Cast & Crew
In 1960, Capt. Bruce Curry, a mercenary, leads a Congolese troop and a small crew of his own men--Sergeant Ruffo, a Congolese patriot educated in the United States; sadistic ex-SS officer Henlein; young Belgian officer Surrier; and the alcoholic British Dr. Wreid--into the Congo aboard a train. Their mission is to rescue the white inhabitants of Port Reprieve, which is about to be attacked by rebel Simba soldiers, and also to bring back uncut diamonds valued at millions of dollars for Congolese President Ubi. En route, Curry and his men rescue a blonde Belgian refugee named Claire and stave off a series of attacks by an enemy plane. When the train arrives at Port Reprieve, the group learn that the time vault containing the diamonds will not open for another 3 hours. In the interval, Wreid attends an African woman in childbirth and decides to stay with his patient rather than escape. Finally, the diamonds and refugees are loaded aboard the train, but the Simbas uncouple the coach containing the diamonds just as the train pulls out. Curry and Ruffo lead a commando raid to retake the town. Though Surrier and Wreid are killed, the raid is successful, but on the way to a nearby town the group almost run out of gas. Curry uses what little gas is left to go on and radio for help, leaving Ruffo, Henlein, Claire, and the refugees behind. Henlein, mistakenly believing that Ruffo has the diamonds, kills him and then flees into the jungle. When Curry returns and finds his friend dead, he pursues and brutally kills Henlein. Curry then returns to Claire and the refugees, and with Ruffo's principles in mind, he surrenders his authority to the native corporal and turns himself in for court-martial.
Emery J. Ujvari
J. B. Smith
A. W. Watkins
Dark of the Sun (aka The Mercenaries)
The movie is based on a real-life uprising in the Congo in the late 50s, early 60s. It follows the mission of Captain Bruce Curry and his band of mercenaries to rescue the inhabitants of a city in what was then the Belgian Congo from an attack by Simba rebels and to retrieve $20 million dollars in uncut diamonds for the Congolese president. The story gives director Jack Cardiff and his cast plenty of opportunities for fast and frequently very bloody action, with an opening sequence (polarized silhouette shots of a train crossing an upward-sloping bridge set to tense, pounding music by Jacques Loussier) that has earned the film a cult audience (director Martin Scorcese is among the film's many admirers).
In an interview with John Bowyer for the book Jack Cardiff, the director recalled that while preparing Dark of the Sun, "I made a trip to the Congo, and I met reporters who lived through all of the troubles there [following independence in 1960], and they showed me photographs of the real thing - I wish they hadn't. I remember vividly a photograph of a man with this throat cut in the bath; his head was nearly off and the bath was full of blood. The savagery was unbelievable." However, when filming began, he was forced to choose another location besides Africa. "The whole thing takes place on a train and obviously we needed a train to film on, but in the Congo there were no steam trains. Plus we couldn't afford it and it was too remote, so we finally ended up shooting it in the West Indies. We found an enthusiastic amateur there who had his own stream train, so we all traipsed out to the West Indies and made the film there. The jungle all looked very much like the African jungle." During production, Cardiff and his wife were entertained by British author Noel Coward, who lived with his partner in an old stone house on a mountaintop on the island.
Cardiff made his mark in cinema primarily as a cinematographer, a role the 91-year-old continues to pursue, with his latest project as director of photography for the British film Lights 2 (2005). Even if he had done nothing else in film, "Jack O'Lantern," as he is known because of his expertise in lighting, would be remembered forever for his highly acclaimed color cinematography for Black Narcissus (1947), for which he won an Academy Award, and The Red Shoes (1948), both directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. But his career credits are far more extensive: Hitchcock's Under Capricorn (1949), Albert Lewin's strange and ravishingly beautiful Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951), The African Queen (1951), War and Peace (1956), Rambo (1985). He made his feature film directing debut with the uncompleted Errol Flynn picture William Tell (1953) and later received critical acclaim, as well as an Oscar® nomination and Golden Globe Award, for Sons and Lovers (1960). His finely tuned pictorial sense is evident in Dark of the Sun, for which he also provided uncredited cinematography.
Cardiff and actor Rod Taylor first met when the actor played the lead in Cardiff's film Young Cassidy (1965), based on the autobiography of Irish writer Sean O'Casey. That same year, they worked on The Liquidator, a James Bond send-up. The two became good friends, and The Mercenaries was their third and final film together. Cardiff considered it one of Taylor's best performances, but for many audiences, the actor will always be most remembered as the lead in The Time Machine (1960) and Hitchcock's The Birds (1963).
At the time of its release, Dark of the Sun was slammed by critics for excessive violence, although what we see in the picture would barely raise an eyebrow today. The New York Times wrote "Dark of the Sun is a kind of cross between The Dirty Dozen and The Comedians, which stars Jim Brown and Rod Taylor in a kind of I Spy duet...There is a lot of carnage on every side, in contexts that will probably infuriate anyone who scrutinizes movies for their politics." Time magazine echoed a similar reaction: "Thrilling as it is under the suspension of disbelief, Dark of the Sun would have been a much brighter movie had it not pretended to mirror fact. This film spills plenty of blood, but it turns the Congo's victims into plastic participants in a war that is not quite real." In his own defense, Cardiff stated "When I made the film, I thought that it would have been too awful for words to make it like the real violence, but it had to have violence in it....I could only say to those that I met that my film was nothing like the real thing - it was a quarter, a fifth, a sixteenth of the violence that really happened. None the less, it had the reputation as a violent film."
One of the writers on the film was Oscar®-nominated scripter (for Mildred Pierce, 1945) Ranald MacDougall, who also worked on screenplays for Hitchcock's Stage Fright (1950) and for Cleopatra (1963). MacDougall has also produced and directed a handful of films, including The Subterraneans (1960), based on Jack Kerouac's Beat novel. For some reason, MacDougall chose to take credit for this script under the name Quentin Werty, a pseudonym he also used in writing the blaxploitation flick That Man Bolt (1973). He was married to actress Nanette Fabray from 1957 until his death in 1973.
Director: Jack Cardiff
Producer: George Englund
Screenplay: Ranald MacDougall (as Quentin Werty), Adrien Spies, based on the novel The Dark of the Sun by Wilbur Smith
Cinematography: Edward Scaife, Jack Cardiff (uncredited)
Editing: Ernest Walter
Art Direction: Elliot Scott
Original Music: Jacques Loussier
Cast: Rod Taylor (Captain Curry), Yvette Mimieux (Claire), Jim Brown (Sgt. Ruffo), Kenneth More (Dr. Wreid), Calvin Lockhart (President Ubi).
by Rob Nixon
Dark of the Sun (aka The Mercenaries)
The gun's Chinese Ruffo, paid for by Russian rubles. The steel probably came from a West German factory built by French francs. Then it was flown out here on a South African airline probably subsidized by The United States. I don't think he got very far.- Curry
Released in Great Britain in 1968 as The Mercenaries. Location scenes filmed in Jamaica.