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With: James Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Peter Finch, Hardy Kruger, Ernest Borgnine, Ian Bannen, Ronald Fraser, Christian Marquand, Dan Duryea, George Kennedy
Written by: Lukas Heller, based on a novel by Elleston Trevor
Directed by: Robert Aldrich
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 147
Date: 12/15/1965
IMDB

The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Deserted

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Robert Aldrich was unappreciated in his time, except for some of the French auturist critics. But, even they were under the impression that he had "declined" by the end of his career, failing to take into account a masterpiece like Ulzanna's Raid (1972). After making B-movie classics like Vera Cruz (1954), Apache (1954), and Kiss Me Deadly (1955), Aldrich became his own producer, and he did have a few huge box office hits, like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), and The Dirty Dozen (1967).

The Flight of the Phoenix gets lost somewhere in the middle there, but it's a terrific and underrated action/adventure movie; especially compared to some of today's Summertime blockbuster "thrillers" like Con Air and Armageddon.

Aldrich managed to attract Jimmy Stewart (as his career was winding down) into the lead role of the airplane captain in this ensemble piece, and the rest of the actors just fell into place. The rest of the cast includes; Richard Attenborough, Ernest Borgnine, Ian Bannen (quite good, and nominated for an Oscar), Peter Finch, and George Kennedy. The plot is something I've seen a hundred times before; a group of strangers are stranded and must work together in order to survive.

This time, Stewart's plane gets caught in a desert sandstorm and goes down. They have water for about 12 days, and a seemingly unlimited supply of dates to eat. The men wait for rescue, but none comes after several days. A German (awfully similar to the one in Hitchcock's Lifeboat, and other such stories) comes up with a oddball plan to rebuild the plane out of the parts that still work. The catch is that it will take them longer to do that than the water will last.

I thought I knew exactly where this movie was going, but it dodged every cliché. My heart was pounding during the climax, when they're trying to start the newly constructed plane. There were even unexpected sequences, such as a group of Arabs setting up camp nearby, but out of sight of the plane (are they friend or foe?). I actually did not know what was going to happen. The reason the movie works is Aldrich. He attacks it, the way he attacks his other movies, with intelligence and ferocity, as if it were the first and last movie ever made.

But, like I said, this is minor Aldrich. It's not as complex and puzzling as Kiss Me Deadly, but The Flight of the Phoenix is very entertaining. Sometimes that's all you need.

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