A Movie A Day: Quint on THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY (1960) Welcome your sons, great Kali. Look upon them with favor.
Published at: Aug. 21, 2008, 12:15 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Playing a little bit of catch up now. Since my last AMAD went up very early this morning it’ll feel like I’m posting two AMAD columns on top of each other… Oh well, both were really damn good movies and now I’m not scrambling to get to the day’s movie like I have been for the last week or so.
We jump from DRACULA A.D. 1972 to THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY via editor James Needs.
From what I can gather, Needs was an in-house Hammer cutter, having edited (or supervised the editing of) AMADs THE PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER, THE DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES, THE TERROR OF THE TONGS, HELL IS A CITY as well as Hammer’s QUARTERMASS and quite a lot of their MUMMY and DRACULA movies.
Gotta say that I’m totally pleased with the Icons of Adventure DVD set. The cover sucks a big swollen nut, but the three Christopher Lee films in beautiful color and this film in gorgeous black and white look like a million bucks. Each film (all 4 Hammer productions) has a commentary, so there are even special features to go along with the movies.
For under $20 that’s an awesome set. They’re putting out another set of 4 films (with slightly more known titles) called Icons of Horror… They let the fans pick the cover this time, so the cover doesn’t suck. See:
The DVD comes out in the middle of October and don’t be surprised to see a few of those titles appear in future AMAD installments. After loving the Icons of Adventure set, I’ll definitely be picking this one up.
So, THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY… Let me start this look at the film with a strong recommendation. I recommend you watching this movie as a double feature with INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM. It’s very, very clear that this film had an impact on either Spielberg or Lucas (or both).
Set in India during the British rule, the film focuses on the East India Company’s troubles with a local cult who have been kidnapping and murdering the citizens of the country for years.
They are pretty much Thuggee, although they are never referred to as such in the movie (we do get a post movie scroll with the word “thug” underlined repeated throughout the text, though). The Kali-worshipping leader opens the movie initiating new members and telling the story of Kali’s fight with demon Raktabija where every drop of blood turned into another monster that Kali had to fight, so the Goddess ended up strangling every monster and defeating the demon.
They take that to mean Kali wants to kill without bloodshed, so they are a cult of stranglers, using sacred silk scarves.
Now, I don’t think that’s exactly how the original Hindu legend goes, but it’s definitely a creepy story that opens up the movie and introduces us to this strangling cult.
Character actor George Pastell plays the Kali Cult leader and is a fantastic baddie, which was a relief to me since this is the only film of the 4 in this set to not include Mr. Christopher Lee as the lead villain.
Yesterday we talked about Hammer’s stable of actors and how they constantly brought grade A performances to B movies, which is something that flat out doesn’t exist these days, it seems. Pastell deserves some of the praise I heaped onto Peter Cushing. I fucking love Mola Ram as played by Amrish Puri, but even I admit he’s a cartoon… a goddamn scary as shit cartoon, but over-the-top.
Pastell’s villain isn’t exactly written as multi-dimensional, but the quiet calm and sincere belief in his religion that Pastell brings to the character adds so much to the story.
Guy Rolfe plays the British lead, Captain Harry Lewis who takes it upon himself to battle his lazy, ignorant and content countrymen to investigate this cult. He spends half the movie fighting for the right to investigate these occurances and the other half trying to keep his neck from being broken by the sacred silk of the cultists.
The cult lives by a rather strict rule, which means for some really interesting set pieces. At one point Rolfe is captured and tied to stakes, on the ground… And they let loose a cobra, who slides right up to him.
I freaked right the fuck out at this scene. Seriously. I don’t have anything more than a healthy fear of snakes, but cobras really get me. As a kid I visited the San Francisco Zoo as part of a field trip, I think, and they had a snake exibit. The exibit was essentially see-through plastic shoe-box sized cases stacked on top of each other.
Of course being a small child I couldn’t see the snakes higher up, so I slipped my fingers into the cracks between the plexiglass cages and pulled myself up to see the other snakes, my nose inches from the glass.
Imagine my POV as I rise up to the cobra cage. I saw the hood for a split second before it struck the glass an inch from my nose, sending me falling back to the ground.
That’s been burned into my memory ever since.
It took me quite a while to tell how the fuck they did this scene. It was clearly a real cobra slithering right up to who I at first thought was an unlucky stuntman, but then realized it was Rolfe himself. This snake was inches away, hood up and swaying.
Then the filmmakers cut to a wider shot and suddenly I could make out Rolfe’s reflection in the glass separating him from the snake.
See, I told ya’ either Spielberg or Lucas saw this movie…
Then Rolfe’s pet mongoose charges on the scene and fucks that snake up. According this cult’s code, the death of a snake means bad omen, that Kali is not pleased, so they have to let Rolfe go.
Arthur Grant’s cinematography is once again top notch… very rich in it’s scope black and white glory. Hammer’s A#1 director Terence Fisher is in fine form here, though this kind of film will never be as widely seen as his Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing monster movies.
David Z. Goodman’s first screenplay credit is a strong start. I find it a fascinating subject matter and the story carries a great scope.
Final Thoughts: These are the kinds of films I love finding in these kinds of collections. THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY is easily overlooked by even film fans without any huge recognizable star, but is a great little adventure story that is surprising graphic. The finale is a bit fast like most films of this time, but I never found myself losing interest in the picture. On the whole, I heartily recommend the Icons of Adventure DVD set. There’s not a stinker in it and every transfer is gorgeous.