Based on Elleston Trevor's novel, The Flight of the Phoenix opens with a well-staged plane crash in the middle of the Sahara desert. The pilot (James Stewart) and the navigator (Richard Attenborough) do their best to maintain order among the survivors, a group of oil men not well-suited for survival in the desert wastes.
Some of those who appear to be the most resourceful reveal themselves to be inept or cowardly, while other less prepossessing types -- notably bespectacled Standish (Dan Duryea) -- demonstrate surprising inner reserves of strength.
The ultimate fate of the survivors rests in the hands of Heinrich Dorfmann (Hardy Kruger), who uses the wreckage of the old plane to design a new one. The Flight of the Phoenix was dedicated to the memory of veteran stunt pilot Paul Mantz, who was killed while filming the take-off scene of the new plane.