Monday, 11 May 2009

The Stranglers of Bombay (1960)

The Stranglers of Bombay, released by Hammer Films in 1960, is ,ore of an historical adventure tale than a horror film (and in fact is included in the Icons of Adventure boxed set). But since it deals with the discovery and suppression of the murderous cult of Thuggee in India it has its moments of horror as well.

The Thugs had been robbing and ritually strangling people in large numbers for many years, as part of their worship of the goddess Kali, but by the 1830s the British authorities in India had become aware of the cult and were determined to stamp it out, which they did with great success. So The Stranglers of Bombay certainly has an authentic historical background, even if the actual events in the movie are fictionalised. In the movie Captain Harry Lewis is an idealistic officer of the British East India Company who has been investigating what appears to be a truly staggering number of mysterious disappearances. He suspects there may be a link to an increasing incidence of robbery that is starting to affect British trade. He convinces his superior to delegate an officer and a squad of men to deal with the problem, but unfortunately his superior chooses the arrogant and foolish Captain Connaught-Smith for the task.

A series of disasters follows, and investigations are met with a wall of silence. Captain Lewis is undaunted however, an gradually begins to uncover some hard evidence.

With Terence Fisher directing, Arthur Grant doing the cinematography and Bernard Robinson in charge of the production design you’d expect The Stranglers of Bombay to be a handsome and entertaining production, and in the main you’d be right. There is a lack of big-name stars though, and Guy Rolfe is just a little bland as the heroic Captain Lewis. One can’t help wondering what a Peter Cushing might have done with that role. Allan Cuthbertson on the other hand takes advantage of a rare opportunity to play a fairly major role, and makes Connaught-Smith a memorably obnoxious character. George Pastell as Kali’s high priest is sinister enough but not particulary well developed. He’s really just a stock villain.

There’s also a lack of any romantic sub-plot, and apart from Lewis there aren’t too many characters that one is likely to find oneself really caring about. So the movie has a bit of a semi-documentary feel to it, and lacks the dramatic tension you expect in a Terence Fisher film. There is a memorably horrifying scene though when Captain Connaught-Smith discovers exactly what the fate is that has befallen the caravan he is protecting.

The movie’s main strength really is its unusual subject matter and exotic setting. It’s a fascinating story and the movie is reasonably entertaining. Not top-rank Hammer, but it’s certainly worth a watch.


Samuel Wilson said...

I saw this a few months ago, and what worked for me and made it more of a horror film than a historical picture is the whole "no one listens to the hero" angle where the authorities refuse to acknowledge what's obvious to the audience. But after the payoff of this angle with the massacre of Connaught-Smith's men, the film peters out to a melodramatic finish.

Randall Landers said...

I've often thought that this particular film may have helped inspire Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom after catching one late night on Turner Classic Movies.