Professional soldier Curry (Rod Taylor) is tapped to oversee a dangerous mission in the Congo. The leader of the region needs Curry to guard a train carrying valuables that is snaking through areas controlled by rebel forces. Teamed with a local named Ruffo (Jim Brown), Curry recruits two more men for the job a heavy-drinking doctor (Kenneth More) and a former Nazi (Peter Carsten) and the foursome work to protect the train from invading marauders.
Dark of the Sun (also known as The Mercenaries in the UK) is a 1968 adventure-war film starring Rod Taylor, Yvette Mimieux, Jim Brown, and Peter Carsten. The film, which was directed by Jack Cardiff, is based on Wilbur Smiths 1965 novel, The Dark of the Sun. The story about a band of mercenaries sent on a dangerous mission during the Congo Crisis was adapted into a screenplay by Ranald MacDougall. Critics condemned the film on its original release for its graphic scenes of violence and torture.
A band of mercenaries led by Captain Curry travel through the Congo across deadly terrain, battling rival armies, to rescue $25 million in uncut diamonds.
Sometime in the mid-1960s, mercenary Bruce Curry (Rod Taylor) is hired by Congolese President Ubi (Calvin Lockhart) supposedly to rescue the European residents of an isolated town about to be attacked by rebel Simbas in the Congo. But in reality his pressing mission is to retrieve diamonds, worth fifty million dollars, from a mine companys vault. Currys subordinates include his friend Ruffo (Jim Brown) and alcoholic Doctor Wreid (Kenneth More). Reluctantly he also takes ex-Nazi Henlein (Peter Carsten) on the mission because he needs his military expertise and leadership skills.
The Congolese president provides Curry with the use of a steam train along with government soldiers. On the way, the train is attacked by a United Nations peacekeeping plane. The mercenaries then pick up Claire (Yvette Mimieux) after they find her house burned down and husband murdered by Simbas. Meanwhile, Henlein, who resents Currys leadership, begins to cause trouble because the German knows about the diamonds. Things come to a boiling point when the ex Nazi kills two children who he suspects could be rebel spies. Afterward, Henlein makes romantic advances towards Claire, which Curry interrupts. Curry and Henlein then fight an inconclusive duel which involves a chainsaw. Curry is prepared to kill Henlein but is stopped by Ruffo.
Further complications arise when the mercenaries reach the town. First, the diamonds are in a time-locked vault delaying the trains departure. Second, Dr Wreid who went to a mission hospital to help a pregnant woman, refuses to abandon his patient. After travelling into the bush to get him, Curry reluctantly agrees to let the doctor stay behind. Back in town precious minutes tick by as everyone waits anxiously for the vault mechanism to open.
The delay eventually allows the Simbas to catch up and begin attacking the town and station. Finally the heavily-laden train, which is loaded with the diamonds and the residents, slowly leaves the station under small arms fire. But just as its nearly out of range, a mortar round destroys the coupling between the last two carriages. Agonisingly as the rest of the train picks up speed and steams away, the last coach with the diamonds and most of the Europeans on board slowly comes to a stop before rolling downhill back into the Simba-held town.
Curry then stops his part of the damaged train. He and Ruffo lead a raid to retrieve the diamonds from the rebels at nightfall. Using a Simba disguise, Ruffo carries Currys lifeless body into the towns hotel. Its rooms contain graphic scenes (for the films time period) of male rape, murder and torture. Following a diversion by government soldiers, they get the diamonds and escape in some vehicles. When they run low on fuel, Curry leaves to find some more. Henlein uses his absence to kill Ruffo in the mistaken belief that he had the diamonds. Empty handed, Henlein flees into the bush. When Curry returns to find his friend dead, he is filled with murderous revenge. He pursues Henlein and kills him after a vicious fight. Curry then returns to the truck convoy. With his job done, Curry reflects on himself before turning himself in for a court-martial to answer for his actions.
‡ This character was based on the German mercenary Siegfried Muller who fought in the Congo during the 1960s. Muller was featured wearing an Iron Cross in a 1966 East German documentary entitled Der Lachende Mann (English: The Laughing Man).
The script is based on the second published novel by Wilbur Smith. Both the book and the film are a fictional account of the Congo Crisis (1960–1966), when Joseph Mobutu seized power during the First Republic of the Congo after national independence from Belgium.
The conflict in Dark of the Sun juxtaposes the anti-colonial struggle in the province of Katanga within the context of the Cold War. A UN-peacekeeping operation was employed to protect civilians during this brutal secessionist war. Actual violence in the Congo resulted in the deaths of up to 100,000 people.
Smith had just written his first published novel, When the Lion Feeds. Smith decided to quit his job in the South African taxation office, calculating he had enough money in sales and unclaimed leave to not have to work for two years. "I hired a caravan, parked it in the mountains, and wrote the second book," he said. "I knew it was sort of a watershed. I was 30 years of age, single again, and I could take the chance."
Although the novel is set against the Baluba Rebellion in 1960, the films screenplay is set during the Simba Rebellion of 1964-65, when mercenaries were recruited by the Congolese government to fight a leftist insurgency. Rod Taylor claimed he rewrote a fair amount of the script himself, including helping devise a new ending.
Most of the film was shot on location in Jamaica using the countrys railway system, taking advantage of a working steam train as well as safety and cost-effectiveness. Interiors were completed at MGM British Studios, Borehamwood near London. At the same time, MGM was filming Graham Greenes The Comedians (1967) in Africa, though the original took place in the Caribbean.
In the German version, Curry was renamed Willy Kruger and was portrayed as a former Wehrmacht officer who had already clashed with Henlein during World War II because of the latters fanatical Nazism. The German version also cuts the scene where Henlein murders two Congolese children and is misleadingly entitled Katanga, implying the film takes place during the first Congo emergency in 1961-64, when mercenaries like Muller and Mad Mike Hoare were involved.
The movie was released in France as Last Train from Katanaga (French: ).
All music composed by Jacques Loussier.
The film was considered extremely violent for its time showing scenes of civilians being raped and tortured by Simbas. One contemporary reviewer was moved to comment that the directors main objective appeared to be to pack as much sadistic violence into the films two hours as he could. On the subject of violence director Jack Cardiff commented: "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."
Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino are two of the films fans. Scorsese calls the film one of his "guilty pleasures". The film was a particular influence on Tarantino, who used several tracks from the score for his movie Inglourious Basterds, which features Rod Taylor in a guest role as Winston Churchill.