Dark of the Sun (1968): Jack Cardiff’s War Adventure, Starring Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux

Jack Cardiff helmed Dark of the Sun (aka The Mercenaries in the UK) is a 1968 adventure war film starring Rod Taylor, Yvette Mimieux, Jim Brown, and Peter Carsten.

Ranald MacDougall’s script, based on Wilbur Smith’s 1965 novel, The Dark of the Sun, relates the tale of band of mercenaries sent on a dangerous mission during the Congo Crisis.

In 1964, mercenary Bruce Curry (Rod Taylor) is hired by Congolese President Ubi to rescue European residents from an isolated mining town about to be attacked by rebel Simbas.

However, his real mission is to retrieve $50 million of diamonds from a mine company’s vault. Curry’s subordinates include his black friend Ruffo and alcoholic Doctor Wreid. He also recruits ex-Nazi Henlein because he needs his military expertise and skills.

Ubi gives Curry steam train and Congolese government soldiers. However, as the mission violates UN accords, the train is attacked and damaged by UN peacekeeping plane.

At a burned-out farmhouse, they pick up Claire, a traumatized woman who watched her husband hacked to death by Simbas.

Henlein begins to cause trouble–aware of the diamonds, he resents Curry’s leadership. He casually kills two children for being possible Simba spies and makes advances towards Claire. When interrupted by Curry, the German attacks Curry with swagger stick and chainsaw. But Ruffo stops Curry from killing Henlein.

Further complications arise when the mercenaries reach the mining town. The diamonds are in a time-locked vault delaying the train’s departure. Dr Wreid insists he cannot abandon pregnant woman at mission hospital. Reluctantly, Curry agrees to let the doctor stay behind.

The train, loaded with the diamonds and residents, slowly departs under arms fire. However, a mortar round destroys the coupling between the last two carriages. The last coach, which carries the diamonds and the Europeans, rolls back into the Simba-held town as the rest of the train steams away.

Curry and Ruffo set out to retrieve the diamonds. Using a Simba disguise, Ruffo carries Curry’s seemingly lifeless body into the town’s hotel, where harrowing scenes depict murder, torture and male rape.

Attack by surviving Congolese soldiers enables them to get the diamonds and escape in vehicles. When they run low on fuel, Curry leaves to find more. Henlein takes advantage of his absence to kill Ruffo.

When Curry returns to find his friend dead, he pursues Henlein and kills him after a vicious fight. Back at the convoy, with his job done, Curry reflects on the type of man he is before turning himself in for court-martial.

Taylor’s fictional character is loosely based on Congo mercenary leader “Mad” Mike Hoare, who led the Congolese 5 Commando during the Simba rebellion and was technical consultant on the film.

A real German mercenary, Siegfried Müller, fought in the Congo during the 1960s wearing an Iron Cross. In 1966, he was featured in the East German documentary Der lachende Mann (English: The Laughing Man). In the English language version, Peter Carsten was dubbed by Paul Frees.

Critics condemned the film on its original release for its graphic scenes of violence and torture.

Cast

Rod Taylor as Capt. Bruce Curry
Yvette Mimieux as Claire
Peter Carsten as Capt. Henlein
Jim Brown as Sgt Ruffo
Kenneth More as Dr. Wreid
André Morell as Bussier
Olivier Despax as Lt. Surrier
Guy Deghy as Delage
Bloke Modisane as Kataki
Calvin Lockhart as President Mwamini Ubi
Alan Gifford as Jansen
David Bauer as Adams
Murray Kash as Cochrane
John Serret as Father Dominic
Danny Daniels as General Moses