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Film / The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)

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"I told you there would be no difficulty in building this aeroplane. I also told you it would require an outstanding pilot to fly it. The only thing outstanding about you, Mr. Towns, is your stupidity."
Heinrich Dorfmann

The Flight of the Phoenix is a 1965 survival drama film directed by Robert Aldrich, adapted from the 1964 novel of the same name by Elleston Trevor.

A twin-engine Fairchild C-82 cargo plane, owned by the Arabco oil company and piloted by Frank Towns (James Stewart) with navigator Lew Moran (Richard Attenborough), is flying from Jebel to Benghazi in eastern Libya with a dozen passengers aboard. Among them are two British soldiers, Captain Harris (Peter Finch) and Sergeant Watson (Ronald Fraser), who have hitched a ride; eight Arabco employees, including riggers Mike Bellamy (George Kennedy) and "Rat Bags" Crow (Ian Bannen), accountant Standish (Dan Duryea), and foreman "Trucker" Cobb (Ernest Borgnine), who is suffering from a mental breakdown; Renaud (Christian Marquand), a French doctor attending Cobb; and Heinrich Dorfmann (Hardy Krüger), a German aeronautics engineer who is returning from visiting his Arabco-employed brother in Jebel.

The plane is caught in a sandstorm and is forced to make a crash landing in the Sahara desert, killing two passengers and severely injuring a third. Though initially optimistic that they will soon be rescued, the survivors soon realise that even if they are missed, no-one knows where to look for them. While Harris decides to set out for the nearest oasis a hundred miles away on foot, Dorfmann announces that he is an aircraft designer and that he has established that they have all the parts to build a smaller airplane out of the wreckage of their aircraft. At first, Towns is dismissive of Dorfmann's idea, but Lew persuades him that the work involved will keep the survivors occupied and give them hope of returning to civilisation. The construction proceeds smoothly apart from the increasing friction between Dorfmann and Towns, until, with the new aircraft nearly complete (and dubbed the Phoenix by Standish), Dorfmann stuns Towns and Lew with a revelation about his professional background.

Though it received lukewarm reviews and was not a box office success, the film garnered Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor (Ian Bannen) and Film Editing (Michael Luciano).

Another film adaptation was released in 2004.

Tropes in this 1965 film include:

  • Achilles in His Tent: After having a massive blowup at Towns when he wants to test the engine of the Phoenix before they try to fly her, Dorfmann storms into the wrecked aircraft to sulk. An exasperated Lew points out that the water supply is almost exhausted and that when it runs out, the remaining survivors will start fighting over it, and soon they'll all be dead, but Dorfmann is unmoved. Lew then strikes at his vulnerable point by declaring, "You told Towns he was behaving as if stupidity was a virtue. If he's making it into a virtue, you're making it into a bloody science!" The next day, Dorfmann re-emerges and, after getting Towns to declare him in charge of the project, orders everyone to get back to work.
  • The Alcoholic: Lew is established early on as having a weakness for booze when he has a drink while they are in the air; Towns gives him a disapproving look. After the crash, Dr. Renaud asks him if there is any liquor on the plane to help with Gabriele's pain; Lew initially shies away from handing over his bottle by asking if he couldn't use morphine instead. Later, Towns accuses Lew of being drunk the night before the flight and skipping the preliminary checklist - which is why they didn't have a working radio.
  • All Germans Are Nazis: Subverted in that Dorfmann says he wasn't involved in the war and no one has a problem with that. Although Ratbags does call him a "Nazi pig" when he admits to having taken more than his share of water.
  • And Starring: Includes several levels of this. The opening credits begin as follows: "An Associates and Aldrich Company Production starring / James Stewart / Richard Attenborough / Peter Finch / Hardy Kruger / Ernest Borgnine as Trucker Cobb / in The Flight of the Phoenix". But Borgnine's credit is just the beginning - they continue with "Co-starring Ian Bannen / Ronald Fraser / Christian Marquand / Dan Duryea as Standish". And they're still not done, moving on to "Also starring George Kennedy / Gabriele Tinti / Alex Montoya". And that's still not the end, as they continue with "Featuring Peter Bravos / William Aldrich / and Barrie Chase as Farida".note 
  • Bedouin Rescue Service: Subverted - the nomads prove to be hostile, and Harris and Renaud's attempt to establish contact with them ends fatally for them.
  • Belly Dancer: Sgt. Watson hallucinates about one named Farida whom he'd met in the past.
