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The Flight of the Phoenix (1965 film)

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The Flight of the Phoenix
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Aldrich
Screenplay byLukas Heller
Based onThe Flight of the Phoenix
by Elleston Trevor
Produced byRobert Aldrich
StarringJames Stewart
Richard Attenborough
Peter Finch
Hardy Kruger
Ernest Borgnine
Ian Bannen
Ronald Fraser
Christian Marquand
Dan Duryea
George Kennedy
Alex Montoya
Barrie Chase
CinematographyJoseph Biroc, A.S.C.
Edited byMichael Luciano, A.C.E.
Music byDeVol
An Associates and Aldrich Company Production
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • December 15, 1965 (1965-12-15)
Running time
142 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$3–5 million[1]: 254 [2]
Box office$3 million (US/Canada rentals)[1]: 230 

The Flight of the Phoenix is a 1965 American survival drama film produced and directed by Robert Aldrich, based on the 1964 novel of the same name by English author Elleston Trevor.[3] The story follows a small group of men struggling to survive their aircraft's emergency landing in the Sahara. It stars an ensemble cast, with James Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Peter Finch, Hardy Kruger, Ernest Borgnine, Ian Bannen, Ronald Fraser, Christian Marquand, Dan Duryea and George Kennedy.

Although the film was not a financial success, it was well received by critics, who praised Aldrich's direction and the performances of its cast. It was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor for Bannen, and Best Editing for Michael Luciano. Hardy Krüger was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor,[a] and Aldrich was nominated for Best Motion Picture – Drama.

The Flight of the Phoenix was remade in 2004, titled Flight of the Phoenix.


Frank Towns is the pilot of a twin-engine Fairchild C-82 Packet cargo plane flying from Jaghbub to Benghazi in Libya; Lew Moran is the navigator. Passengers include Capt. Harris and Sgt. Watson of the British Army; Dr. Renaud, a French physician; Heinrich Dorfmann, a German aeronautical engineer; and an oil company accountant named Standish. There are also several oil workers, including Trucker Cobb, a foreman suffering from mental fatigue; Ratbags Crow, a cocky Scot; Carlos and his pet monkey; and Gabriele.

A sudden sandstorm disables the engines, forcing Towns to crash-land in the Sahara desert. As the aircraft comes to a stop, two workers are killed and Gabriele's leg is severely injured.

The radio is unusable, and the survivors are too far off course to be found by searchers. Aboard the plane is a large quantity of pitted dates, but only enough water for 10 to 15 days if rationed. Captain Harris sets out to try finding an oasis. When Sgt. Watson feigns an injury to stay behind, Carlos volunteers, leaving his pet monkey with Bellamy. Harris and Towns refuse to allow the mentally-unstable Cobb to go along, but Cobb defiantly follows anyway and dies of exposure in the desert. Days later, Harris returns to the crash site alone and barely alive. Sgt. Watson discovers and ignores him, although others find him later.

Meanwhile, Dorfmann proposes a radical idea: building a new aircraft from the wreckage. The C-82 has twin booms extending rearwards from each engine and connected by the horizontal stabilizer. Dorfmann wants to attach the outer sections of both wings to the left engine and left boom, discarding the center fuselage and both inner wing sections of the aircraft. The men will ride atop the wings. Towns and Moran believe that he is either joking or delusional. The argument is complicated by a personality clash between Towns, a proud traditionalist aviator who flew for the Allied Forces during the Second World War, and Dorfmann, a young, arrogant German engineer. Moran struggles to maintain the peace.

Towns initially resists Dorfmann's plan, and is further incensed when he learns that it anticipates Gabriele's expected death before the plane is ready to fly. But Renaud sways his opinion, saying activity and hope will help sustain the men's morale. Dorfmann supervises the reconstruction, while Towns remains skeptical. During the work, the fatally-injured Gabriele dies by suicide, depressing the men; they consider abandoning the new plane's construction. Dorfmann, caught exceeding his water ration, justifies it, saying that he has been the only one working continuously. He promises to not do it again, but demands everyone work equally hard from then on.

Standish christens the nearly completed aircraft "Phoenix", after the mythical bird that is reborn from its own ashes. When a band of Arabs camp nearby, Harris and Renaud leave to make contact, while the others (and the aircraft) remain hidden. The two men are found murdered the next day. Additionally, Towns and Moran are stunned to learn that Dorfmann designs model airplanes rather than full-sized aircraft. Dorfmann defends himself, claiming the aerodynamic principles are the same, and many model planes require more exacting designs than full-size aircraft. With no other choice, Towns and Moran forge ahead with the plan without telling the others about Dorfmann.

Phoenix is completed but untested. Only seven starter cartridges are available to ignite the engine. The first four startup attempts are unsuccessful. Over Dorfmann's vehement objections, Towns fires the fifth cartridge with the ignition off to clear the engine's cylinders. The next startup is successful. The men pull Phoenix to a nearby hilltop, and climb onto the wings. When Towns guns the engine, Phoenix slides down the hill and over a lake bed before taking off. After a successful landing at an oasis with a manned oil rig, the men celebrate, and Towns and Dorfmann are reconciled.





Principal photography started April 26, 1965, at the 20th Century-Fox Studios and 20th Century-Fox Ranch, California. Other filming locations, simulating the desert, were Buttercup Valley in the Algodones Dunes, California, and Pilot Knob Mesa, California. The flying sequences were all filmed at Pilot Knob Mesa near Winterhaven, located in California's Imperial Valley, on the western fringes of Yuma, Arizona.[citation needed]

Aircraft used[edit]

Fairchild C-82A N53228 painted in the markings of the fictional Arabco Oil Company for the film

In 2005, Hollywood aviation historian Simon Beck identified the aircraft used in the film:[citation needed]

  • Fairchild C-82A Packet, N6887C – flying shots.
  • Fairchild C-82A Packet, N4833V – outdoor location wreck.
  • Fairchild C-82A Packet, N53228 – indoor studio wreck.
  • Fairchild R4Q-1 Flying Boxcar (the USMC C-119C variant), BuNo. 126580 – non-flying Phoenix prop.
  • Tallmantz Phoenix P-1, N93082 – flying Phoenix aircraft.
  • North American O-47A, N4725V – second flying Phoenix.

