Sunday, August 17, 2014


SANDS OF THE KALAHARI, a 1965 British adventure film, was one of those movies I always wanted to see when I was a kid but somehow never did. Just look at that poster art! It looks like the cover of one of the greatest "men's sweat" adventure magazines ever published. I can see this story being hyped as "Baboons Bit My Butt!" (in the tradition of the legendary "Weasels Ripped My Flesh!"). Alas, it's yet another example of selling the sizzle and not the steak as I found out when I sat down and finally watched this film for the first time yesterday afternoon.

The film begins in a way that is remarkably similar to the opening of Robert Aldrich's masterpiece, THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX (1965). A chartered twin engine aircraft is carrying passengers across the African desert when the plane encounters an immense swarm of locusts. The plane crashes and the survivors (Stuart Whitman, Stanley Baker, Susannah York, Harry Andrews, Theodore Bikel and Nigel Davenport) are left stranded in the desert, hundreds of miles from civilization. But instead of rebuilding their plane and flying out of the desert (which they can't do because the craft explodes after landing), they are left to survive by any means necessary.

They soon find food, water and shelter in a cave but a nearby tribe of baboons gives big-game hunter Whitman cause for concern. He's determined to survive at all costs and that means eliminating any and all competition for food and water, be it baboon or fellow human. Davenport sets off to find help, Whitman forces Bikel at gunpoint to do the same and he kills Andrews when he refuses to leave the camp. That leaves just Whitman, Baker and York in a tense struggle to the death for survival and superiority.

Shot on location in Africa by director Cy Enfield (who made the marvelous African adventure film ZULU (1963)) SANDS is a good looking film with a fairly compelling storyline that still somehow misses the mark. The showdown with the baboons (one of the major selling points of the film), doesn't occur until the very end of the film, which is a bit of a letdown. The cast is good but Whitman, who is the real threat, is not a strong enough actor to carry as much of the narrative load as is required by the screenplay. Apparently, the producers of the film originally wanted Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor for the leads but Burton demanded too much money. George Peppard was cast in the Whitman role but left to make THE BLUE MAX before production began. Whitman, a serviceable action hero type in other films and television shows, was hired as his replacement. It's fun to see future SUPERMAN co-stars Susannah York and Harry Andrews together. I wonder if they compared notes about that "baboon movie" when they were on the Krypton set at Pinewood Studios?

SANDS OF THE KALAHARI is not a bad little movie. But it suffers in comparison to FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX and ZULU, both of which are better films. It's worth seeing at least once if you're a fan of "men's sweat" material.

1 comment:

  1. Isn't this the one where Stuart Whitman goes apeshit (quite literally) and chooses to stay behind as King of The Baboons instead of returning to civilization? I remember this used to show up quite a lot on TV when I was a kid. Haven't seen it since then, not even on TCM and sooner or later, everything shows up on TCM.