Dark of the Sun

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Dark of the Sun
Directed by Jack Cardiff
Produced by George Englund
Screenplay by Ranald MacDougall (as Quentin Werty)
Adrien Spies
Based onThe Dark of the Sun
by Wilbur Smith
Starring Rod Taylor
Yvette Mimieux
Jim Brown
Peter Carsten
Music by Jacques Loussier
Cinematography Edward Scaife
Edited byErnest Walter
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • 3 July 1968 (1968-07-03)
Running time
101 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
United States
Box office$2,000,000 (US/ Canada) [1]
989,452 admissions (France) [2]

Dark of the Sun (also known as The Mercenaries in the UK) is a 1968 adventure war film starring Rod Taylor, Yvette Mimieux, Jim Brown, and Peter Carsten. The film, which was directed by Jack Cardiff, is based on Wilbur Smith's 1965 novel, The Dark of the Sun. The story about a band of mercenaries sent on a dangerous mission during the Congo Crisis was adapted into a screenplay by Ranald MacDougall. Critics condemned the film on its original release for its graphic scenes of violence and torture. [3]



In the mid-1960s, mercenary Bruce Curry is publicly hired by Congolese President Ubi to rescue European residents from an isolated mining town about to be attacked by rebel Simbas in the Congo. However, his real mission is to retrieve $50 million of diamonds from a mine company's vault. Curry's subordinates include his friend Ruffo and alcoholic Doctor Wreid. He also reluctantly recruits ex-Nazi Henlein because he needs his military expertise and leadership skills.

Ubi gives Curry a steam train and Congolese government soldiers. However, as the mission is in violation of UN accords, the train is attacked and damaged by a United Nations peacekeeping plane. At a burned-out farmhouse, they pick up a traumatised woman named Claire, who watched her husband being hacked to death by Simbas. Meanwhile Henlein begins to cause trouble because he knows about the diamonds and resents Curry's leadership. He casually kills two children for being possible Simba spies and starts making advances towards Claire. When interrupted by Curry, the German attacks Curry with a swagger stick and a chainsaw. Only Ruffo is able to stop Curry from killing Henlein in a murderous rage.

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

As Curry waits anxiously for the vault to open, the Simbas arrive and begin attacking the town and station. Eventually, the train, loaded with the diamonds and residents, slowly leaves under small arms fire. However, just as it's getting out of range, a mortar round destroys the coupling between the last two carriages. The last coach - carrying the diamonds and most of the Europeans - is left to roll back into the Simba-held town as the rest of the train steams away.

Curry and Ruffo set out to retrieve the diamonds from the rebels at nightfall. Using a Simba disguise, Ruffo carries Curry's lifeless body into the town's hotel where harrowing scenes (for the film's time period) include murder, torture and male rape. A diversionary attack by surviving Congolese soldiers gives them the opportunity to get the diamonds and escape in vehicles. When they run low on fuel, Curry leaves to find more. Henlein uses his absence to kill Ruffo in the mistaken belief that he has the diamonds. When Curry returns to find his friend dead, he pursues Henlein in a murderous rage 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 a court-martial to answer for his actions.


† Taylor's fictional character is a light homage to Congo mercenary leader "Mad" Mike Hoare, who led the Congolese 5 Commando during the actual Simba rebellion and was a technical consultant on the film. [4] [5]
‡ A real German mercenary named Siegfried Müller fought in the Congo during the 1960s wearing an Iron Cross. [6] In 1966, he was featured in the East German documentary entitled Der lachende Mann (English: The Laughing Man). [7] In the English language version, Peter Carsten was dubbed by Paul Frees.


The Dark of the Sun
The Dark of the Sun bookcover.jpg
Paperback edition
Author Wilbur Smith
Country South Africa
Publisher Heinemann
Publication date
March 1, 1965
Media typePrint, e-book
ISBN 978-0434714001

The script is based on the second published novel by Wilbur Smith. [8] [9] Both the book and the film are a fictional account of the Congo Crisis (19601966), when Joseph Mobutu seized power during the First Republic of the Congo after national independence from Belgium.

