Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)

In Robert Aldrich's adventure drama and disaster film (the first of a wave of star-studded disaster films to come in the next decade and a half) about a disabled plane's crash landing in the North African desert and the struggle for survival - remade by director John Moore as Flight of the Phoenix (2004), a second-rate effort starring Dennis Quaid:

  • the opening sequence: the devastating crash of a twin-engine, chartered cargo plane (for the Middle East Arabco oil company) piloted by guilt-ridden veteran Capt. Frank Towns (James Stewart), a stubborn old-school pilot, into an isolated area of the Sahara Desert during a sandstorm enroute to Benghazi, Libya; it was carrying 14 men, including oil-rig workers and two British Army officers, and alcoholic British co-pilot navigator Lew Moran (Richard Attenborough); after the crash, there were only 12 survivors (and a seriously injured Gabriel (Gabriele Tinti))
  • the initial efforts to trek out of the desert by brave British Army officer Capt. Harris (Peter Finch), unstable oil-rig foreman Trucker Cobb (Ernest Borgnine), and Carlos (Alex Montoya) - the latter two died during the attempt to march out
  • the hopeful plans to rebuild a sleeker, single-engine version of the plane (dubbed "The Phoenix") by German Heinrich Dorfmann (Hardy Kruger), an aeronautical technical engineer who claimed he was an airplane designer
  • the dreamy experience of an hallucinatory mirage-like image - seductive and exotic Berber dancer Farida (Barrie Chase) who materialized out of the desert sands
  • and later, the film's subtle plot twist -- the devastating revelation to Moran and Towns that Dorfmann only had experience in building model or toy planes ("The biggest I've personally designed is the Jaeger 250"); he was directly confronted by Moran: ("How much designing have you done on the real thing?") - and he answered bluntly: "Oh, no, no, no. You misunderstand. We make nothing but model aeroplanes" - although he then assured them: "Full-size, no. But then, of course, the principles are the same"; they hadn't been lied to or deceived, but had exaggerated in their own minds his earlier claims: Moran: "He didn't keep anything from us. He really doesn't think there's any difference"; shortly later, Moran laughed hysterically and despairingly after realizing the dire implications of Dorfmann's words
The Nerve-Wracking Plane Starter Sequence
and Triumphant Flight Out of the Desert
  • the nerve-wracking climax - when Towns attempted to start the plane with only seven starter cartridges remaining - with each one failing until one succeeded, and their triumphant flight out of the desert by lying on the wings

Crash Landing of Cargo Plane in Desert

Hallucinatory Mirage of Berber Dancer Farida

German Engineer Dorfmann
(Hardy Kruger)

Lew Moran (Richard Attenborough)

Moran's Hysterical Laughter at Dorfmann


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