  • The Big Guy: Mike Bellamy is among the biggest and strongest of the survivors, so his role in the construction of the Phoenix involves a lot of the heavy lifting that can be done by one person.
  • But I Read a Book About It: Dorfmann says he has experience building and designing aircraft. He later reveals he works with model aircraft, but it turns out the principles are much the same, just on a smaller scale.
  • Chromosome Casting: Aside from a two-minute dream sequence featuring Barrie Chase as the dancing girl Farida, the entire cast is male.
  • Closest Thing We Got: Dorfmann only designs remote controlled model aircraft flown by hobbyists; he has never designed a plane large enough to carry a person. However, he's the closest thing available, and, as he points out to the shocked Towns and Lew, the aerodynamic principles are nearly identical.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Trucker Cobb is being flown to Benghazi after suffering a mental breakdown, and establishes himself early on as a bit spacey; when Lew notes that the plane's radio is out of order, an upbeat Cobb tells him that record players are more reliable. His grip on reality slips further after the crash; he tells the others that Captain Harris has invited him to go on his attempt to walk to civilisation, but when the alarmed Towns tells Harris that Cobb is in no state to go anywhere, a confused Harris says he hasn't even spoken to Cobb.
  • Conflict Ball: Dorfmann is offended when Towns reacts to his suggestion that they build a new plane out of the wreckage of the old one by angrily asking him if he's trying to be funny, but he quickly goes from there to calling Towns stupid at every opportunity.
  • Covers Always Lie: Don't knock it, this really is an awesome movie... just not quite as action-packed as the above poster implies.
  • Dead-Hand Shot:
    • Bill and Tassos, the riggers who are crushed to death by loose heavy equipment during the crash, each get one of these, with Bill's hand next to the issue of Playboy he was reading before the crash and Tassos' hand around the neck of his smashed bouzouki.
    • After Gabriele slits his wrists, there is a shot from Harris' point of view of his lifeless arm hanging over the side of his makeshift bunk, blood dripping onto the torn pieces of the photo of him and his wife on the floor.
  • Deadly Dust Storm: The plane crashes after flying into a dust storm in the middle of the desert.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • 'Ratbags' Crow spends most of the film poking fun at the other characters in ways he alone seems to find amusing. When he notices Dorfmann obsessing over his calculations, he jokes that it's a wonder the Germans didn't win the war. Dorfmann, clearly uninterested in the subject, says he wasn't involved; Crow then jokes to the other passengers that Dorfmann's non-involvement must be the reason the Germans lost.note 
    • Dorfmann also definitely counts:
      Towns: I said, are you trying to be funny?
      Dorfmann: That is precisely the reaction I would have expected from a man of your obvious limitations.
  • Death Glare: Towns gives Sgt. Watson a brutal one when the latter runs to tell everyone that Cobb has run off after Harris and Carlos... thereby giving away the fact that he was Playing Sick when he claimed to have sprained his ankle. He spends most of the rest of his interactions with Watson shooting him dirty looks.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Trucker Cobb, already convinced his career as an oil rigger is over after his breakdown, passes the despair point of no return when Harris tries to disabuse him of the idea that he is fit to accompany him on his attempt to reach Madara on foot. He physically assaults Harris and has to be restrained by the other passengers as he wails miserably. Not long after Harris and Carlos leave, he runs after them anyway, without even taking a canteen; he doesn't get far.
  • Dirty Coward: Sgt. Watson fakes a leg injury to get out of going with Capt. Harris on his attempt to walk to civilisation; Carlos, his replacement, does not survive the expedition. When Harris returns, dehydrated and half-dead, Watson is the first to find him but decides not to tell anyone (Dorfmann, the second person to discover Harris, is not as discreet). Finally, he bluntly refuses to join Harris in trying to make contact with the nomads; neither Harris nor Renaud, Watson's replacement, survive the encounter. Watson, meanwhile, does survive the film.
  • Driven to Suicide: Gabriele, already worried that his wife is terminally ill (and may already be dead) but not knowing the details, is gravely injured in the crash, and when it becomes apparent he will not live long enough to be rescued, he slits his wrists.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Trucker Cobb dies of thirst about a third of the way into the film after running off into the desert without even taking a canteen.
  • Also, Tasso and Bill. Those poor guys don't even survive the opening credits.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In the ten minutes before the crash, we learn a lot about the characters through their seemingly innocuous interactions with each other.
