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|James Stewart||Capt. Frank Towns|
|Richard Attenborough||Lew Moran|
|Peter Finch||Capt. Harris|
|Hardy Krüger||Heinrich Dorfmann|
|Ernest Borgnine||Trucker Cobb|
|Ronald Fraser||Sergeant Watson|
|Christian Marquand||Dr. Renaud|
Frank Towns (James Stewart) is the pilot of a twin-engine Fairchild C-82 Packet cargo aircraft from Jaghbub flying to Benghazi in Libya. Lew Moran (Richard Attenborough) is the navigator while the passengers are Capt. Harris (Peter Finch) and Sgt. Watson (Ronald Fraser) of the British army; Dr. Renaud (Christian Marquand), a physician; Heinrich Dorfmann (Hardy Krüger), a German aeronautical engineer; Mr. Standish (Dan Duryea), an oil company accountant; and several oil workers that include Trucker Cobb (Ernest Borgnine), a mentally disturbed foreman; Ratbags Crow (Ian Bannen), a mean-spirited, sardonic Scot; Carlos (Alex Montoya) and his pet monkey; and Gabriel (Gabriele Tinti). A sudden sandstorm shuts down the engines, forcing Towns to crash-land in the desert. As the aircraft careens to a stop, several oil drums and oil drilling gear break loose and severely injure Gabriel's leg. Two other workers are killed.With no functioning radio to call for help, the survivors wait to be rescued, but the storm blew them too far off-course to be found. Although they have a large quantity of dates for food, they calculate their water will only last for 10 to 15 days provided they avoid physical exertion. Harris and Carlos attempt to walk to an oasis. Carlos leaves his monkey behind with the men. Harris and Towns refuse to let Cobb go along due to his increasing mental instability, but he defiantly follows and dies. Days later, Harris returns to the crash site alone and barely alive.Meanwhile, Dorfmann has been working on a radical idea: He believes they can build a new aircraft from the wreckage. The C-82 has twin booms extending rearwards from each engine and connected by the horizontal stabilizer. Dorfmann's plan is to attach the outer panel of the right wing to the left engine, left boom and left wing outer panel, discarding the center fuselage and both inner wing panels of the aircraft. Harris and Moran believe he is either joking or deluded, and the animosity between Towns the veteran pilot and Dorfmann the aircraft designer increases. Post war anti-German sentiment also simmers under the surface. The struggle is complicated by a personality clash between Towns, who is a proud old traditionalist, and Dorfmann, a young, equally proud technician. Moran, a good natured man suffering from alcoholism, struggles to keep the peace. The tension only gets worse when Dorfmann bluntly explains that Gabriel will die before the aircraft flies.Although Towns is resistant, Renaud points out that activity and any hope will keep the men's morale up and so Towns agrees to the plan. Dorfmann supervises as the workers cut, haul, and weld parts of the aircraft. Towns is doubtful the plans will succeed. During the work, Gabriel takes his own life by slitting his wrist with a knife. The men are so depressed by the loss they contemplate giving up the new plane's construction. Things seem even bleaker when Towns discovers that Dorfmann has taken extra rations of water. However, Dorfmann promises to not do so again if they all work equally hard. Moran talks Towns into resuming work on the aircraft.When the new aircraft is almost complete, Standish labels it "The Phoenix" after the mythical bird that is reborn from its ashes. Any good moods, however, are quashed when Harris and Renaud are murdered by a band of native raiders.Final plans are made for the Phoenix's flight. Dorfmann loses his temper and stops working after Towns insists on testing the engine, which would deplete the scarce supply of explosive Coffman engine starter cartridges. Once again Moran must patch up the feud and work continues.Towns and Moran learn that Dorfmann designs model aircraft instead of full-sized aircraft. Dorfmann claims the principles are the same, but Towns and Moran are horrified at the idea of flying an aircraft made by a man who works with "toys." Without any other choice, however, Towns and Moran forge ahead with the plan and don't tell the others of their discovery.Just as the water runs out, the Phoenix is completed. Dorfmann panics when four cartridges fail to start the engine and Towns wants to use one of the remaining three cartridges just to clear the engine's cylinders. Dorfmann objects, but Towns ignores him and fires one cartridge with the ignition off. The penultimate cartridge succeeds. The men pull the Phoenix to a nearby hilltop and climb onto the wings with Carlos's pet monkey in tow. When Towns guns the engine, the Phoenix slides down the hill and along a lake bed before taking off. After the Phoenix lands at an oasis with a manned oil rig, the men celebrate and Towns and Dorfmann reconcile.
Theatrical : 1965-12-15 : United States of America