Blog Directory CineVerse: Rising from the ashes

Rising from the ashes

Thursday, June 14, 2018

As an action/adventure picture, you could debate that "Flight of the Phoenix" (the 1965 original) leaves something to be desired, considering that it lacks many of the conventions of that subgenre, including fight scenes, chase sequences, explosions, nail-biting escapes (excluding the plane crash that kicks off the movie), and damsel-in-distress rescues. But as a disaster flick, it's got all the important bases covered--from the personality conflicts and strained group dynamics to the improbable scheme for salvation that will require teamwork. After taking apart its engine, here's what our CineVerse group learned:


  • A clash of wills and classic power struggle: the fight for dominance and moral, psychological and physical superiority between men competing for resources and struggling to survive and thrive in a desperate situation. 
  • Old vs. young, and traditional vs. modern: as embodied by Towns and Dorfmann, respectively, this film pits the wits and experience of an guilt-ridden, emotional old world man against the technical skill and cunning of an megalomaniacal, non-emotional new world man. In essence, the film serves as a parable about the challenge of compromising and transitioning between the past and the future—a future of push-button technology that will render people like Towns obsolete. 
    • Reviewer Neil Young wrote that the movie shows “two types of man emerging as the crucial forces: Stewart's old-school, emotional, flying-by-the-seat-of-the-pants pilot and Kruger's cool, analytical technocrat. It's a very mid-sixties collision of temperaments, and while it's clear that Dorfmann represents what The Aviator's Howard Hughes calls "the way of the future", it's also evident that the past is much too valuable to be jettisoned entirely. What The Flight of the Phoenix optimistically presents is an uneasy but ultimately amiable state of cooperation between the two.” 
  • Moral quandaries in extreme scenarios: is a man who works harder than his comrades and is more crucial to their survival than anyone else worth more, both in respect and deserved resources? To what extent can commanding officers wield authority in a likely hopeless quandary, and to what degree are his subordinates bound to honor that authority? 
  • Complex political and sociological moralities: it would be easy to label Dorfmann as the “bad guy” Teutonic type, an offspring of the cold and ruthless Nazi regime that was defeated 20 years earlier. Instead, Dorfmann remains enigmatic, unconventionally admirable, and worth rooting for as a possible source of salvation for the men. 
  • The resilience of man and human nature. We see men often at their best when they’re facing their worst; their willingness to persevere and not despair is a testament to the human spirit. 
    • Reviewer Kenneth George Godwin, alternatively, disagrees: “The film’s commercial failure may have had something to do with its refusal to subscribe to an inherently heroic view of human nature. These men don’t rise to the challenge of survival so much as fight against their own best interests every step of the way, and at the forefront is a decidedly unsympathetic performance from James Stewart, whose self-pity poses a dangerous risk to all of them. Survival ultimately rests on the absurd self-assurance of Dorfmann who, as the plan progresses, becomes more unpleasantly dictatorial – and yet is ultimately proved right.” 
  • Rebirth, rejuvenation, a return from the dead, as symbolized in the “Phoenix” bird that becomes the new plane’s moniker. 
  • You would perhaps expect more action and a chunkier plot from an ensemble male cast like this and in an adventure/suspense tale. Instead, the action comes from the conflict between the personalities and the dialogue, as the film stays in one setting with no outside events or characters interfering. 
  • Interestingly, the titles don’t come in until well after the movie starts, and they overlap with the plane crash; the filmmakers choose to introduce each character via freeze frame, too. 
  • The movie is imbued with realism and attention to detail, retaining a “quasi-documentary appearance,” according to reviewer Svet Atanasov
  • There are obviously no female characters, but the film manages to shoehorn one in in the form of a sexy mirage, which, to some, may feel tacked on. 
  • Hitchcock’s Lifeboat
  • Other movies depicting desperate survivors of a shipwreck, plane crash or other disaster, including Sands of the Kalahari, Ice Cold in Alex, Alive, Lord of the Flies, The Edge, and All is Lost 
  • Disaster film subgenre pictures like Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and Earthquake 
  • Vera Cruz 
  • Kiss Me Deadly 
  • Whatever Happened to Baby Jane 
  • Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte 
  • The Dirty Dozen 
  • The Longest Yard

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