Taking your son to a testosterone enriched classic Men’s Adventure movie is an important obligation for any good father. My Dad took me to see “The Dirty Dozen.” I took my son to see “Goldfinger.”
If there was a short list of movies perfect for Father/Son sharing, “Flight of the Phoenix (1965)” would be on it. It’s a perfect Men’s Adventure movie, featuring three manly themes: perseverance in the face of adversity, struggling for moral leadership, and fixing shit.
After recently re-watching the movie for the umpteenth time on Turner Classic Movies, I sought out the original novel the film was based on, by Elleston Trevor. It’s a terrific read, taut and lean. The movie is pretty faithful to the book, which tells the story of a cargo plane carrying oil riggers and spare parts across the Libyan desert which crashes in the midst of a fierce sandstorm. Driven hundreds of miles off course, far from any civilization or oasis with no hope of rescue, the survivors are convinced by another passenger, an aircraft designer, to build a new plane from the wreckage and fly back to safety. Along the way, some go mad, others are killed by bandits, and the group nearly falls apart due to internal conflict.
The movie is gifted with an awesome all-male cast, headed by a grizzled Jimmy Stewart as the pilot and Sir Richard Attenborough as the navigator. Along for the ride are some of the greatest character actors ever: George Kennedy, Dan Duryea, Ernest Borgnine, Peter Finch, and Ian Bannen, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his role. One change from the novel is to make the twitchy aircraft engineer a German, brilliantly portrayed by Hardy Kruger.
In the wake of his recent passing, I’d like to put in a few kind words for Ernest Borgnine. How many great Men’s Adventure movies did he elevate by his presence? “The Dirty Dozen,”"The Wild Bunch,”"Ice Station Zebra,”"The Vikings,” etc. For me, he will always be Lt. Commander Quinton McHale, an important figure that factored into my personal decision to join the Navy. True to his example, I did eventually wind up serving in “McHale’s Navy,” as one exasperated petty officer shouted at me when he found out I was a minesweeper sailor. (My haircut and uniform were not up to Navy standards, which led me to be handcuffed to a chair in the shore patrol office in Alameda. Long story.)
They remade “Flight of the Phoenix” in 2005 starring Dennis Quaid, adding a woman to the cast, which proves that the 21st Century sucks. That movie certainly did.
Read the book and sit down with your son to share a handful of classic Men’s Adventure DVDs some night.