    • Frank Towns establishes himself as a jaded veteran pilot who feels more sorrow than excitement at the way flying is changing during a conversation with Lew in the cockpit; this sentiment is part of the cause of the friction between Towns and Dorfmann.
      Captain Towns: A pilot is supposed to use his own judgement, don't you think? If it weren't for that... I don't know, Lew. I suppose pilots are just as good now as they ever were, but they sure don't live the way we did. Why, I could tell you that there were times when you took real pride... in just getting there. Flying used to be fun, it really did, Lew... it used to be fun.
    • Lew's Quick Nip from a bottle of liquor and Towns' disappointed look when he notices this are our first indication that the navigator has a drinking problem, and it is later revealed as at least partly responsible for the survivors' plight after the crash (Lew rushed the pre-flight checks because he was sleeping off a hangover and so didn't notice the dead radio until it was too late).
    • Captain Harris telling Sgt. Watson that having his bag on the seat next to him looks untidy and that he should put it back with the cargo paints Harris as a by-the-book officer, while Watson's sullen demeanour as he obeys reveals him as sick of the army and resentful of Harris as a representative of officers.
    • Standish ducking nervously into the plane's toilet during the early moments of the sandstorm and Ratbags laughing "Hey, Standish! Not while the train's in the station!" show Standish as a nebbish out of his depth in the desert and Ratbags as a cross between a Jerkass and a Deadpan Snarker.
    • Cobb reacting to Lew's declaration that the plane's radio is not working by telling him that record players are more reliable than radios anyway shows that his grip on reality has become somewhat tenuous; it isn't until after the crash that we learn he is being sent away on sick leave after a mental breakdown.
    • As the sandstorm worsens, Dorfmann remarking to Cobb that he thinks Towns unwise for flying on to Benghazi instead of the alternate airport if the radio is not working and that he further thinks him too old to be flying without a co-pilot both reveal him as practical yet blunt, and foreshadow his conflict of egos with Towns after the crash.
  • The Extremist Was Right: Dorfmann has a chance to boast when his insistence that a full-size plane and a model are built with the same proportions, and will therefore have the same result during flight, is proven correct when the Phoenix takes off.
  • Fanservice Extra: Watson's flashback/hallucination of Farida, the belly dancer he met in Benghazi. The hallucination is the only woman in the entire movie, and was advertised on the poster despite her one-minute scene.
  • Fatal Family Photo: In Gabriele's last scene, he looks at a picture of himself and his wife. Standish tries to rouse his spirits by saying his wife his very pretty, but Gabriele is convinced that the telegram she sent him saying she was ill means she has already died. He rips up the photo in a final act of despair before slitting his wrists, and by the time Harris notices that he is dead, his blood has pooled over the torn pieces.
  • First-Name Basis: Frank Towns and Lew Moran have worked together for long enough that they address each other as "Frank" and "Lew". To the rest of the characters, they are "Mr. Towns" (or "Captain Towns" or "Skipper") and "Mr. Moran".
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: During the freeze fame opening credits, The camera lingers on the straps and chains holding the equipment in the rear of the plane in freeze frame moments, tipping off the audience that it's going to go. One freeze frame, when crediting the music is by Devol, shows one of the chain links breaking. Sure enough, the straps and chains give out, pummeling the passengers and in Tasso and Bill's case, falling on them and killing them. In Gabrielle's case, his leg is broken by it and he does shortly afterwards.
  • Floating Head Syndrome: The DVD release cover features headshots of Hardy Kruger and Jimmy Stewart as Dorfmann and Towns floating over the wreckage of the aircraft.
  • Franken-vehicle: A team of oil workers are riding in a C-82 Packet cargo plane in Libya from Jebel Akhdar to Benghazi when it flies into a sandstorm and crash-lands. One of the survivors designs planes for a living and figures they can build a new plane from the wreckage and the mining equipment, and fly that to safety after a series of misadventures.
  • Germanic Efficiency / Science-Related Memetic Disorder: When Dorfmann determines that enough pieces can be scavenged from the crashed aircraft to build a smaller one, he becomes almost obsessed with ensuring that construction proceeds to his specifications and on his schedule, and scarcely seems interested in the human cost to the other passengers. Such is his determination that he doesn't even crack a smile until Towns succeeds in starting the engine in the film's climax.
