07 September 2019

LOST in Africa

by John M. Floyd

I love reading novels and watching movies--sometimes I wonder which I enjoy most. And what's really fun is reading a novel and then seeing the movie adaptation. Usually the book is better than the movie (The Hobbitt, Dune, Bonfire of the Vanities, The Stand), sometimes the movie's better than the book (The Godfather, Dances With Wolves, The Graduate, Forrest Gump), and occasionally--not often--they both turn out great (To Kill a Mockingbird, Lonesome Dove, Deliverance, The Green Mile, Mystic River, Eye of the Needle, Goldfinger, The Silence of the Lambs).

I recently re-read a novel I'd discovered in high school, and then re-watched its movie adaptation, which I'd seen in college. The book is The Sands of Kalahari, and the movie (with a relocated "the") is Sands of the Kalahari. It's another of those rarities that, despite the title change, came across well on both the page and the screen.

I've always thought some of the best movies are adapted from novellas--The Shawshank Redemption (from Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption), Apocalypse Now (from Heart of Darkness), Stand by Me (from The Body), and so on--because a novella's length tends to correspond more to a 90- to 120-minute film. Short stories have to be embellished, novels have to be condensed, but novellas are aa a good fit. That theory seems to hold true for Kalahari. Most sources refer to it as a novel, but it's a short one--my ratty old hardcover copy is only 192 pages. Probably because of that, the film version was able to stick pretty close to the book's storyline.

Quick facts: The novel The Sands of Kalahari was written by William Mulvihill and published in 1960; the movie Sands of the Kalahari, released in 1965, was directed by Cy Endfield and starred Stuart Whitman, Stanley Baker, and Susannah York. Trivia: Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were originally scheduled for two of those leading roles.

Here's the basic plot. When a private aircraft crashes in the vast Kalahari Desert of southern Africa, the six survivors--five men and a woman--are left in a place where few humans have ever set foot. They finally stumble onto a barren valley of cliffs and caves and manage to locate enough food and water to keep them going. Their only companions in the valley are bands of curious and sometimes-savage baboons, and the six soon realize that no one's coming to rescue them. As the pilot of their ill-faeted plane sets off alone across the wasteland to try to find help and the other five hole up in a cave and try to keep from starving, one of them decides to improve his odds of survival by eliminating the rest of the men in the group. To say more would give away some great twists and revelations, so I'll stop there.

I can't help seeing some similarities to the TV series Lost, here. A diverse group of travelers find themselves stranded and on their own in an unfamiliar and dangerous place, and have to deal with (1) their harsh environment, (2) each other, (3) their own faults and fears and insecurities, and (4) the deadly beasts that live in and around their new home. Along with love and friendship and heroism there's plenty of danger, despair, lust, jealousy, betrayals, illness, violence, racism, etc., and--as we writers well know-- the more levels of conflict there are, the better the story.

This is a good one. I've now read the novel three times and seen the movie at least five or six times, and it never seems to get old.

The next time you have an urge for a wilderness survival tale, give one or both versions of this story a try. And if you do read it or see it, let me know what you think. Meanwhile, may all your flights be safe and your adventures baboon-free.

Keep up the good writing.


  1. John, your point about novellas making for good movies is a good one, though it depends on the structure of the novella. And I've heard of this movie but I don't think I've seen it. Sounds interesting. I'll have to see if it's available somewhere.

  2. I like the plot. I'll have to try to find the novella.

  3. Paul and Janice -- No one seems to have heard of this movie, or book, but I think you'd enjoy both. I've seen so many superhero movies lately, it felt good to watch an old-time adventure again.

    Thanks, both of you, for stopping in.

  4. John, I saw the movie several years ago on TV. It has a very fitting ending.

  5. John, I remember seeing this movie when it came out. Must have been on a date. LOL I say this because it really wouldn't have been a movie I'd have chosen. But I do remember it.

    I think Nichols Sparks' books make great movies. My favorites being The Notebook, Message in a Bottle, Nights in Rodanthe (my favorite), The Longest Ride, The Lucky One, Safe Haven, A Walk to Remember. I think the casting of his movies are great, but honestly I enjoy the books more.

    Nora Roberts' books have also had some good movies, but the movies don't show the character as well as her books. The plots in the movies are done well though.

    On the opposite end. I loved Under the Tuscan Sun movie, the book note so much. Guess it's the romantic in me. LOL

    Great post!

  6. Never saw this movie, but I did watch The Flight of the Phoenix (1965 - helluva cast!) which was incredibly suspenseful and all about survival against the odds. I'll check out Sands of the Kalahari.

  7. Hey RT. Yep, that ending is one the things I remember most about the movie. I liked the fact that you could take it several different ways, and even though I usually don't like ambiguous endings, I liked this one. BTW, I thought Stuart Whitman was perfect in that role.

    Pat, if you wouldn't have chosen to see it, I'm glad your date did. (I've honestly not seen it on TV since, even though RT found it there.) As for Sparks, I read only one of his books, Message in a Bottle (his first?), and I'm embarrassed to say I haven't read Nora Roberts, even as J.D. Robb. I too liked the movie version of Under the Tuscan sun. So many books, so many movies . . .

  8. Never saw the movie. I will if it comes around again. Haven't read any Nora Roberts (or J. D. Robb) books. My wife has read them all and has told me a lot about them and I don't think I'm missing anything. I could be wrong. I've been wrong before. Lots of times.

  9. I remember seeing this movie on TV a few times. By the end of it you just hate O’Brien so much. Yet there is no doubt some serious monkey payback is coming his way. Cool read, John.

  10. O'Neil,I doubt you've been wrong as many times as I have, about that kind of thing. But this is a movie, and a book too, that you'd like.

    Larry, I think O'Brien got what was coming to him. But--again--you never really know, the way the ending was done. I really do believe this is one of those stories that, once you read or see it, is hard to forget.

  11. John, for some reason, I've read and watched everything you mentioned EXCEPT Kalahari.

    I have to correct that. Your point about novellas being a good film fit makes sense. I'd add that novellas don't waste much, but get to the point, which might make them easier to script.

    Speaking of Africa, instead of television, my father read adventure stories to us children. We had major doses of H. Rider Haggard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, etc. Later on, Wilbur Smith became a favorite author except for one novel, Shout at the Devil. In a case of novel and film turning out bad, I happened to see the movie version in a 42nd street theatre starring Roger Moore and Lee Marvin. Both the paper and celluloid versions had the same affliction– The first third of the novel is a light, zippy, happy, tweak-the-nose caper film, all very funny. Then abruptly, a key character is brutally murdered. The plot turns savagely dark and left me, the reader and viewer with a queasy, loathing feeling. Give me one or give me the other, but don't package the Three Stooges in the same film as Apocalypse Now.

  12. Leigh, I too grew up with Burroughs and--later--Wilbur Smith. The funny thing is, Shout at the Devil is one of the novels I most often remember, of Smith's. I agree with your opinion of it, but I always thought it could've been a really good book. Vivid characters, great setting, ticking-clock plot, etc. Same goes for the movie--it could've, and maybe should've, been a fine film, especially with Marvin and Moore. (Now you've made me want to watch it again.)

    Thanks for the comment. I've always enjoyed talking movies with you. By the way, on the subject of movies about Africa, I recently re-watched The Ghost and the Darkness, with Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer. It's based on a true and terrifying story about the hunting down of two man-eating lions that had stopped work on a railroad by snacking on several hundred workers. Good movie.


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>