The conflict in Dark of the Sun juxtaposes the anti-colonial struggle in the province of Katanga within the context of the Cold War. A UN-peacekeeping operation was employed to protect civilians during this brutal secessionist war. Actual violence in the Congo resulted in the deaths of up to 100,000 people. [10]

Smith had just written his first published novel, When the Lion Feeds . He decided to quit his job in the South African taxation office, calculating he had enough money in sales and unclaimed leave to not have to work for two years. "I hired a caravan, parked it in the mountains, and wrote the second book", he said. "I knew it was sort of a watershed. I was 30 years of age, single again, and I could take the chance." [11]



Although the novel is set against the Baluba Rebellion in 1960, the film's screenplay is set during the Simba Rebellion of 1964–65, when mercenaries were recruited by the Congolese government to fight a leftist insurgency. [12]

In December 1964 Ranald MacDougall was working in the script. [13]

Rod Taylor claimed he rewrote a fair amount of the script himself, including helping devise a new ending. [14]


Rod Taylor signed on to make the film in September 1966 by which time the script had been rewritten by Adrian Spies. [15] In October, Jim Brown, who had just made The Dirty Dozen for MGM, signed to costar. [16]


Filming started 16 January 1967. Most of the film was shot on location in Jamaica using the country's railway system, [17] this took advantage of a working steam train as well as safety and cost-effectiveness. [18] The railway scenes were shot on the line between Frankfield and Albany railway station (where Henlein kills the two children). [19] The arrival scenes were filmed at Palisadoes Airport (now Norman Manley International) while a private residence within the Blue Mountain range was dressed to look like an African mission station. [20]

Interiors were completed at MGM British Studios, Borehamwood near London. At the same time, MGM was filming Graham Greene's The Comedians (1967) in Africa, though the original took place in the Caribbean.

International versions

In the German version, Curry was renamed Willy Krüger and was portrayed as a former Wehrmacht officer who had already clashed with Henlein during World War II because of the latter's fanatical Nazism. The German version also cuts the scene where Henlein murders two Congolese children and is misleadingly entitled Katanga , implying the film takes place during the first Congo emergency in 1961–64, when mercenaries like Müller and 'Mad' Mike Hoare were involved.

The movie was released in France as Last Train from Katanga (French : Le dernier train du Katanga).


Jacques Loussier, a French jazz pianist wrote the film's memorable progressive score. It was initially released by MGM Records in 1968; a re-release with bonus tracks was made available in 2008. Loussier2007.jpg
Jacques Loussier, a French jazz pianist wrote the film's memorable progressive score. It was initially released by MGM Records in 1968; a re-release with bonus tracks was made available in 2008.

All music is composed by Jacques Loussier.

1."Main Theme From Dark of the Sun"3:10
2."Drive to Ubi"3:39
3."Dr. Wreid"1:01
4."The Mercenaries"2:36
5."Claire's First Appearance"3:44
6."Friendly Natives Having Fun Pt. 2"2:19
7."The Fight/Port Reprieve"3:39
8."Curry and the Diamonds Pt. 1"2:38
9."Claire and Curry"3:46
10."The Mission"1:37
11."The Simbas Attack/The Coach Rolls Back"4:51
12."Tracks Blown/Stakeout/Diamond"1:13
14."Curry and the Diamonds Pt. 2"0:44
15."The Doctor Is Found"3:45
16."Curry's Plan/Ruffo's Death"2:38
17."Curry's Drive With Claire"1:57
18."The Chase"1:17
20."Curry Kills Henlein"2:10
21."Curry's Decision/End Title"3:23
22."Clare and Curry Alternate"3:50
23."Main Theme From Dark of the Sun"1:20
24."End Title Alternate"0:42
25."Natives Source"1:02
26."Friendly Natives Having Fun Pt. 1"2:13
27."Natives Source"1:50
Total length:67:03


It was the 49th most popular movie of the year in France. [21]

