Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Mongoose versus Kali

Guy Rolfe is the only decent guy in India in 1960's The Stranglers of Bombay. Hammer's take on Imperial Britain's eradication of the Thuggee cult in the 19th century, the film's populated otherwise by selfish and lazy British officers and by Indians who are either helpless children or pure evil. Though one can't argue the British didn't actually do something good by eliminating the gang of murderers and thieves, the film's basic idea that India did need British occupiers, just better British occupiers than it got, isn't exactly agreeable or convincingly presented. But the film does have its good points.

Rolfe plays Captain Harry Lewis who works tirelessly to convince the sluggish British administration they need to look into the thousand people who go missing every year. His commanding officer's reply is to bring in a friend from school who proceeds to invest no energy at all into investigating the matter.

Rolfe and his wife, played by Jan Holden, both come off as infallible, clear-eyed, sincere and wise. Everyone else falls into cartoonish categories. But the Thuggee cult scenes do have some impressive horror about them and they were obviously an influence on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

The high priest of the cult (George Pastell) even kind of looks like Amrish Puri in Temple of Doom. His second in command is played by an already menacing Roger Delgado, ten years before he'd be cast as the first incarnation of the Master on Doctor Who.

But the highlight of the film diminishes the effect of the horror elements a bit. A captured Harry Lewis is tied to the ground by the Thugs who release a cobra to kill him--however, the villains failed to predict Lewis would have his faithful mongoose in one of his saddlebags. And so Lewis' life is determined by a battle between the snake and the furry critter.

Actual footage of a fight between the two animals is shown. I don't know if it was created for the film or if it was recycled documentary footage but it is as captivating as any nature programme. And we see that, yes, indeed, despite their meek appearance, the mongoose can go toe to toe with the fearsome reptile.

Otherwise, this is not director Terence Fisher's best film--and he's not even my favourite Hammer director.

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