  • Going Cold Turkey: Stranded in the desert as they are, the survivors who smoke or drink are forced to do without when their supplies of cigarettes and alcohol run out. Late in the film, Rat Bags quips that he plans to write a letter to the Daily Mirror entitled "How I gave up smoking in three days".
  • Good Is Not Nice: Towns and Dorfman are trying to save everyone from dying the desert, but they are not the most pleasant people to be around.
  • The Great Repair: The characters are stranded in the desert after their plane crashes during a sandstorm, and when it becomes apparent that no rescue mission is forthcoming, their only hope of getting out is to build a new plane from the wreckage of the old one.
  • Honor Before Reason: This is one of Captain Harris' defining character traits, and his application of it results in multiple Senseless Sacrifices.
    • He remains determined to set off for Madara, a hundred miles away, on foot, insisting that it can only improve the chance the others will be rescued, even after Towns points out that the magnetic rock in the nearby mountains will render his compass useless while Lew notes that the calculations involved in navigating by the stars require too much precision and his right-handedness and resulting uneven stride mean that he will end up simply walking in an anticlockwise circle. Sure enough, Harris ends up back at the crash site a few days later, near death from dehydration and exhaustion, his companion from the expedition, Carlos, having died in the desert.
    • He insists on trying to make contact with the nomads on the chance they might help the stranded passengers, even though he himself knows they are likely outside the law of their own tribe and there's nothing stopping them from killing him. When Sgt. Watson flatly refuses to accompany him, he tries to place him under open arrest and orders him to hand over his revolver; Watson again refuses. (To Harris' credit, he does realise that there is nothing he can do to force Watson to obey, and so he stops trying.) As predicted, when Harris and Renaud approach the nomads, their throats are cut and their bodies looted.
  • Hope Spot: The next day the nomads appear to have left a camel for the use of the survivors. Turns out it's lame and the two men sent to talk to them have been murdered.
  • Idiot Ball: Captain Towns and Lew, being pilots and all, shouldn't have been so shocked that the principles of flying model aircraft and full size aircraft are the same - but the tension needed to be there.
  • I Know Mortal Kombat: In a non-combat version of this trope, Dorfmann doesn't actually design commercial aircraft, just scale models operated by remote control. However, the basic principles are the same, and he notes to Towns and Lew that there are extra challenges in designing model aircraft, as they have no pilots and so cannot rely on them for stability.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: As the sandstorm begins to worsen, Lew takes out a bottle of liquor and has a Quick Nip from it. Towns gives him a disappointed look, but says nothing.
  • It's the Only Way: Harris goes on both of his high-risk expeditions into the desert because he believes the chances of Dorfmann's plane getting off the ground are zero, and Towns isn't inclined to disagree.
  • Jerkass:
    • Ratbags Crow is barely able to go for a single scene without making fun of one of the other castaways; after his usual verbal jousting partner, Carlos, dies while trekking into the desert with Harris, he is left with passengers who find his sarcasm irritating rather than funny (for example, when he pretend-flirts with an unamused Watson while asking him for a spanner, the latter simply tells Crow to knock it off). That said, while he's a pretty unsympathetic character (less so than Watson, maybe), he works very hard during the ordeal and never could be accused of cowardice or bringing any detriment to the group.
    • Dorfmann has several particularly callous moments, and while he may be right in saying that Towns going after Cobb, whose insanity would have made him useless to the construction effort, is a fool's errand, or that Gabriele will not live long enough to see the Phoenix completed and so whether or not he can hold onto the wings is an academic concern, his method of delivering these opinions does not endear him to the other castaways. But as only he knows how to build the new plane, they are forced to grit their teeth and put up with his bluntness.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Watson, though a Dirty Coward and a shirker, is correct in not following Harris, who gets two people and finally himself killed during two separate attempts to hike out of the desert, both of which (navigation problems and hostile nomads) he was warned about.
  • This trope applies more than once to Dorfmann as well. [[spoiler: When it's revealed Dorfmann is the one who's been taking extra water, he rightly points out he's been doing more work than the rest of the group combined. And while he's ruthless with everyone in his demands to get the plane built, it works, saving the lives of every remaining man.
  • Karma Houdini: Sgt. Watson. He's derelict in his duty with Harris, which results it both secondary people who go in his place dying. While Jerk Ass Has A Point, his snide comment to Towns after finding Harris dead makes Towns' subsequent punching out of him quite cathartic. Moran's look of contempt and tossing of Harris' military hat at him after Towns slugs him is icing on the cake. He ends up surviving.
