The Flight of the Phoenix (DVD-Video)
Sound: C Extras: D Film: B
Robert Aldrich made some very strong, tough films in his
career (Kiss Me Deadly, The Grissom Gang), as well as blatantly
commercial fare (Four for Texas), but his 1960s films usually fell
in-between the two. Thanks to Whatever
Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), he wound up with sudden studio support he
never had before. The Flight of the
Phoenix (1965) is one of the peaks of this support, an all-start cast
project based on the Elleston Trevor book (turned into a screenplay by Lukas
Heller) about a cargo plane that crash-lands in the Sahara Desert.
James Stewart is the pilot who has to figure out what went
wrong and how they will survive. Long
before the silliness of 1970s disaster films like Airport, The
Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure, you could still have
all-start cast films with substance.
Stewart is joined by (among others) no less than Richard Attenborough,
Peter Finch, Ernest Borgnine, George Kennedy, Dan Dureya, and Hardy Krueger as
the aerodynamics expert who convinces them that he can build a new plane out of
the wreckage that will save them.
The film cannot escape being haunted by David Lean’s Lawrence
of Arabia (1962) to some extent, and takes longer than usual to start. The film runs 149 minutes! However, once it finally gets its drawn-out
set-up out of the way, it begins to get real interesting. If Aldrich was trying to wear us out so we’d
feel like this lost crew, he succeeded.
The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image is on the
grainy side and looks like a late analog transfer. The DeLuxe color is on the fresh side, but it is going to take a
High Definition transfer to do justice to the camerawork by Joseph Biroc,
A.S.C. The Dolby Digital offers Mono in
French, Spanish and English, as well as English Stereo. The Stereo and Mono English are both
problematic, both offering no match for other films of the era. There seems to be damage in one scene when
Stewart is talking and the Frank DeVol score does not sound anywhere near as
good as it does in the limited edition FSM CD soundtrack (reviewed elsewhere on
this site on the same CD as the Patton score). Why Fox did not go back to the masters used for the CD and redo
the sound here is a mystery, as DeVol’s disc sounds better than this. The only extras are three trailers for the
film in their English, Spanish, and Portuguese release versions. Oddly, the sound on the trailers sound
clearer than on the film.
Obviously, Aldrich wanted to take advantage of showing off
the cast, but that is not the reason the film drags at first. It seems most likely this was to be faithful
to the book, but what works in print does not always work cinematically. His other big ensemble film would be The
Dirty Dozen, which he followed this film with two years later. Eventually, this film does work and that is
why Flight of the Phoenix is worth catching.
- Nicholas Sheffo