Dark of the Sun

Dark of the Sun
Dark of the Sun

Original film poster by Frank McCarthy
Directed by Jack Cardiff
Produced by George Englund
Screenplay by Ranald MacDougall (as Quentin Werty)
Adrien Spies
Based on The Dark of the Sun by
Wilbur Smith
Starring Rod Taylor
Yvette Mimieux
Jim Brown
Peter Carsten
Music by Jacques Loussier
Cinematography Edward Scaife
Editing by Ernest Walter
Studio MGM
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s) July 3, 1968 (1968-07-03)
Running time 100 minutes
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English

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. It was directed by Jack Cardiff and based on Wilbur Smith's 1965 novel, The Dark of the Sun.

Most of the film, which tells of a band of mercenaries sent on a dangerous mission during the Congo Crisis, was shot on location on the Jamaican railway system.[1] Interiors were completed at Borehamwood Studios near London.

Critics condemned the film on its original release in 1968 for its graphic scenes of violence and torture.[2]



Sometime in 1964 or 1965, mercenary Bruce Curry (Rod Taylor) is hired by Congolese President Ubi (Calvin Lockhart) supposedly to rescue the European residents of an isolated town about to be attacked by rebel Simbas. But in reality his pressing mission is to retrieve diamonds, worth fifty million dollars, from a mine company's vault. Curry's subordinates include his friend Ruffo (Jim Brown) and alcoholic Doctor Wreid (Kenneth More). Reluctantly he also takes ex-Nazi Henlein (Peter Carsten) on the mission because he needs his military expertise and leadership skills.

The Congolese president also gives Curry the use of a steam train along with government soldiers. On the way, the train is attacked by a United Nations peacekeeping plane. The mercenaries then pick up Claire (Yvette Mimieux) after they find her house burned down and husband murdered by Simbas. Meanwhile, Henlein, who resents Curry's leadership, begins to cause trouble because the German knows about the diamonds. Things come to a boiling point when the ex Nazi kills two children who he suspects could be rebel spies. Afterward, Henlein makes romantic advances towards Claire, which Curry interrupts. Curry and Henlein then fight an inconclusive duel which involves a chainsaw. Curry is prepared to kill Henlein but is stopped by Ruffo.

But there are further complications when the mercenaries reach the town. Firstly, the diamonds are in a time-locked vault delaying the departure of the train. Secondly, Dr Wreid who went to a mission hospital to help a pregnant woman, refuses to abandon his patient. After travelling into the bush to get him, Curry reluctantly agrees to let the doctor stay behind. Back in town precious minutes tick by as everyone waits anxiously for the vault mechanism to open.

The delay eventually allows the Simbas to catch up and begin attacking the town and station. Finally the heavily-laden train, which is loaded with the diamonds and the residents, slowly leaves the station under small arms fire. But just as it's nearly out of range, a mortar round destroys the coupling between the last two carriages. Agonisingly as the rest of the train picks up speed and steams away, the last coach with the diamonds and most of the Europeans on board slowly comes to a stop before rolling downhill back into the Simba-held town.

Curry then stops his part of the damaged train. He and Ruffo then lead a raid to retrieve the diamonds from the rebels at nightfall. Using a Simba disguise, Ruffo carries Curry's 'lifeless body' into the town's hotel. Its rooms are now full of sickening scenes of (for the film's time period) rape, murder and torture. Following a diversion by government soldiers, they get the diamonds and escape in some vehicles. When they run low on fuel, Curry leaves to find some more. Henlein uses his absence to kill Ruffo in the mistaken belief that he had the diamonds. Empty handed, Henlein flees into the bush. When Curry returns to find his friend dead, he is filled with murderous revenge. He pursues Henlein and kills him after a vicious fight. Curry then returns to the truck convoy. With his job done, Curry reflects on himself and turns himself in for a court-martial for his actions.



The book and the film are a fictional account of the Congo Crisis (1960–1966) when Joseph Mobutu seized power during the First Republic of the Congo after national independence from Belgium. The conflicts in Dark of the Sun are based on the anti-colonial struggle, a secessionist war with the province of Katanga and a United Nations peacekeeping operation within the context of the Cold War. Actual violence in the Congo resulted in the deaths of up to 100,000 people.[3]

The Henlein character was based on Siegfried Müller, a German mercenary who fought in the Congo wearing the Iron Cross that he earned during World War II.[4] Mueller was featured in a 1966 East German-made documentary Der Lachende Mann (The Laughing Man).

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. In fact, the film takes place during the Simba Rebellion of 1964-65, when mercenaries were recruited by the Congo government to fight a leftist insurgency.[5]

The film was made in Jamaica to take advantage of a working steam train as well as safety and cost-effectiveness.[6]At the same time MGM was filming Graham Greene's The Comedians (1967) in Africa though the original took place in the Caribbean.

Rod Taylor claimed he rewrote a fair amount of the script himself, including helping devise a new ending.[7]

The film's score was composed by Jacques Loussier.


The film was considered extremely violent for its time and the scenes of civilians being raped and tortured by Simbas can still shock. 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."[2]

Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino are two of the film's fans. Scorsese calls the film one of his "guilty pleasures".[2] 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.


  1. ^ pp.129-130 Horsford, Jim THE RAILWAYS OF JAMAICA: Through The Blue Mountains To The Blue Caribbean Seas - A History Of The Jamaica Government Railway 2011 Paul Catchpole Ltd
  2. ^ a b c "Dark of the Sun /'The Mercenaries (1968)". Photoplay (at rodtaylorsite.com). August 1967. http://www.rodtaylorsite.com/darkofthesun.shtml. 
  3. ^ Twentieth Century Atlas - Death Tolls
  4. ^ "The Congo: Moise's Black Magic". TIME Magazine. Feb. 19, 1965. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,940934-2,00.html. 
  5. ^ Hoare, Mike (2008). Congo Mercenary. Paladin Press. 
  6. ^ Cardiff, Jack & Martin Scorsese (1997). Magic Hour. Faber & Faber. 
  7. ^ Stephen Vagg, Rod Taylor: An Aussie in Hollywood, Bear Manor Media 2010 p131

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