The Archivist #103: A Brighter Day for DARK OF THE SUN (1968)

Rod Taylor and Jim Brown star in one of the most incredible and underappreciated action films of the 60s

The Archivist — Welcome to the Archive. As home video formats have evolved over the years, a multitude of films have found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Manufacture-On-Demand DVD operation devoted to thousands of idiosyncratic and ephemeral works of cinema. The Archive has expanded to include a streaming service, revivals of out-of-print DVDs, and factory-pressed Blu-rays. Join us as we explore this treasure trove of cinematic discovery!

This article has been updated with Blu-ray screen captures.

In 1967, The Dirty Dozen was a massive smash hit. The gritty men-on-a-mission film featured amoral protagonists and was considered violent for its time. Two years later, Sam Peckinpah’s bloodbath western masterpiece The Wild Bunch roared into theaters — it too was heavily criticized for its violence and perceived nihilism, but ultimately met with cultural and critical success, becoming an undisputed classic and a major piece of our film lexicon.

Fortune is a fickle mistress. Nestled between those two releases is a comparatively forgotten film that was similar to those successes in many respects, but denied the same prominence or accolades. Roundly criticized for its harrowing violence and mean streak, Dark of the Sun has remained relatively obscure over the years before resurfacing as a Warner Archive DVD in 2011, and has since gained traction in cult and classic film circles.

The film stars Rod Taylor and Jim Brown as strapping commandos in the Congo during a period of political uprising, tasked with securing and delivering $50M worth of diamonds for a government which is quickly depleting its financial resources. This secretive directive is performed under the guise of rescuing stranded civilians.

While Taylor’s Capt. Bruce Curry is strictly a mercenary, involved by profession, Sgt. Ruffo (Brown) is a Congolese national, fighting for the stabilization of his own country. The pair are good friends with a natural rapport, but divided on their differing ideologies.

Because of the mercenarial nature of their enterprise, our heroes’ strike force is led by the best officer available to them — a former Nazi who still proudly wears his swastika close to his heart. While the film’s plot is focused on a mission, it’s the continual conflict with this murderous sadist, contrasted with Sgt. Ruffo’s earnest convictions and the influence of a rescued victim of the region’s violence (Yvette Mimieux), that inform its most crucial arc, and pave a path to absolution for the disassociated Captain to reconnect with his lost humanity.

Always visually engaging, the film is immediately striking with its stylish title sequence set to a sweaty score by Jacques Loussier. It follows through with great use of location shooting, with Jamaica filling in for the Congo and major talent behind the cameras.

The Director of Photography was Edward Scaife, ably supervised by legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff, who is in the director’s chair for this film. Scaife was hot off of 70mm epic Khartoum and then The Dirty Dozen, the latter of which set a “men on a mission” template and featured Jim Brown among its ensemble cast — but these elements didn’t translate into similar success.

That’s not to say they shouldn’t have. The film is absolutely in the same vein and quality, and deserving of the same consideration. Those elements so heavily criticized are its most essential and human aspects — the futility and horror of war, the nature of evil, the low valuation of humanity, and ultimately a victory — of sorts — of that humanity over cruelty. The harrowing scenes which horrified audiences are neither gratuity nor exploitation, but rather the very heart of the film’s message.

Now available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive, this muscular and conscientious action film is ready for rediscovery, and it deserves its dark day in the sun.

The Package

Warner Archive’s Blu-ray is a pretty typical no-frills package with Standard Blu-ray case and classic poster art (the same which appeared on the DVD).

Special Features and Extras

A special treat for film fans, this commentary features some familiar names among genre film circles — screenwriters (and Trailers from Hell contributors) Josh Olson and Larry Karazewski, and bloggers/podcasters Brian Sauer and Elric Kane (of Pure Cinema Podcast, et al). As a friend of Brian I’m definitely biased, but even so this commentary track was one of the most exciting aspects of this re-release, and if you’re a DVD owner unconvinced to upgrade to Blu-ray, this agreeable track with spirited hosts is another strong argument in favor of doing so.

Theatrical Trailer

A/V Out.

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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.

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