Dark of the Sun / The Mercenaries
Rod Taylor plays Capt. Bruce Curry, a hardboiled mercenary leader in
this raw, gritty action flick directed by Jack Cardiff.
ON THE SCREEN
The film, which depicts the blood-soaked war in the Congo in the 1960s,
maintains a steamy, edgy feel throughout while exploring the morality and
motivations of the mercenaries.
Taylor's intense Capt. Curry is a veteran soldier-of-fortune hired by
the president of the Congo for a three-day mission: Curry and his partner,
native Congolese Ruffo (Jim Brown), are to lead a train through the war-torn
nation to rescue a besieged community. The mercenaries also have a clandestine
objective: Bring back a load of diamonds to support the new president's
With the help of 40 of the Congo's best soldiers, a Nazi sympathizer
(Peter Carsten) and a drunken medic (Kenneth More), Curry and Ruffo set
off on an odyssey, constantly facing the threat of attack by vicious rebels.
Along the way, they save a beautiful missionary (Yvette Mimieux -- Taylor's
"Time Machine" co-star), who softens Curry's hard edges.
Indeed, the movie is not all gunfire and explosions; there are poignant
moments of humanity amid all the tumult. Curry and his band constantly grapple
with questions of hate, prejudice and "where to draw the line."
BEHIND THE SCENES
"Dark of the Sun" is based on a novel by Wilbur Smith and was
filmed in Jamaica because the Congo posed political and logistical problems.
In his biography, "Magic Hour," director Jack Cardiff wrote:
"The Mercenaries" was set in the Belgian Congo
but shot in Jamaica, because in Africa we couldn't find a suitable steam
train -- a vital part of the plot. Although it was a very violent story,
the actual violence happening in the Congo at that time was much more than
I could show in my film; in my research I encountered evidence so revolting
I was nauseated. The critics complained of the violent content, but today
it would hardly raise an eyebrow.
There might have been a little violence off-screen, too, as co-star Kenneth
More noted in his memoirs:
Rod Taylor had been an amateur boxing champion before
he became an actor, and he and James Brown threatened to settle disputes
with their fists. Taylor fancied his chance of knocking out Brown ... [who
was] six-foot-four and built like a solid brick privy. They appeared to
hate each other. Maybe they were only acting....
Despite such reports and other myth-making about
fights between Rod Taylor and Jim Brown, the two seemed to get along well
on the set.
And in regard to fighting, they
definitely had their playful moments (see photo, below), and they
had to do did five takes of a realistic fight scene that included a
flying tackle by Brown, a superstar football player, on Taylor, an
actor. That would certainly make one grumpy. But whether there were
any real fighting is unclear.
(There is another legend that the two
engaged in a fist fight outside the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles a
few years later. It's a tale that has captured Quentin Tarantino's
imagination, and he includes it in the "Once Upon a Time in
Hollywood" novel tied in to the film.)
Further insight to
the Jim Brown-Rod Taylor dynamic has been provided by "Dark of the
Sun" producer George Englund in an interview by
author Stephen Vagg for "Rod Taylor: An Aussie
in Hollywood." Englund recalled some off-screen dynamics between
Rod and Jim and described Rod as "a very competitive guy" and referred to
his "swaggering ego" at the time.
"Sometimes he was
very helpful to Jim and they worked well together," Englund told
Vagg. "[But] there was a kind of jungle sniffing that went on
between the two of them… Rod was more into it than Jim Brown, 'Who’s
the toughest guy?'… It was a kind of macho thing going on between
them, but it ebbed and flowed. Rod at the best of times would help
In interviews, Rod
had nice things to say about Jim Brown: "I know that this is only
Jimmy's third picture," Rod said at the time of filming, "so all I can say is that he must
have inherited an awful lot of experience. Added to which he is a
big, good-looking guy, extremely sensitive and intelligent. Playing
in scenes with him is a pleasure."
"Dark of the Sun" has drawn attention from lofty contemporary
sources. Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese has listed "Dark of
the Sun" among the movies he considers his "guilty pleasures,"
saying that the film "surprised me with its unexpected ferocity the
first time I saw it back in 1968."
It's also a favorite of director Quentin Tarantino, who spent three years
trying to acquire a good print of the film and then featured it during his
fifth annual film festival, held August 2001 in Austin, Texas. A reviewer
called "Dark of the Sun" one of the two "diamonds in the
rough of QT 5" and noted that it had tremendous resonance with the
Fans rave about the movie, praising Rod's ultimate action role. Here's
a sample from Internet Movie Database and Amazon.com viewer comments:
"A nasty and terrific gem of an action movie, the
best of Rod Taylor's career."
"Rod Taylor is really choice in this role: He was
easily in his best shape ever and utterly confident as the hardboiled mercenary
"Both Aussie Rod Taylor and former Cleveland Browns
great Jim Brown are excellent as hard-bitten, greedy mercenaries with (eventually)
too good a heart."
The picture earned Taylor a Golden Laurel award from the American film
exhibitors industry as one of the top action stars of 1968. Perhaps he should
have won a purple heart as well.
He sprained his knee on four separate occasions during filming,
including once when he jumped off a building into a moving jeep and missed
his footing. "I don't think I've ever worked so hard on a film,"
But while Rod was leaping about the set and doing his own fight scenes,
he paused to tell an interviewer where his head was at in 1967:
Once, I was only conscious of making a name as an actor.
But in the last three years I've become more deeply dedicated and very
much more aware of my duty to the public. That's why I'm doing films like
this one. Good old-fashioned entertainment ... a big open-air drama. ...
It's funny, though, because of all the films I've done,
I really did love making "Young Cassidy"
most of all. But since people didn't want to see Sean O'Casey on the screen,
that's OK with me. I'll wipe it off, because it didn't entertain.
Yet, it taught me something. I no longer believe in pictures
where you have a ball all to yourself and don't care whether audiences
like it or not. And I no longer have any yearning for Olivier-type roles.
If I can combine a challenging role that is also entertaining, that's what
I'm looking for. ...
I must say that even though "Hotel"
was a good, old-fashioned entertainment picture, I still felt rather uncomfortable
walking about being sophisticated in it. I think audience find me most
attractive as the wild, tough guy who is tough with men and tender with
-- Photoplay (Britain), August 1967