smith (novel)
Stars: James Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Hardy Kruger, Peter Finch, Ernest Borgnine, Ian Bannen, Ronald Fraser, Christian Marquand, Dan Duryea, George Kennedy, Gabriele Tinti

Flight of the Phoenix is quite simply one of the greatest movies ever made. It boasts an unbeatable cast, unreal cinematography, and some absolutely outstanding performances from famous and respected actors. I was gripped from start to finish. It is a suspenseful, emotional journey that not only paints a picture of the madness of men, but also some of the greatest qualities of human beings.

After a plane crash in the Sahara, one of the survivors says he's an airplane designer and they can make a flyable plane from the wreckage. They can either sit and wait for their water supply to run out, or attempt this seemingly impossible mission to live.

The greatest achievement in Flight of the Phoenix is the way the actors convincingly play their parts. They're men, stuck in the desert with a limited water supply and nothing but dates to eat. As days pass and the sun scorches their skin, it seems very unlikely that a search party is still looking for them. With a story like this, there's a fine line between subtlety and melodrama. Director Robert Aldrich found the perfect middle, with just enough drama and reality to make it seem like a perfectly real situation with actual human beings stuck amidst the chaos.


The technical aspects of this film are exceptional. I particularly adored the score by Frank De Vol, who managed to inject the feelings of panic, hope, excitement, tragedy, and a true intensity into the orchestral arrangements. One of the greatest moments in the film comes when the radio plays the song 'Senza Fine', sung hauntingly by Connie Frances. I shed a tear in this scene, because of the stunning performance by Gabriele Tinti, which was elevated to soaring heights by Francis' emotional rendition of the piece. As for the cinematography, I don't believe I need to say much about it. It's so spectacular that it left me speechless. It's kind of like Lawrence of Arabia 2.0, showing both a beautiful and horrifying side of the desert. This whole film is just so well-done, that nothing I say could possibly do it justice.


My personal favourite performance of the legend, Jimmy Stewart. 
Let me go on the record saying this. James Stewart's performance in Flight of the Phoenix is his greatest achievement. Yes, I've seen It's a Wonderful Life, Vertigo, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and many more of his great performances. He's indisputably one of the greatest actors that ever lived, arguably the best. His performance in this film just sticks in my mind... he was indescribably good. He plays the pilot of the plane, who feels the need to be in charge of things even though he may not be the best man for the job. He also feels responsible for the deaths of passengers, which takes its toll on him as time passes and survival seems hopeless. All of these things eating at him are shown on the expressive face of Stewart. You can sense the pressure, the guilt, and the fear just emanating from him. Most surprisingly, his outbursts of anger were spine-chillingly powerful. His fierce looks of disapproval would make anyone cower into a corner. It is a role I've never seen Stewart play, and he just knocked it out of the park. I couldn't imagine anyone being better for the role after seeing his performance.

Richard Attenborough... I just love you. 
Richard Attenborough was my personal favourite performance of the film, and my pick for Best Supporting Actor 1965. Whenever he butted heads with Stewart, you could tell that he belonged to the elite group of masterful actors. He was a soft-spoken, very likeable man that acted as the voice of reason. But every now and then, BOOM! He'd lose his temper with Stewart, and some hauntingly powerful dialogue would be exchanged between the two. His face was priceless towards the end of the film, when he found out something tragically funny about their German engineer. It's my favourite performance ever from Attenborough.

Hardy Kruger shines with an all-star cast.
One cannot talk about this movie without mentioning the unforgettable performance of Hardy Kruger. He starts to take control of the situation, with a hair-brained scheme to build a new plane and fly it to freedom. This pissed Stewart off, which led to many heated exchanges between the two. These arguments were extremely funny, mainly because of the look of superiority from Kruger. His audacity, and damned fine acting, made him such a joy and a pain to watch.

Ronald Fraser, one of the MVP's. 

These three outstanding lead performances are enough to seal this as a masterpiece to me... but wait! There's more! Ernest Borgnine was the perfect embodiment of naivety and madness. Peter Finch was bloody brilliant at being poised, selfless, and strong. Ian Bannen was a wise-cracking, often funny, often insulting bastard (which subsequently got him an Oscar nomination for Supporting Actor). My favourite of these minor roles was from Ronald Fraser, who played a coward, a traitor, and a broken-down man. His scenes of hallucination, fear, and anger were superb.

What more can I say? Flight of the Phoenix is one of the best movies I've ever seen. You honestly can't beat a cast this good! It is so finely crafted, that you'd be hard-pressed to find fault within the film. I love this movie more than words can describe. It's one hell of a suspenseful ride!









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