Tuesday, August 7, 2018

THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY (Terence Fisher, 1959, UK)

"Let me please introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste, And I laid traps for troubadours, who get killed before they reached Bombay" - Sympathy for the Devil

Captain Lewis isn’t a man of wealth and taste:  he’s the conscience of the British Crown who must fight against not only a mysterious Cult but the ignorant nepotism of his own Empire. Terence Fisher deftly directs this savage adventure story about the Thuggee Cult of Kali in 80 minutes, wasting little time with exposition and establishing shots and instead focusing upon exploitive violence and caricature.

Captain Lewis is a British officer and a truly good man (exceptionally portrayed by Guy Rolfe) who demands Justice for the missing native Indians and protection for the merchant caravans. Lewis becomes even more personally involved when his house servant Ram Das goes missing while in search of his (Ram Das’) brother. This becomes a crucial plot twist later in the story. Frustratingly for Lewis, Colonel Henderson brings in a familial appointee to investigate the disappearances instead of allowing Captain Lewis to continue his research.  Of course, this new officer, Captain Connaught-Smith is a stuck-up arrogant incompetent buffoon who treats the natives with contempt and bigotry. Lewis eventually takes matters into his own hands while resigning his commission.

Fisher films in black and white Scope which actually gives a mundane and realistically grimy appearance to the story. Fisher balances the frames well and his attention to detail is noted. For example, the British officers are seen in medium shot and close-up sweating profusely and wiping their brows while the native Indians are often relaxed and quite adjusted to the climate. This is never noted in dialogue and a nice touch that is more subliminal than liminal. The violence is rather extraordinary even for Hammer: eyes burnt out with an hot iron hook, flesh seared as part of a ritual, multiple strangulations with silk garrotes, severed hands, corpses being gutted so they don’t swell in the heat, and even the villain being burned alive. Gruesome stuff for a B-movie fable for kids!

Captain Lewis is vindicated in the fiery finale and even though Ram Das is dead, his little brother saves the day and himself. There is a major plot hole/contrivance that makes the viewer scratch their head in wonder but the film rockets along at breakneck speed (literally) until the brutal climax. Captain Connaught-Smith makes his grave and lies in it too.  


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