The C-82As were from Steward-Davies, Inc., at Long Beach, California, while the O-47A came from the Planes of Fame air museum in Chino, California. The R4Q-1 was purchased from Allied Aircraft in Phoenix, Arizona. The aerial camera platform was a B-25J Mitchell, N1042B, which was also used in the 1970 film Catch-22.[citation needed]

Although principal photography was completed August 13, 1965, to complete filming, a North American O-47A (N4725V) from the Planes of Fame Air Museum was modified and used as a flying Phoenix stand-in. With the canopy removed, a set of skids attached to the main landing gear, and a ventral fin added to the tail, it essentially sufficed as a visual lookalike. Filming using the O-47A was completed in November 1965. It appears in the final flying scenes, painted to look like the earlier Phoenix P-1.[citation needed]

The final production used a mix of footage that included the O-47A, the "cobbled-together" Phoenix and Phoenix P-1.[citation needed]

Death of stunt flyer Paul Mantz[edit]

The flying sequences were flown by racing, stunt, and movie pilot, as well as collector of warplanes, Paul Mantz, co-owner of Tallmantz Aviation, filling in for his partner Frank Tallman, who had injured his leg.[citation needed]

The morning of July 8, 1965, Mantz was flying the Tallmantz Phoenix P-1, the machine that was "made of the wreckage", performing touch-and-go landings for the cameras, when the fuselage buckled during a touchdown. The movie model broke apart and cartwheeled, killing Mantz and seriously injuring stuntman Bobby Rose.[4]

The final credit on the screen was, "It should be remembered... that Paul Mantz, a fine man and a brilliant flyer gave his life in the making of this film..."


The film opened in select theaters December 15, 1965, with a full release in 1966. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times dismissed it as "grim and implausible",[5] while Variety praised the film as an "often-fascinating and superlative piece of filmmaking highlighted by standout performances and touches that show producer-director at his best".[6]

Box office[edit]

Robert Aldrich said that the film previewed well, and everyone thought it was going to be a big hit, but "it never took off" commercially.[7] According to Fox records, the film needed to earn $10,800,000 in rentals to break even, but suffered a loss after making only $4,855,000.[8]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Supporting Actor Ian Bannen Nominated [9]
Best Film Editing Michael Luciano Nominated
American Cinema Editors Awards Best Edited Feature Film Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated [10]
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Hardy Krüger[b] Nominated
Most Promising Newcomer – Male Ian Bannen Nominated

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Krüger later rejected the nomination.
  2. ^ rejected the nomination.


  1. ^ a b Solomon, Aubrey (2002). Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (1st ed.). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow. ISBN 0-8108-4244-0.
  2. ^ Silver, Alain; Ursini, James (1995). Whatever Happened to Robert Aldrich?: His Life and Films (1st ed.). New York: Limelight Ed. p. 267. ISBN 9780879101855.
  3. ^ "The Flight of the Phoenix". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved February 29, 2016.
  4. ^ "Final Flight - 'Phoenix'". Check-six.com. Retrieved January 18, 2017.
  5. ^ Crowther, Bosley (February 1, 1966). "Movie Review—Screen: From the Ashes: 'Flight of the Phoenix' on View at 2 Theaters". The New York Times. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  6. ^ Variety staff (1964). Flight of the Phoenix, film review, Variety, December 31, 1964. Retrieved 2018-01-19.
  7. ^ Champlin, Charles (August 25, 1974). "Aldrich's Safari in Mogul Country: Safari in Mogul Country Aldrich's Safari in Mogul Country". Los Angeles Times. p. 1.
  8. ^ Silverman, Stephen M. (1988). The Fox That Got Away : The Last Days of the Zanuck Dynasty at Twentieth Century-Fox. Secaucus: L. Stuart. p. 325. ISBN 0-8184-0485-X.
  9. ^ "The 38th Academy Awards (1966) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved September 4, 2011.
  10. ^ "The Flight of the Phoenix – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved July 5, 2021.

Further reading[edit]

  • Cox, Stephen. It's a Wonderful Life: A Memory Book. Nashville, Tennessee: Cumberland House, 2003. ISBN 1-58182-337-1.
  • Eliot, Mark. Jimmy Stewart: A Biography. New York: Random House, 2006. ISBN 1-4000-5221-1.
  • Hardwick, Jack and Ed Schnepf. "A Viewer's Guide to Aviation Movies". The Making of the Great Aviation Films. General Aviation Series, Volume 2, 1989.
  • Jones, Ken D., Arthur F. McClure and Alfred E. Twomey. The Films of James Stewart. New York: Castle Books, 1970.
  • Munn, Michael. Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend. Fort Lee, New Jersey: Barricade Books Inc., 2006. ISBN 1-56980-310-2.
  • Pickard, Roy. Jimmy Stewart: A Life in Film. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992. ISBN 0-312-08828-0.
  • Robbins, Jhan. Everybody's Man: A Biography of Jimmy Stewart. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1985. ISBN 0-399-12973-1.
  • Thomas, Tony. A Wonderful Life: The Films and Career of James Stewart. Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press, 1988. ISBN 0-8065-1081-1.

External links[edit]