Note: Technically this is the 6th event so far of Tarantino's March Madness however it is only the 3rd event I've attended.
Before getting into my thoughts on both "Dark of the Sun" and "Hell River" I wanted to mention the trailers we saw ahead of the films. Tarantino told that crowd that he had hand selected a number of Jim Brown trailers to run ahead of "Dark of the Sun" and a handful of Rod Taylor trailers to play before "Hell River." Tarantino stated that Jim Brown is one of his favorite action icons of all time and that these trailers would help get us into the "black male macho mindset that is Jim Brown." We saw trailers for "Rio Conchos," "Ice Station Zebra," "100 Rifles," "...tick... tick... tick..." and "Take a Hard Ride." All four of the trailers screened played like gangbusters to the nearly sold out crowd. Of the trailers shown I've seen Rio Conchos, 100 Rifles and Take a Hard Ride, basically Brown's westerns. I'm a sucker for westerns and will usually watch any western that is made. A side note, 100 Rifles is available via Netflix Watch Instantly for those that haven't seen it, Burt Reynolds, Jim Brown and Raquel Welch star in a action-filled ride and there is no denying it is a must see for western fans. Ice Station Zebra is a war/submarine movie that looks to have some solid tension and be worth a watch but "...tick... tick... tick ..." looked riveting. Jim Brown plays a newly hired sheriff in a southern mixed town in the heat of race relations in the 1960s. The trailer played up a lot of the racial tensions of the time and had me excited to watch. Another bonus George Kennedy plays the ousted sheriff hell bent on wanting his job back. It feels like one of those films that documented a time in American history that is a bitter shame. As for the Rod Taylor trailers ahead of "Hell River" we saw "Fate is a Hunter," "36 Hours," "Chuka" and "The Liquidator." Of these four films I haven't seen any of them, though after seeing the trailers they are now on my must see list. Each of the trailers played well to the crowd with applause streaming for various actors like James Garner in 36 Hours or director James Cardiff who directed both "Dark of the Sun" and "The Liquidator." All of the trailers played made me realize I need to have a Jim Brown marathon as well as a Rod Taylor marathon. I've seen a number of both their films, but I need to just start hammering down on seeing all of their films. Both of these men are icons and their work deserves to seen and reflected on.
This was my first time seeing 'Dark of the Sun' and boy am I glad I waited to see in a theater. Helps that I got to see it at the Bev with a crowd who appreciates classic cinema. Directed by famed cinematographer Jack Cardiff Dark of the Sun moves at a tremendous pace and features a perfect group of characters. Not only is the character development exceptional, the actors playing them deliver moving performances all around. Rod Taylor is fabulous as Curry, the mercenary hired to bring back diamonds across the deadly Congo. So too is Jim Brown playing Ruffo. Brown and Taylor together absolutely just drip of charm. Their exchanges have tons of heart and its clear that the two actors had a good time working together. I wouldn't be surprised if they were friends in real life after making this movie together. I've only seen a handful of Rod Taylor movies, but after watching this I'm not sure he has a better performance out there. Jim Brown on the other hand, while featured prominently throughout the film is a minor character. He does however have that million dollar smile working at all times along with his huge stature illustrating his power as an action star.
As for the action, "Dark of the Sun" is a blast. Probably the best action moment in the film is a brawl between Curry (Rod Taylor) and Henlein (Peter Carsten) that involves a chainsaw. Curry is no holds barred the entire time never showing a hint of fear while Henlein is so devilish as a Nazi loyalist you are praying that Curry will bash his head in. Another sequence that thrilled to the bone was a chase where Curry is tracking down Henlein in a Land Cruiser jeep. Never before I have seen a chase where the vehicle goes so far off the beaten path. Curry drives the Land Cruiser through the river and over boulders as if it was a paved street. This sequence had the entire crowd oohing and awing over the clearly well executed stunts. The fabulous stunts reminded me how much I miss authentic stunts that put the actors or stuntmen in danger. Around every corner Rod Taylor is jumping from a moving train or off a balcony. You name it and Taylor seems to try it.