The film was considered extremely violent for its time showing scenes of civilians being raped and tortured by Simbas. One contemporary reviewer was moved to comment that the director's main objective appeared to be to pack as much sadistic violence into the film's two hours as he could. On the subject of violence director Jack Cardiff commented: "Although it was a very violent story, the actual violence happening in the Congo at that time was much more than I could show in my film; in my research I encountered evidence so revolting I was nauseated. The critics complained of the violent content, but today it would hardly raise an eyebrow." [3]


Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino are two of the film's fans. Scorsese calls the film one of his "guilty pleasures". [3] He elaborated:

This movie-Rod Taylor vs. the Mau Maus-was the most violent I'd seen up to that time. There's a scene where Taylor fights an ex-Nazi with chain saws. In another scene, a train full of refugees has finally escaped the Mau Maus in the valley below-and just as it's about to reach the top of a hill, the power fails, the train goes all the way back down, and the refugees are slaughtered. It's a truly sadistic movie, but it should be seen. I'd guess that because of its utter racism, a lot of people would have found it embarrassing, so they just ignored it. The sense of the film is overwhelmingly violent; there's no consideration for anything else. The answer to everything is "kill." [22]

The film was a particular influence on Tarantino, who used several tracks from the score for his movie Inglourious Basterds , which features Rod Taylor in a guest role as Winston Churchill.

See also

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  1. "Big Rental Films of 1968", Variety, 8 January 1969 p 15. Please note this figure is a rental accruing to distributors.
  2. Top box office films in France in 1968 at Box Office Story
  3. 1 2 3 "Dark of the Sun /'The Mercenaries (1968)". Photoplay (at rodtaylorsite.com). August 1967.
  4. Rich, Paul B. (2018). Cinema and Unconventional Warfare in the Twentieth Century: Insurgency, Terrorism and Special Operations. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 120–123. ISBN   9781350055711.
  5. Cameron, Kenneth M. (1994). Africa on Film: Beyond Black and White. Continuum. p. 148. ISBN   9780826406583.
  6. Tickler, Peter (1987). The Modern Mercenary: Dog of War, Or Soldier of Honour?. P. Stephens. pp. 23–24. ISBN   9780850598124.
  7. "The Congo: Moise's Black Magic". TIME Magazine . 19 February 1965. Archived from the original on 22 October 2012.
  8. The Dark of the Sun at Wilbur Smith's novels
  9. Smith, Wilbur (15 May 1966). Chaos In The Congo. The Times of India (1861-current) [New Delhi, India]. p. 9.
  10. Twentieth Century Atlas - Death Tolls
  11. "FEATURES A golden life crafted from a troubled land". The Canberra Times . 13 May 1995. p. 51. Retrieved 25 January 2015 via National Library of Australia.
  12. Hoare, Mike (2008). Congo Mercenary. Paladin Press.
  13. FILMLAND EVENTS: Henry King to Film Story of Guadalupe Los Angeles Times 3 Dec 1964: D9.
  14. Stephen Vagg, Rod Taylor: An Aussie in Hollywood, Bear Manor Media 2010 p131
  15. MOVIE CALL SHEET: Rod Taylor to Star in 'Sun' Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times 24 Sep 1966: 23.
  16. MOVIE CALL SHEET: Righteous Bros. to Star Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times 8 Oct 1966: 22.
  17. Horsford, Jim (2011). THE RAILWAYS OF JAMAICA: Through The Blue Mountains To The Blue Caribbean Seas – A History Of The Jamaica Government Railway. Paul Catchpole Ltd. pp. 129–130.
  18. Cardiff, Jack & Martin Scorsese (1997). Magic Hour. Faber & Faber.
  19. "Jamaican Railways (1993)". www.rodtaylorsite.com. Retrieved 5 November 2020.
  20. "Snapshots: Dark of the Sun". www.rodtaylorblog.com. Retrieved 5 November 2020.
  21. "French box office in 1968". Box Office Story.
  22. Scorsese, Martin (September–October 1978). "Martin Scorsese's Guilty Pleasures". Film Comment (14.5 ed.). pp. 63–66.