Movie Number– 92
Title– Sands of the Kalahari (1965)
Running Time– 120 minutes (“Not Rated”)
Director– Cy Endfield
Writer– Cy Endfield (screenplay), William Mulvihill (novel)
Starring– Stuart Whitman, Stanley Baker and Susannah York
When watching films adapted from novels, one has to consider that if the director attempted to fit the entire – or even most of – the novel into the film, it would make for an unwatchable epic. That being said, if there were two things that the director would want to include from the book, it would have to be the characterizations, and importance of the characters. Unfortunately Sands of the Kalahari misses this mark entirely. There is virtually no backstory given for any character, and you’ll find it difficult to connect with any of them, making the story meaningless.
In Kalahari, a group of strangers agree to charter a small plane to get back home. The plane, piloted by Nigel Davenport (A Man for All Seasons, Chariots of Fire), runs into a cloud of locusts for some reason, and crashes in the hot, South African Kalahari Desert. All but one survives the crash, leaving these six strangers to brave the harsh elements, and make it out alive. Fortunately, one survivor – Brian O’Brien, played by Stuart Whitman – is a big game hunter, and his rifles have survived the crash. O’Brien, being the survivalist he is, begins to think that it’ll be easier to sustain himself if there are fewer people around him, and starts trying to rid the desert of survivors, one at a time.
One thing that Kalahari does exceptionally well is the acting. Stuart Whitman leads the ensemble cast nicely, alongside love interest Susannah York. Nigel Davenport and Stanley Baker are toss-ups for best actor in the film, but each one does a nice job bringing a sense of reality to the situation. As hard as the actors are working, though, it’s still difficult to truly care for any of the characters because the story is so shallow. These six people are stranded in this desert for no other reason than that they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is realistic, but doesn’t make for the most compelling drama possible. Even as the film progresses, aside from the superficial bond between Brian and Grace, the relationships never grow, or become important. In a survival film like this, that connection could have made a world of difference.
There is an obvious parallel drawn between the animals of the desert, and the survivors. The baboons (who bark and growl like dogs for some unexplained reason) in particular are used as a heavy metaphor for Brian’s survivalist techniques. The problem with this is, like the relationships, it is introduced early on, and never progresses throughout the films 2-hour runtime. These problems make the film feel stagnant and stale, and that feeling lasts the entire movie. I understand that Kalahari is trying to make a statement on the nature of the human beast when put in dire situations, but its attempts are simplistic, and the result is a boring second act, and an unexplained final act that employs a deus ex machina plot device to conclude the story.
There aren’t nearly enough positives to recommend Sands of the Kalahari to anyone who doesn’t already love the movie. It seems like the director wanted to film beautiful images and animals, and had to throw in some characters and a weak story to justify this desire. The most disappointing part of Kalahari is that the film starts out with such promise; the first act works to get the audience engaged, but fails to do anything special to keep us connected after the first 20-minutes. There are better survival films out there, and I suggest those over Sands of the Kalahari.