I snapped it up and gobbled it down like seasoned curly fries.
Sadly, and I mean SADLY, it was over far too soon for my movie craving. It strikes so many chords for me; adventure, history, the British Empire, Rudyard Kipling (I'm a big fan), and more importantly, one of the best casts of any move ever made. The 30's, right? Such an era...so many fantastic pictures. I really wanted more of the same, but really, are there more like that? Well, actually there are, and lots of them. I went back to my shelves for another look.
Well, I dug up a Hammer Films collection I'd picked up last year, the "Icons of Adventure". I'm not one who would normally buy Hammer films (too many hipsters into them for postmodernist kitsch), but with titles like The Pirates of Blood River, and The Terror of the Tongs, what self-respecting pulp fiction fiend could resist? I took it out for the British Empire actioner Stranglers of Bombay. It was perfect for my mood, according to its description; The British East India Company of the 1830s is being assailed by wealthy landowners for the lack of protection for their convoys. Entire convoys are disappearing, and in fact, so are thousands of individuals all over India. Could the mysterious killer cult of Kali be behind it?
Uh, there probably isn't anything in my collection closer to Gunga Din content-wise than that.
So I did my usual thing and watched the trailer clip on Youtube. "It's true!", the narrator exclaimed. "It really happened!", he said. There were lots of sharp cuts to a statue of Kali, and to wild-eyed cultists in loincloths. This obsession with shocking acts that we're supposed to (on some level) be titillated by, was pretty off-putting. What can I say, I'm old fashioned in many ways. It seemed pretty bad...exploitation cinema at its cheesiest. In the end, obviously, I decided to give it a shot. I was hungry for the vibe, and beside that, I had actually forked out the cash for the set, right? I'm glad I gave it a chance.
Stranglers of Bombay is 100% traditional Cliffhanger serial/B-reel in feel. The production is very much that of the later serials, with all the same choices that have come to embody that style. The costuming, the filming, the plot, the script, all were just as any pulp magazine-type critter would wish them to be; full of action, mystery, and exotic, far-off locales. There were honestly moments when I expected The Phantom to burst out of the jungle, or to see Commando Cody duking it out with a herd of Thuggee cultists!
His character, Captain Harry Lewis, is very serious in this one. He's the kind of man that thinks, and feels, who observes and takes part in equal measure. It's this empathetic approach, especially in political matters between the East India Company and the Indian people, that has him marginalised in his position. His penchant for mixing with the people, for treating them as fellow humans, has created such a bond with them that, when so many go missing, he is possessed by the need to know why. He presses his superior officer to form a team to investigate the disappearances. It backfires when his commanding officer brings in the son of an old school chum, the mildly stalwart but priggish Captain Christopher Connaught-Smith (played perfectly by Aussie/Brit actor Allan Cuthbertson) to do the job. Of course, the new guy has no understanding of the indigenous culture, and on top of that, he believes that Captain Lewis is imagining things.
He quickly found out the ghastly truth!
Ghastly it was, indeed. The goggle-eyed villain relished in the cutting off of hands, and the gouging out of eyes, as well as the ubiquitous stranglings that the Thuggee dacoits were so famous for. I really did like this a whole lot, and frankly, I have no idea why I hadn't heard about it. It has so much of everything that I enjoy about that genre (if stiff-upper-lip British adventuring is a genre), and true to all such excellent things, it left me howling for more. It had lots surprises, and lots of things to keep a diehard pulp addict occupied. Speaking of addicts, the Doctor Who fans out there will be thrilled by Roger Delgado (who played the ever-so-evil Master, of course) in the cast, who plays the evil Hindu priest's main henchman!
I would certainly recommend it to anyone who loves this sort of thing. I promise that it will be a pleasantly adventurous romp through Gunga Din territory, and while lacking the epic scope and thespic virtuosity of that most revered classic, it certainly makes up for it with pulpy goodness!