AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 81 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
1850 on the North West Frontier of India. Mixed race Lieutenant Case has been having an affair with a fellow officer’s wife, Elsa. When Elsa’s husband is captured by bandits during a skirmish, Case faces charges of cowardice and is court-martialled, resulting in the stripping of his rank and jail time, but a servant named Rattu enables him to escape and flee into the mountains where he falls into the hands of Eli Khan, the leader of the brigands. Case and Khan make a deal whereby Khan grants sanctuary and the chance of vengeance and Case agrees to train the brigands to storm the British fort….
Hammer’s second visit to British India is nowhere near as notable as their first and, unlike The Stranglers Of Bombay, seems to struggle with its cramped running time and scope, with character relationships and situations which needed more footage within which to play out properly, and large scale battle footage taken from 1956’s Zarak spliced into two sequences, the stock stuff looking quite impressive but in far poorer shape than the new footage and, in the second instance, obviously occurring nowhere near the main characters due to very different scenery. The majority of the film takes place in and around obviously papier mache caves and rocks, Bernard Robinson’s genius for stretching a budget really far and making sets look good even if they can’t be realistic having deserted him for once. Even the title sequence shows up the cheapness badly and is poorly chosen as the words appear over a matte painting of rocks and mountains with a fort supposedly in the middle. Matte paintings are fine [and sadly almost a lost art now with CGI having taken over], but not if you have to look at one for two minutes! And the text says that we’re in the North West of India, but Kandahar is actually in Afghanistan!
Fortunately the story does have its interesting aspects and doesn’t really side with the British any more than the Indians, both sets of opponents having cruel leaders, though the screenplay doesn’t make the most of having its hero torn between two cultures, and nor does it seem to think there’s anything wrong with him wanting to go as far as killing the man who court martialled him. It does all move quite fast though, there’s plenty of action including an averagely staged but quite long brawl between Case and Eli Khan, and there’s a bit more blood and torture than the usual kiddie matinee flick of the time. Unforunately the Duel In The Sun-copying finale carries no emotional weight because there’s been barely a romance between the two characters involved. While Katherine Woodville does well to make a potentially unsympathetic character quite likeable, The Curse Of The Werewolf’s Yvonne Romain is downright odd as Elsa [nice Indian name], the sister of Khan, while Oliver Reed, in a disappointing final performance for Hammer, just hams it up and doesn’t seem to take the role seriously at all. Perhaps that’s hardly surprising, as very few of the cast members attempt to look or sound Indian, though the film’s anti-racist message does just about come across. Overall this one’s just about worth a watch, but not much more than that. It certainly won’t bore, but it’ll rarely convince.