  • Last-Name Basis: Several of the survivors are only addressed by their last names, including Harris, Watson, Renaud, and Standish (in the case of the two soldiers and the doctor, some characters don't even bother using their professional titles). "Trucker" Cobb and "Ratbags" Crow are given nicknames (though Cobb is never addressed as "Trucker" in the film, while only Carlos addresses Crow as "Ratbags"), but no first name.note  Only four characters get first and last names (Frank Towns, Lew Moran, Heinrich Dorfmann, and Mike Bellamy).
  • Laughing Mad: Lew has a fit of this when he realizes that Dorfmann has no "real airplane" building experience.
  • Leitmotif: "Lilliburlero", a marching tune attributed to Henry Purcell but believed to be of ultimately Irish origin, is used as a theme for Captain Harris due to its association with the British Army.note 
  • Mauve Shirt:
    • Trucker Cobb becomes a figure of sympathy as he laments the fact that his mental breakdown has likely irreparably ruined his present and future career as an oil rig foreman (even as Renaud tries to assure him that everyone has a breaking point), and this is heightened as his sanity slips further until he makes his final suicidal trek after Harris.
    • In Gabriele's brief time in the film, we learn that he has received a telegram from his wife about an unspecified medical condition, and he fears the worst. By the time it becomes apparent he will not recover from the injuries he sustained in the crash, he has abandoned all hope that she is even still alive.
  • Meaningful Name: Standish paints the name "Phoenix" on the tail of the new plane since he hopes that it, too, will rise into the air from the ashes of its old self.
  • Misplaced-Names Poster: If you went by the DVD cover, you'd assume James Stewart played Dorfmann and Richard Attenborough played Towns (while Hardy Kruger doesn't even rate a mention).
  • Oh, Crap!: Watson gets a big moment of this when Dorfmann shouts to the others that Harris has returned from his failed expedition, half-dead... which Watson already knows, as he found him several hours earlier but decided not to tell anyone (which Harris knows, as he saw Watson when the latter came over to investigate). As the other passengers run to Harris' aid, Watson closes his eyes in despair and rolls over in his bunk, certain that his life is about to get very difficult. (As it turns out, Harris is so exhausted that he says nothing about Watson's deceit, simply asking if he's been "holding the fort" in his absence and then asking him to clean the sand out of his gun.)
  • One Bullet Left: Subverted with the Coffman starter cartridges. When Towns gets into the "cockpit", he has seven cartridges. The first four fail to start the engine, and to Dorfmann's horror, he then uses the fifth to clear the cylinders without turning on the ignition. However, the sixth cartridge starts the engine successfully, making the seventh cartridge superfluous.
  • Only Sane Man: Lew, in his best moments, negotiates the conflicting egos of Towns and Dorfmann.
  • The Phoenix: The rescue plane is built from the parts of the original.
  • Playing Sick: Sgt. Watson feigns a leg injury to get out of accompanying Capt. Harris on his attempt to walk to civilisation; Harris takes Carlos instead. Unfortunately for Watson, he gives himself away when, on discovering that Cobb has gone after Harris, he runs to inform the other passengers.
  • P.O.V. Cam: When Watson walks back to the crash site after finding Harris, there is a brief shot of him from Harris' point of view, complete with vision blurred from dehydration and exhaustion, before he loses consciousness.
  • Rage Breaking Point: Towns snaps after discovering that Harris and Renaud have had their throats cut by the nomads, and the camel they left behind was abandoned because it can't walk properly. He proceeds to empty the contents of Watson's service revolver into the camel, and when he returns to the Phoenix and an unrepentant Watson says, "He's dead, isn't he?", his anger at the sergeant's cowardice boils over and he knocks him to the ground with a single punch.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: After yet another argument between Towns and Dorfmann, Lew confronts Towns and accuses him of being so dead set against the idea that Dorfmann's plan might work because he can't accept that the times might be changing faster than he can adapt to them. The unimpressed Towns then turns around and blames Lew's alcoholism for landing them in their current plight, saying that if he hadn't been getting drunk the previous night, he might have noticed the radio wasn't working.
  • Red Shirt:
    • Tassos and Bill, the unfortunate saps that get crushed by heavy equipment during the plane crash, are around for just long enough for us to learn that Tassos plays the bouzouki and Bill likes reading Playboy. After the crash, we see Tassos' bouzouki smashed into kindling and Bill's magazine lying by his lifeless hand.note 
    • Carlos, the guy who gives Mike Bellamy his monkey in case he doesn't make it back from his expedition with Harris, is established in his very short screen time as a verbal sparring partner for Ratbags.
