STATION SIX-SAHARA, reflective of its bleak outpost setting, requires some patience, since not much happens and its 99 minutes ultimately don’t add up to a helluva lot more than good acting and artsy atmosphere. Those elements may suffice, as the compact cast is offbeat and the exercise registers a sweaty dose of simmering carnality.
Five cast-off men (sounds like a tag-line from the get go) run an oil pipeline station way out in the desert (shot in Libya), signed on for years-long stretches. The Prussian-style boss (Peter van Eyck) insists on bending everyone to his will, which meets resistance from a newcomer and fellow German (Hansjörg Felmy). A fussy Brit (Denholm Elliott), sarcastic Scot (Ian Bannen) and taciturn ‘southern European’ (Mario Adorf ) parry and thrust in the micro power struggles in card games, hoarding mail from outside and assorted dickfights over trivia. At the halfway point a vehicle careens into Station Six, bearing an injured American cuckold (Biff McGuire) and his flaunt-it hard/needs-it bad-wife (Carroll Baker). The North African thermometer threatens to blow like an oil gusher.
Written by the estimable Bryan Forbes & Brian Clemens (his credits include dozens of episodes of The Avengers) from a play, “Men Without A Past” by Jean Martet (prolific French poet & novelist), it’s a series of provocations, teases and taunts, delivered with both nuance and intensity by the cast, shot in suitably harsh black & white by Gerald Gibbs. Ron Grainer provides the spare Arabic-accented score, Seth Holt directed.
The movie was made in 1962, but not released in the US until 1964 to capitalize on Carroll Baker’s stardom. The irreplaceable Denholm Elliott, who was 40 at the time, gave this little film credit with turning his 15-year-old career around. Ian Bannen found African settings to his advantage as he followed this with Mr.Moses, The Hill and The Flight Of The Phoenix (nicking a Supporting Actor Oscar nom). Peter van Eyck was busily logging a steady four or five roles a year. Mario Adorf was quite popular in Europe, especially famed in Germany: shortly thereafter he worked in the US for Sam Peckinpah in Major Dundee (“Any of you damn gringos fire before the signal I sweat to God I’ll kill you!”) and later turned down the role of ‘Mapache’ in The Wild Bunch that went to Mexican legend Emilio Fernandez. Biff McGuire worked doggedly in American TV and films from 1950 on. Hansjörg Felmy was a star in German films and TV for 48 years.
The film’s drawing card, of course, was Carroll Baker, who did this indie in line with her small-scale intimate dramas Something Wild and Bridge To The Sun. After giant back-to-back hits with How The West Was Won and The Carpetbaggers, this naughty exercise in libido taunting was dumped to fuel the sex goddess image the studio were pushing for her. Released on a double-bill with Topkapi, it went un-noticed. In rapid succession Cheyenne Autumn bombed out (not her fault), Sylvia, another suggestive drama, tanked, the fun Mister Moses was ignored. Then came the huge failure of the hyped and horrible Harlow. Suddenly Baker was box-office poison and went off to Europe and a string of cheapies. An underrated serious actress who ran afoul of choices and timing, she’s good in the intriguing Station Six-Sahara. And tres sexy.
*I had a total crush on/case of horns for Carroll Baker when I was a kid. The sighing crush dawned with her first closeups as ‘Eve’ in How The West Was Won, then the outright panting commenced with ‘Rina’ in The Carpetbaggers. Seeing this “Adult” item was one of my early introductions to the idea behind the word furtive. It’s up there (er, down there?) with Yvette Vickers swamp-slut in Attack Of The Giant Leeches, though this has marginally greater real-life relevance–I have digressed–yet the shame is borne with pride. To quote the immortal Rickles: “I’m so lonely, Johnny….”
Scenarist Forbes being his droll self: “The French cinema at its best remains uniquely French, and our best British films have only succeeded when they remain indigenous. When we try to capture the vital American market, we design a horse and end up with a camel.”