SANDS OF THE KALAHARI (director/writer: Cy Endfield; screenwriter: from a novel by William Mulvihill; cinematographer: Erwin Hillier; editor: John Jympson; music: John Dankworth; cast: Stuart Whitman (O'Brien), Stanley Baker (Bain), Susannah York (Grace Monckton), Harry Andrews (Grimmelman), Theodore Bikel (Dr. Bondarahkai), Nigel Davenport (Sturdevant), Barry Lowe (Detjens); Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Cy Endfield/Stanley Baker; Olive Films; 1965-UK)

"Schematic but enthralling survival thriller."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

Blacklisted American filmmaker Cy Endfield ("Zulu"/"Hell Drivers"/"Try and Get Me!") directs from exile in England this schematic but enthralling survival thriller, where every character is predictably portrayed as a symbol of civilization. The film's bare-chested killing machine villain is compared to Hitler, as a destroyer of civilization. It's based on a novel by William Mulvihill, and was the sixth and last time Stanley Baker hooked up with Endfield. "Sands," though a solid production, did a poor box office because it was released at the same time with the similar-themed Robert Aldrich film "Flight of the Phoenix, that starred the popular James Stewart.

A plane at a small South African airport has its flight to Johannesburg delayed for another day, and an elderly intellectual German war veteran Grimmelman (Harry Andrews) and a bureaucratic UN social worker, Dr. Bondarahkai (Theodore Bikel), recruit fellow stranded passengers Grace Monckton (Susannah York), an attractive British divorcee, and a despondent, chain-smoking, alcoholic mining engineer Bain (Stanley Baker) to share expenses on a small chartered plane piloted by the shady Dutch pilot Sturdevant (Nigel Davenport). At the last moment, arrogant macho American businessman and big-game hunter O'Brien (Stuart Whitman) joins the flight. The doomed flight runs into miles of locusts in its path that clog the engine and the plane crash lands in the remote Kalahari desert, killing the co-pilot (Barry Lowe) and exploding.

The motley group of survivors seek refuge in a shady mountain cave, inhabited by a colony of menacing and shrieking baboons. The sleazy pilot tries to rape Grace, but backs off when she shows a contempt for him and turns frigid. Thereby Sturdevant volunteers to walk across the desert for help, while Grace falls for the film's hunky villain, O'Brien, to be her protector. He's the group's self-appointed leader and the man with the high-powered rifle and main food provider, who foolishly goes after the baboons and insanely gets rid of some of the survivors so he can have more food and water for himself. In the end, the passive Bain challenges the extrovert O'Brien's leadership and then the pic builds to its final Man vs. Nature battle, where Bain kills the alpha male baboon and is surrounded by the encroaching monkeys as if their new leader. The Bushman make an appearance, and are depicted as primitives more capable of kindness than many civilized folks. Also much is made that the plane crashed in a diamond mine field area that's designated as off-limits to the public, and the hostile security force reacts violently to any trespassers thinking they only came to steal diamonds.  

REVIEWED ON 11/13/2012       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"