Wednesday, October 11, 2017


Brennender Sand
1960, Something Weird Video
85m 40s, $10 DVD-R, $9.99 download

At first glance, this dubbed desert adventure might not look too different than any other arid jeeps-and-camels eyesore you might have found playing in a 3:00am slot on one of your local television stations back in the early 1970s. However, there is real historical significance here: directed by Raphael Nussbaum, BLAZING SAND was the first post-war co-production between West Germany and Israel. Think of that: less than fifteen years after the Holocaust, these countries had found a way to move beyond their horrible shared past and embark on hopes toward a more fortunate shared future. Yet, with the passing of time, it has come to be remembered primarily as the acting debut of Daliah Lavi - credited onscreen as "Daliah Lawie."

She plays Dina, a snobbish arrogant Israeli beauty who dances in a nightclub frequented by her "theatrical" friends, four of whom - including her boyfriend, Marco - recently crossed the desert into forbidden, heavily guarded Jordan, where they went to the ancient city of Citra intending to loot an ancient crypt of its fabled scrolls, the originals of actual Biblical texts in the hand of King Solomon. When only one of the men returns, empty-handed, he is shot on sight by Israeli border guards and dies in hospital - but not before telling Dima that Marco is alive and that the scrolls she was hoping would fund their getaway to a better life are in his possession. Dina resolves to mount a rescue mission and approaches Saddik, a slick would-be playboy type of means, and manages to seduce him into financing the expedition without really giving him anything other than empty promises in return. She also turns the charm on local war hero David Rodin (Abraham Eisenberg, a kind of junior league Brad Harris), whose heart belongs to the earnest farm girl Hannah (Gila Almagor); he rejects Dina but accepts her invitation to lead the group, which is filled out by Saddik, a klutzy college boy named Mike (at one point, he tries to start a campfire by rubbing two sticks together when there is a blazing torch right beside him), and Julius (Gert Gunther Hoffmann), the local school's professor of archaeology. They form quite a motley group and comparisons to Doc Savage's "Fabulous Five" would not be far amiss. Posing as a Bedoin caravan, with Dina riding a donkey and cradling a blanketed doll, they manage to reach their destination - "All Shots Have Been Taken On the Original Scene of Action" the credits tell us - but the trouble is in getting out.

For a film with such a weighty historical distinction, and a storyline encompassing so much struggle and tragedy, the overall feeling it projects is surprisingly whimsical, and the dubbing lends a comic dimension that one can't be sure was always present in the original. (While investigating the interior of Cintra's Temple of the High Priests, with everyone examining solid walls for possible secret passages, the torch-bearing Julius suddenly finds a huge hole in one wall and cries "I think I've found the entrance!" Also, Dina is variously addressed during the film as Tina, Nina and even Lina!) In some ways the real storyline is Dina's character arc from a cynical, superior, manipulative person to someone willing to take the ultimate responsibility for others and a common cause. 

Making her debut at age 20, Lavi is somewhat more full-figured here than the lean, lithe-figured star she soon became, and she's made to wear a procession of unflattering outfits, even a singularly ugly bikini. Statuesque and sultry she may be, but she doesn't quite have a firm grip on acting yet - she has a hard time making eye contact with her co-stars - but, especially once the action moves from the general kibbutz setting to the desert, we can see her gaining ease and even some command in relation to the camera.

Considering how lightweight the film really is, it builds to a surprisingly solemn pay-off that philosophizes that maybe  people, like things, belong where God has put them. Though made at a time well before the downbeat endings that would gain favor in Britain and America by the end of the decade, it leaves us with many more characters dead than alive. In its tragic closing shots, BLAZING SAND seems to propose that life is a dangerous game and that mere survival is nothing to sneeze at.
This film is an important reminder that Something Weird Video's eye for the oddities of cinema is all-embracing and not strictly limited to grindhouse fare. BLAZING SANDS is not a great film and doesn't clearly adhere to any proper genre that we recognize here; however, it is an international co-production of some historical note, and marks the arrival of an important new star. While the presentation here is hardly definitive, it serves as a valuable bookmark that could well encourage a more definitive restoration someday.

(c) 2017 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

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