Receiving rare items is a sure-fire spark for a treasure hunt.
The rarities this time came in the form of snapshots taken in Jamaica during the filming of “Dark in the Sun” in 1967.
“The photos were taken by my Dad when we lived in Irish Town, Jamaica,” Michelle Holland wrote to me recently. You can see four of the snapshots she sent in the gallery above, along with screenshots from “Dark of the Sun” that provide a glimpse at what was actually filmed at that location.
“I remember that the film crew was on our private road. It was no more than a one-vehicle-wide dirt road. Two vehicles could not pass.” Their property was located off the main road that led up from Kingston toward Newcastle.
Michelle explained that one day, “My Dad and Mom loaded my brother and me up into the back of our Volkswagen pickup van [another rarity!] and we stood on the back and watched the filming.”
Her father, Charles V. Ogilvie, captured photos of the stars strolling by and the crew working on scene set-ups. “I actually recall seeing Yvette Mimieux, as she was stunning,” said Michelle, who was 11 or 12 at the time. “I wish I had paid more attention, but I was a little kid then.”
Credit to Jamaica
Receiving these snapshots inspired me to take a further tour of Jamaica, which stood in for the Congo in “Dark of the Sun.” The plot involved mercenaries on a mission to rescue refugees (and seize diamonds) during the early 1960s civil war in the Belgian Congo. The subject matter proved to be too hot for African nations to handle at the time, leading producer George Englund on a search for a suitable substitute. His checklist included tropical scenery and access to a steam train.
Jamaica fit the bill. With about 40 percent of the film taking place on a train, the Caribbean nation’s retired but revered steam engine No. 54 rode to the rescue.
Thus, in mid-January 1967 Rod Taylor and company arrived for three months of filming on location in Jamaica. In mid-April, production moved to MGM studios in London for interior scenes.
Jamaican newspaper writers were excited to see previews of the film in early 1968, and they predicted that local viewers would enjoy spotting familiar actors and extras. However, despite being dazzled by the way the landscape was photographed so beautifully, they were crushed that the film credits made no mention of Jamaica or the contributions of its citizens.
The trains used in “Dark of the Sun” are a story for another day, but you can get a sense of their glory and other aspects about the film from this this Feb. 17, 1968, column in the Kingston Daily Gleaner. There’s also a DVD about Jamaican Railways that includes behind-the-scenes footage from “Dark of the Sun.”
Filming on track
Filming for “Dark of the Sun” started Jan. 16, 1967, near Port Royal at the old Palisadoes Airport (now Norman Manley International). A diner was converted into the airfield terminal where the mercenaries (Rod Taylor as Curry and Jim Brown as Ruffo) arrive for their Congo expedition. The scene included hundreds of extras and several local actors.
In a report for the Kingston newspaper, The Daily Gleaner, writer Harry Milner provided the extras’ point of view. His article titled “On the set” (Jan. 22, 1967) described the “hurry up and wait” experience of filmmaking:
“The scene to be shot dealt with refugees at a small airport in the Congo waiting for a plane to arrive. Method technique was used on the first day to get the extras in the right mood [to portray refugees]. They were kept sitting on their suitcases in the sun for some two hours before the filming began! And certainly by the end of the 10-hour working day they all looked very much like the real thing.”
After the airport scenes, filming began in Kingston, with portions of the city getting a new look as business and street signs were blocked out and replaced by signs in French to give the appearance of a city in the Congo.
Two days of filming took place at the home of Abe Issa, a local businessman who was acclaimed as the “father of Jamaican tourism” and who was a key leader in the nation’s economic development after independence in 1962.
Issa’s home, with its colonial architecture and formidable white columns, stood in for the palace of the Congo president, Mwamini Ubi, played by Calvin Lockhart. Most of the filming was done on the east verandah and lunch tents were set up on the lawns for the crew. The famous Hope Gardens in Kingston also represented the president’s estate.
Then filming really got on track, literally, as the production moved to the Jamaica Railway Corporation train yards and continued for about a month in and around Kingston. Members of the Jamaican Defence Force portrayed Congolese soldiers throughout the movie.
Shots of the train were captured at a key junction, May Pen. Then, filming moved up the Frankfield line, near Suttons. The famous chainsaw fight was filmed there, in a day-for-night scene.
In mid-February, production headquarters moved to Port Maria on the north coast for at least six weeks of shooting. The northeast coastal town of Port Antonio provided access to jungles, mountains and waterfalls, which played a large role in the climactic chase and fight scene.
Filming continued to take place in towns along the railway lines, including Albany and Richmond in St. Mary Parish. Albany was the location for Msapa Junction, where Curry, Ruffo & Co. stop to use the communications set-up and also encounter a couple of children.
Richmond stood in for Port Reprieve, where the refugees were located. A local retail/wholesale business establishment owned by Samuel Kong was used as the exterior of the hotel where Curry and Ruffo have to go to retrieve the diamonds. The Kong family still own the building, which is an automotive supply shop.
And a house 5,000 feet up in a remote corner of the Blue Mountain range was revamped with Gothic church windows and an 8-foot cross mounted on the roof. This served as the mission where Dr. Wreid (actor Kenneth More) helped a pregnant woman.
For a few more behind-the-scenes items from “Dark of the Sun,” read the item posted on May 2, 2020.