Directed and adapted from William Mulvihill‘s novel by Cy Enfield; produced by Joe Levine, Enfield and Stanley Baker, Sands of the Kalahari was released “hot on the heels” of Zulu. Baker’s and Enfield’s maiden voyage into the world of film together; Zulu was a massive hit and Levine (who controlled the purse strings) wanted another film by the two men as soon as possible.
I watched this film one leisurely Sunday afternoon after the Pub had closed. I’d never seen it before (I was only eight years-old when the film was initially released and I don’t think my parents would have liked their over imaginative son watching this one) and the thing that stuck with me all those years ago was the baboons.
A disparate group of passengers are flying on a commercial flight through Nairobi. Their plane develops technical problems and they are forced to lay-over in a small African town. One of the passengers finds out about a smaller “private” plane that will take a few of the passengers on ahead.
This German passenger, Dr. Bondrachai (Theodore Bikel) goes around trying to get enough people interested in going to reduce the cost of the flight. The last person he approaches is English-woman Grace Munkton (Susannah York), she agrees and the flight is on. A last-minute potential passenger arrives as he plane is about to take off in the form of big game hunter Brian O’Brien (Stuart Whitman) who talks his way on board.
The plane takes off and in the middle of the desert hits a giant swarm of locusts and crashes. With one of the pilots dead, and one of the passengers badly injured, Mike Bain (Stanley Baker), the survivors leave the crash site.
Although this film has not aged too well after all these years (some of the baboon shots look like small men in monkey suits, although fortunately, this only happens once for a few seconds) and the locust swarm plunges between impressive and hokey; but over all, the film still impresses.
The cast is impressive. Apart from the actors listed above, it also featured Nigel Davenport and Harry Andrews both well-known and well versed character actors.
Whitman as the survival extremist O’Brien, is brutal, selfish and handsome. This real life Army veteran was a leading man and worth a fortune due to wise investments over his career. Susannah York was, then, a star in the making, When younger, she resembled Ingrid Bergman and enjoyed a long and busy career before her death in 2011.
Stanley Baker played the third point of this “love triangle” and I’ve saved him for last. Baker, like Richard Burton, came from Wales and because of his rugged good looks and his excellent acting ability soon became a star. As mentioned in the first paragraph, he produced and starred in the 1964 film Zulu. His untimely death at the age of 48 deprived the world of a great actor.
Sands of the Kalahari is an ensemble film, with an eventual focus on the “triangle” mentioned above and O’Brien’s repeated bullying of a troop of baboons who live in the rocks where the group have taken shelter. Baboons are savage creatures and quite vicious when attacked (in the film at any rate) and O’Brien’s constant torture and killing of the animals can only end badly.
I found this on Netflix last night and I was overjoyed. I had not seen it since that Sunday afternoon viewing years ago. It is an impressive film and I urge you to watch it while it’s still streaming.
A definite “retro” 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Just for fun – Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were originally cast as Munkton and O’Brien. Susannah York was brought in to replace another actress and Stuart Whitman was the fourth choice to play O’Brian. *IMDb*
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