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Dark of the Sun / The Mercenaries (1968)

Rod Taylor plays Capt. Bruce Curry, a hardboiled mercenary leader in this raw, gritty action flick directed by Jack Cardiff.


The film, which depicts the blood-soaked war in the Congo in the 1960s, maintains a steamy, edgy feel throughout while exploring the morality and motivations of the mercenaries.

Taylor's intense Capt. Curry is a veteran soldier-of-fortune hired by the president of the Congo for a three-day mission: Curry and his partner, native Congolese Ruffo (Jim Brown), are to lead a train through the war-torn nation to rescue a besieged community. The mercenaries also have a clandestine objective: Bring back a load of diamonds to support the new president's regime.

With the help of 40 of the Congo's best soldiers, a Nazi sympathizer (Peter Carsten) and a drunken medic (Kenneth More), Curry and Ruffo set off on an odyssey, constantly facing the threat of attack by vicious rebels. Along the way, they save a beautiful missionary (Yvette Mimieux -- Taylor's "Time Machine" co-star), who softens Curry's hard edges.

Indeed, the movie is not all gunfire and explosions; there are poignant moments of humanity amid all the tumult. Curry and his band constantly grapple with questions of hate, prejudice and "where to draw the line."


"Dark of the Sun" is based on a novel by Wilbur Smith and was filmed in Jamaica because the Congo posed political and logistical problems.

In his biography, "Magic Hour," director Jack Cardiff wrote:

"The Mercenaries" was set in the Belgian Congo but shot in Jamaica, because in Africa we couldn't find a suitable steam train -- a vital part of the plot. 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.

There might have been a little violence off-screen, too, as co-star Kenneth More noted in his memoirs:

Rod Taylor had been an amateur boxing champion before he became an actor, and he and James Brown threatened to settle disputes with their fists. Taylor fancied his chance of knocking out Brown ... [who was] six-foot-four and built like a solid brick privy. They appeared to hate each other. Maybe they were only acting....

Despite such reports and other myth-making about fights between Rod Taylor and Jim Brown, the two seemed to get along well on the set.

And in regard to fighting, they definitely had their playful moments (see photo, below), and they had to do did five takes of a realistic fight scene that included a flying tackle by Brown, a superstar football player, on Taylor, an actor. That would certainly make one grumpy. But whether there were any real fighting is unclear.

(There is another legend that the two engaged in a fist fight outside the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles a few years later. It's a tale that has captured Quentin Tarantino's imagination, and he includes it in the "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" novel tied in to the film.)

Further insight to the Jim Brown-Rod Taylor dynamic has been provided by "Dark of the Sun" producer George Englund in an interview by author Stephen Vagg for "Rod Taylor: An Aussie in Hollywood." Englund recalled some off-screen dynamics between Rod and Jim and described Rod as "a very competitive guy" and referred to his "swaggering ego" at the time.

"Sometimes he was very helpful to Jim and they worked well together," Englund told Vagg. "[But] there was a kind of jungle sniffing that went on between the two of them… Rod was more into it than Jim Brown, 'Who’s the toughest guy?'… It was a kind of macho thing going on between them, but it ebbed and flowed. Rod at the best of times would help Jim."

In interviews, Rod had nice things to say about Jim Brown: "I know that this is only Jimmy's third picture," Rod said at the time of filming, "so all I can say is that he must have inherited an awful lot of experience. Added to which he is a big, good-looking guy, extremely sensitive and intelligent. Playing in scenes with him is a pleasure."


"Dark of the Sun" has drawn attention from lofty contemporary sources. Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese has listed "Dark of the Sun" among the movies he considers his "guilty pleasures," saying that the film "surprised me with its unexpected ferocity the first time I saw it back in 1968."

It's also a favorite of director Quentin Tarantino, who spent three years trying to acquire a good print of the film and then featured it during his fifth annual film festival, held August 2001 in Austin, Texas. A reviewer called "Dark of the Sun" one of the two "diamonds in the rough of QT 5" and noted that it had tremendous resonance with the audience.

Fans rave about the movie, praising Rod's ultimate action role. Here's a sample from Internet Movie Database and viewer comments:

  • "A nasty and terrific gem of an action movie, the best of Rod Taylor's career."

  • "Rod Taylor is really choice in this role: He was easily in his best shape ever and utterly confident as the hardboiled mercenary leader."

  • "Both Aussie Rod Taylor and former Cleveland Browns great Jim Brown are excellent as hard-bitten, greedy mercenaries with (eventually) too good a heart."

The picture earned Taylor a Golden Laurel award from the American film exhibitors industry as one of the top action stars of 1968. Perhaps he should have won a purple heart as well. 

He sprained his knee on four separate occasions during filming, including once when he jumped off a building into a moving jeep and missed his footing. "I don't think I've ever worked so hard on a film," Taylor said.

But while Rod was leaping about the set and doing his own fight scenes, he paused to tell an interviewer where his head was at in 1967:

Once, I was only conscious of making a name as an actor. But in the last three years I've become more deeply dedicated and very much more aware of my duty to the public. That's why I'm doing films like this one. Good old-fashioned entertainment ... a big open-air drama. ...

It's funny, though, because of all the films I've done, I really did love making "Young Cassidy" most of all. But since people didn't want to see Sean O'Casey on the screen, that's OK with me. I'll wipe it off, because it didn't entertain.

Yet, it taught me something. I no longer believe in pictures where you have a ball all to yourself and don't care whether audiences like it or not. And I no longer have any yearning for Olivier-type roles. If I can combine a challenging role that is also entertaining, that's what I'm looking for. ...

I must say that even though "Hotel" was a good, old-fashioned entertainment picture, I still felt rather uncomfortable walking about being sophisticated in it. I think audience find me most attractive as the wild, tough guy who is tough with men and tender with women.

-- Photoplay (Britain), August 1967


Click for gallery


Blog extras:

Snapshots behind the scenes

Tidbits behind the scenes

Site extras:

Jamaican Railways documentary about trains, with some behind the scenes footage

Pressbook items (PDF)

Kingston Gleaner column, 1968(PDF)

Sacramento Bee article about fight scene, 1967 (PDF)

Photoplay article: "Man of action," August 1967 (PDF)

External links:

IMDb // Wikipedia // TCM

The Stalking Moon blog:
pics and description

Video review at YouTube



DVD from Warner Archives and Amazon

Blu-ray from Warner Archives and Amazon (out Dec. 18, 2018)

Preview clip on YouTube

Opening titles and theme
on YouTube

Bar scene on YouTube

Theatrical trailer on YouTube





It took a while for "Dark of the Sun" to get a home video release. When it finally did, its cult status only rose, getting attention in mainstream publications. Case in point: the Dec. 14, 2012, issue of Entertainment Weekly included a DVD "Cult Classic" review of Dark of the Sun, giving it an "A" and raving about  the "rollicking red-meat adventure." The item has special praise for "terrific Rod Taylor" who "oozes sweaty, 100-proof charisma." What a joy to see this praise in a major, mass-audience publication!

A scan of the review is below for your reading enjoyment: