When the moving picture industry started out, its selection of genres seemed somewhat analogous to an ice cream parlor offering only a few flavors. As the years went by, though, various subgenres began to emerge — taking tried and true (and often tired out) formulas and injecting a little new blood into them. During the ‘60s, the war film begat an offshoot of, wherein a group of soldiers (current and/or ex) went on a suicide mission of some nature. Sometimes, they went to kill villainous foreign armies. Other times, they were in search of hidden treasure. With 1968’s epically-awesome Dark Of The Sun (aka The Mercenaries) — based on the Wilbur Smith novel of the same name — we get both.
Set just a few years before the movie was released, Australian actor Rod Taylor takes the lead as Captain Curry, who ventures into the Congo (right during the Congo Crisis) with a crew in order to salvage about fifty million dollars in uncut diamonds from a mine’s time-locked vault. With him are his longtime pal Ruffo (Jim Brown, just a few years away from becoming a blaxploitation icon), a doctor with a drinking problem (Kenneth More), and an evil, murderous, thieving ex-Nazi (Peter Carsten). Along the way, they meet up with several people in peril from forces of the local Simba Rebellion (including André Morell and second-billed Yvette Mimieux.
They also get into several battles, both with the Simbas as well as themselves. At one point, the evil, murderous, thieving ex-Nazi who engages in a one-on-one battle with Curry using a chainsaw — a conflict born from the ex-Nazi’s bitterness over his assigned commanding officer, and one that will ultimately shape the final events of the story. Prior to the development of the MPAA Rating System in November of 1968, violence in the movies wasn’t an everyday sight. Dark Of The Sun (released in July of 1968) probably helped the whole system to arise, as the movie contains several brutal scenes for the time (including a memorable bit with a knife coming out of a man’s chest). The film’s violence caused a bit of a stir at the time amongst moviegoers and critics alike.
Interestingly enough, Dark Of The Sun seemed to get swept under the carpet over the years (maybe it was the disparagement about the film’s brutality?). It’s a pity, too, since the movie is on par with many of the other similarly-themed war movies made around the same timeframe. There’s some gripping drama goin’ on here, and the battle scenes are very well executed. Plus, there’s a fight with a chainsaw, man — that’s some seriously good shit right there in itself! Fortunately for all interested parties, the Warner Archive Collection has added Dark Of The Sun to their ever-expanding list of Manufactured-On-Demand titles, available exclusively from their website.
Better still, Warner has remastered this release, and the anamorphic presentation of this nearly-forgotten commandos on a suicide mission classic has a truly marvelous transfer to boot. While there is a fair amount of grain present (which kind of adds to the fun, really), Dark Of The Sun has some vibrant colors and deep black levels (especially for a Standard Def DVD-R!). Accompanying the 2.40:1 framed feature is a tinny Dolby Digital mono soundtrack (which, again, adds to the fun). There’s even an anamorphic theatrical trailer tacked on for good measure, making this one of those rare Warner Archive releases to include any sort of special features.