The mercenary position
Falling somewhere in the middle of all this, and now available on DVD-R from Warner Archive, is Dark of the Sun (1968), wherein Cardiff takes off like Sam Fuller on steroids. Following a band of mercenaries led by Rod Taylor and Jim Brown, hired by Calvin Lockhart to retrieve a gaggle of whites under attack and millions in diamonds deep in the Congo, the picture plays like a two-fisted, barrel-chested homage to the tawdry men’s adventure magazines of the day: Stag, True Men, Argosy, etc. — a popular genre which died sometime in the 1970s with the softening of earlier definitions of masculinity.
Based on a novel I haven’t read by Wilbur Smith, Cardiff and screenwriters Ranald MacDougall and Adrien Spies sidestep standard movie conventions. They plow through the scenario’s three-day mission with verve, pausing the action only long enough for intelligent banter about duty and honor versus whoring one’s soul in the midst of a country’s political freefall. (Taylor’s bead on the trickle-down effect of globalization corrupting the Congo’s warring factions is a progressive observation for the time.) When the action resumes, it’s often brutal and pulverizing: the rape and slaughter of innocents, fistfights fortified with machetes, chainsaws and bayonets, sweaty, rootless men driven beyond the breaking point. During two scenes in which Rod flips out on a neo-Nazi opportunist played by Peter Carsten, the actor seems moments away from having a nervous breakdown.
There’s reason to believe the new video is missing a few scenes, notably between Taylor and Yvette Mimieux, whom he rescues along the way; promotional stills suggest a brief romantic subplot that’s not onscreen. (If you’ll recall, Yvette played Rod’s Weena in The Time Machine in 1960.) Remastered from a print and not the negative, the new DVD looks acceptable but has a slight audio fade that’s sporadically detectable. Despite these misgivings, however, any opportunity to see Dark of the Sun is well advised.