It would be a sin to do a write-up on "Dark of the Sun" and not mention Jacques Loussier's addicting score. Before seeing the film, I had previously heard Loussier's score via Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" and the minute the main theme kicked in I was instantly sucked in. His melodic score is absolutely infectious. Music that will remain in your head and having you humming along to its cadence. Loussier's reoccurring theme pushes the film along. It feels like each return to the main theme brings a turn that leads and eases us to the next major development. Reoccurring musical themes don't always work, but here much like other iconic reoccurring themes it does a magnificent job of helping to tell the story.
Overall "Dark of the Sun" is a powerhouse of an action adventure. The film has so much going for it. You have thrills, brutal action, grizzly deaths as well as a few hints of romance and good old comic relief. Rod Taylor deserves a ton a credit for his hammy delivery to a number of lines. You almost expect him to break the fourth wall and begin talking to the audience at certain points. To its credits, even with the comic relief the film remains a very serious film with mountains of influence within it. Tarantino has gone on record that 'Dark of the Sun' is partly responsible for inspiring his work on 'Basterds' and after seeing the film you can see why. Thanks to the movie gods for Jack Cardiff's classic.
Going into "Hell River" I'd never seen nor heard of the film but with Tarantino pairing it with the highly touted "Dark of the Sun" the anticipation bar was certainly raised. Checking IMDb the tagline reads "Sooner or later Hitler is going to run out of Germans." After reading that line I instantly thought I was in for a action filled WWII film. It seemed ripe for an entire movie of Rod Taylor just killing Nazis left and right. My preconceived notions led me to think I was in for a romp of Nazi killing and instead we were treated to a quiet brutal war thriller. I have to admit the tone and pace were not what I expected from the film which was a bit of a letdown however, the film is a thoughtful perspective on the Yugoslavian Partisan as they defended themselves against the Nazis during WWII.
The film is essentially a survival quest. The Yugoslavians are on the run from Nazi forces and after repeated attacks must flee to safety whilst also protecting Jews they previously rescued from a concentration camp transport vehicle. Rod Taylor plays Marko, one of the Partisans soldiers leading the group of survivors and soldiers. On the opposite side of the war is Adam West playing Nazi Captain Kurt Kohler. Yeah, you read that right, Batman as a Nazi. Unfortunately the whole idea of Batman was another let down, West does not deliver some goofy performance. Instead he gives a very steady and calculated portrayal. Also on the german side is Peter Carsten playing Colonel Henke. If you remember Carsten starred opposite Taylor in "Dark of the Sun" so seeing him again as a Nazi was a nice tie-in that gelled the double feature together even further.
Rod Taylor is the beau of the adventure. While director Stole Jankovic made a subtle yet effective thriller we also have a romance that brews between Marko and Xenia played by Brioni Darrell. The romantic subplot really pulled me out of the film. The war story already moved at a sluggish rate and each time we saw another romantic interlude I would find myself drifting off and losing interest. The romance did create breaks between attack/counter attack sequences but I would have rather seen more military strategy or escape rather than Taylor wooing the female of choice. As I previously said Taylor is the beau of the film and it becomes aparant while watching that director Jaknovic was infauated with the American actor. The film really is a lengthy showcase of Taylor. Fans of him are sure to be satisfied with his hunky performance as the Partisan soldier but those seeking an action packed war thriller could walk away a bit disappointed. I liken it to the reaction some people had with Anton Corbijn's "The American," they went in expecting a Bourne Identity-esque action when it was instead a very calculated and slow perspective on a contract killer. Sometimes its better to know what kind of tone a film has going in. A movie like "Hell River" with its tantalizing tagline seemed overloaded with bloodshed when in reality it was in fact a thoughtful take on the Yugoslavian plight during WWII mixed with a love story.
Overall Rod Taylor Night was a lot of fun. I was pretty tired by the end considering in a span of 48 hours I'd spent 12 hours of it in the Bev and only on about 4 hours of sleep. Not complaining at all because I loved the revenge triple feature the night before and would do the exact same thing again in a heartbeat. Stay tuned for more coverage of Tarantino's March Madness in the coming days as I continue to break down the programming night by night at the best revival theater in Los Angeles.
Quentin Tarantino's March Madness continues throughout the rest of the month. Check the New Beverly's website for full details and times. Also stay tuned for more coverage of March Madness as I will be continuing to do write-up's on the rest of the events scheduled. You can also check out my previous coverage to March Madness with Part 1 and Part 2.