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The first movie tie-in that I can recall reading was a Star Wars novelization in Spring of '76, before any of us had even really heard about the movie.  At first I just assumed that the George Lucas had based his film on the book, but it gradually dawned that, to the contrary, the screenplay had been the source of a quickie book.  (As I recall, the book is credited to Lucas, but I think Alan Dean Foster actually wrote it.) It seemed sort of like a rip-off to me even at an early age and I've been suspicious of books that are also movies ever since.  So when I found this one, with scenes from the fine Jimmy Stewart film on the cover and a big movie announcement on the back, I looked it over carefully to make sure that the book had come first.  Imagine my surprise when a little research turned up the fact that not only was Elleston Trevor a well regarded author, but he was also the writer known as Adam Hall, who wrote the Quiller series of spy novels, the first of which, The Quiller Memorandum, was voted the 1965 Edgar Allan Poe Award by the Mystery Writers of America.  Indeed, Elleston Trevor turns out to be a synonym too, for an Englishman, born Trevor Dudley Smith.

In Flight of the Phoenix, Elleston Trevor (for that was what he had his name legally changed to) gives us a harrowing tale of survival against the elements and human frailties in the Saharan desert.  Fourteen men and a monkey, returning from the Libyan oilfields, live through a plane crash, but are left without food, water, or a radio, and because a sandstorm had blown them off course, no one is looking for them.  The pilot, Frank Towns, is so caught up in justifiably blaming himself that he is nearly ready to give up.  But his navigator, Lew Moran, coaxes him towards survival and mediates between the rest of the group and Stringer, a young, arrogant, and hypersensitive engineer who has figured out a way to cobble together a jerry-rigged smaller plane from the wreckage of the original.  Stringer, though unbearably officious, is in all likelihood their only way out, if Moran can keep him from storming off in a fit of pique and keep the others from killing him.

Also among the survivors are Trucker Cobb, a chief driller being sent home from the fields because he's begun to lose his mind and Captain Harris, a gung-ho, by-the-book, British officer and several of his less enthusiastic men.  There's also Roberts, who, in a gesture of insane but touching tenderness is giving his water ration to the monkey.  Together they form an ill-matched group and as thirst, starvation, exposure, madness, and desperation turn up the torque, social order and morality and simple human decency are shunted aside and the men begin to turn on one another.  The only thing that gives them some sense of purpose is the slender possibility that Stringer will somehow manage to salvage a workable plane and that Towns will get it together enough to fly them out.

Mr. Trevor keeps the action moving, but doesn't hesitate to draw out the tension, particularly between Stringer and Towns, the two men who are the equally important keys to survival, but who end up vying for authority over the group.  This adds an element of Lord of the Flies to what would be a decent enough action yarn anyway.  In this case at least, though the movie is now better remembered, the book holds up well as an exciting piece of fiction in its own right.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B+)

  

Websites:

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Thrillers
Book-related and General Links:
    -Elleston Trevor (1920-95) (kirjasto)
    -TRIBUTE :  The Final Chapter: A Tribute to My Father (Jean-Pierre Trevor, July 30, 1995, The Arizona Republic)
    -TRIBUTE : The Man Who Was Quiller (George Tolstiakov, Winter 1996, Armchair Detective)
    -ESSAY : Bridge Across the Years (Elleston Trevor,  June 27, 1982, Arizona Magazine)
    -BIBLIOGRAPHY : Elleston Trevor 1920-1995
    -Papers of Elleston Trevor (Arizona State University's  Special Collections)
    -PROFILE : The Spy Who Came in From the Dojo (Dan Hagen, October 1982, Fighting Stars)
    -Elleston Trevor, aka Adam Hall
    -POEM : IN WHICH A TEST IS FLUNKED (inspired by a paragraph in Chapter 13 of The Sinkiang Executive by Adam Hall) (Robert G. Shubinski)

FILM :
    -BUY THE FILM : Flight of the Phoenix (VHS) (Amazon)
    -INFO : The Flight of the Phoenix (1965) (Imdb)
    -INFO : The Flight of the Phoenix (1965) (Rotten Tomatoes)
    -FILMOGRAPHY : Adam Hall (Imdb)
    -FILMOGRAPHY :  Robert Aldrich
    -ESSAY : THE CRASH OF THE "PHOENIX"
    -REVIEW : of Flight of the Phoenix (Peter Thompson, Encore Australia)
    -REVIEW : of Flight of the Phoenix (Damian Cannon, Movie Reviews UK
    -REVIEW : of Flight of the Phoenix (Jeffrey Anderson, Combustible Celluloid)

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