by John Farr
John Farr discusses James Stewart’s last great film, directed by Robert Aldrich.
The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)
What It’s About:
After their plane crashes in the Sahara desert, grizzled veteran pilot Frank Towns (James Stewart) and alcoholic navigator Lew Moran (Richard Attenborough) attempt to establish order among a volatile group of male passengers, including British officer Capt. Harris (Peter Finch) and addled mental case Trucker Cobb (Ernest Borgnine), while scrambling for a way to flag down help. All hope seems lost until arrogant German engineer Heinrich (Hardy Krüger) reveals an audacious plan for building a new aircraft from the wreckage.
Why I Love It:
A gripping survival film headed by a superlative cast, Aldrich’s gritty “Phoenix” pits Stewart’s irascible, old-school aviator against Kruger’s smug, ultra-rational scientist, a tense war of wills that anchors Lukas Heller’s intelligent storyline. Addressing issues of cowardice and bravery, as well as the antagonisms that divide civilization from the rule of anarchy, Aldrich gets a lot of mileage out of the scorching setting. Attenborough, Finch, Borgnine, and Dan Duryea add a colorful mix of madness and insight to the crew’s efforts in fine support roles. For a manly take on desperation and its discontents, “Phoenix” is one hell of a good ride.
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