  • The Resenter: Sgt. Watson has a long-standing grudge against officers that finally blows up when he outright refuses to obey Captain Harris' orders.
  • Robinsonade: The survivors of the crash are forced to live off the plane's cargo (pressed dates for food, a fifteen gallon emergency water supply plus whatever can be distilled from anti-freeze) until they are either rescued or able to get the Phoenix into the air.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Trucker Cobb. He's killed off barely a third of the way into the film. Considering the role is billed before the title, and since the role is played by very recognizable name and Academy Award winner Ernest Borgnine, it serves to shake up the audience and really drive up the Anyone Can Die stakes.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Captain Harris. If he hadn't gambled and made contact with the nomads, he likely would have survived, but you can't fault him for it. If his gamble had paid off, they wouldn't have needed the Phoenix to escape.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: Harris ends up being responsible for three of these. First, when he and Carlos strike out for Madara on foot, Carlos dies of thirst and Harris ends up walking in a giant circle back to the crash site. Second, when he and Renaud approach the nomads camped just over the dunes from the crash site, they end up with their throats cut. In both cases, he knows he is taking a potentially life-threatening risk, but decides the possibility that he might be able to get help outweighs the risk. In fairness, he thinks the plan to get the aircraft flying will never work, so It's the Only Way of getting help.
  • Shoot the Dog: When Towns and Lew discover Harris and Renaud's dead bodies next to the lame camel abandoned by the nomads, Towns repeatedly shoots the camel with Watson's gun both to put it out of its misery and to release his anger at the deteriorating situation around him.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Harris is described by Lew to Towns as "excessively British", and his embodiment of this trope is part of the reason for this; among all of the survivors, he is the least likely to be seen either laughing, despairing, or raising his voice in anger. After the crash, he is the one who leads the way in sorting out the water rationing, Towns being too overwhelmed by Survivor Guilt to do so himself. When made aware of the life-threatening dangers in his plans to reach Madara on foot and to contact the nomads, he remains determined to face them. He even shrugs off Watson's early acts of rebellion and deceit, and when the latter finally snaps and refuses to go along to contact the nomads, Harris seems more disappointed than angry.
  • Survivor Guilt: Capt. Towns has this when he loses two people and one is gravely injured in the crash. After Tassos and Bill are buried, Standish offers Towns his Bible and asks if he'd like to say a few words; Towns, near despair, says, "Like what?... 'Sorry'?" Later, as he is writing the crash report in his log book, he scribbles out his description of the sandstorm and simply writes "Pilot error" as the reason for the crash. The subsequent deaths of Cobb, Carlos, and Gabriele make his guilt steadily worse.
  • There Is a God!: Standish, established early on as a practising Catholic (he makes the sign of the Cross during the crash and is fingering rosary beads when Towns tries to start the engine), sinks to his knees in a prayer of thanksgiving when the Phoenix starts successfully.
  • Upper-Class Twit: This is Sgt. Watson's assessment of all army officers, including Capt. Harris; he describes them as a "toffee-nosed bunch of gits".
  • Video Credits: In the opening credits, each actor's name appears over a freeze frame of his character reacting to the Fairchild's impending crash, accompanied by a dramatic musical sting. (Only Barrie Chase is not shown, as she only appears in a hallucinatory flashback.)
  • Wham Line: After letting Dorfmann take over control of building the Phoenix, Towns and Moran are chatting with Dorfmann as Towns leafs through a magazine with planes that include some of Dorfmann's designs...Model airplanes. An increasingly terrified Moran perks up and asks Dorfmann what experience he's had designing the "real thing." Imagine sitting in the audience in 1965 and hearing Dorfmann drop this zinger, as virtually everyone in it isn't going to have any inkling that the design of model planes and real-life airplanes can be somewhat similar.
    Heinrich Dorfmann: The real thing...Oh, no no no you misunderstand. We make nothing but model aeroplanes.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The film ends before we know if Towns will ever get the chance to fly again, Moran will ever navigate again, or if Watson will face any disciplinary action for his mutiny against Harris.
  • Wrench Whack: Played with. When Towns defies one of Dorfmann's orders and moves to do what he wants to anyway, Dorfmann freaks out and throws a wrench that hits the fuselage very close to where Towns is standing.