Cinema Sunday: The Stranglers of Bombay (1959)

StranglersBombay   Title: The Stranglers of Bombay Distributor: Columbia/Hammer Studios Writer: David Z. Goodman Director: Terence Fisher Producer: Anthony Hinds Starring: Guy Rolfe, Allan Cuthbertson, Andrew Cruickshank, George Pastell, Marie Devereaux, Jan Holden Released: December, 1959 MPAA: PG-13     In attempting to let the masses know that Hammer Studios has a much more wide range of movies other than horror, I’m bringing this classic flick into the light. Not trying to take anything away from the awesome Gothic horror films from Hammer, which I consider to be the best of all, but they definitely offer some great films in different genres as well. For instance, this little movie from 1959. It’s somewhat of an oddity that it doesn’t offer any of the usual recurring Hammer players, but don’t let that scare you away, this film is a good one! Based off of a true story, about a cult and the British East India Trading Company, and of course, murder! It wouldn’t be a Hammer film if there wasn’t a shock value to the film, now would it? Filmed the same year as The Mummy, this one is only in black and white, but it does carry a bit of charm because of that fact, in my humble opinion. Well, rather than continuing with more of my feelings, let’s just get down to the story!   stranglers#1 The film begins with a shot of a statue of Kali, and the cult that worships her. There is one man who leads them, the High Priest of Kali (George Pastell – image above), standing tall, and reciting the mission statement for the cult. He basically says that Kali (image of statue below) has told them to wipe out defilers, by strangulation using a silk cloth. The crowd starts getting ruckus, and then pledges to convert the young among them. The High Priest then carves a symbol into a boy’s arm, and then they seal it with a hot iron. This “marking” is how you know who belongs to the cult (cue opening credits).   stranglers#5 Back in the city, we see a meeting between the British occupancy/soldiers, and the local government officials. As the meeting continues, the locals complain about the disappearances of their people and goods. The man in charge, Colonel Henderson (Andrew Cruickshank), tries to assuage the people but they aren’t haven’t it. They say they will stop paying their taxes if this craziness doesn’t stop. Another man walks into the meeting, Captain Harry Lewis (Guy Rolfe – image below), and makes his opinion known that he agrees with the people, and that something needs to be done. The  Colonel tells the Captain that he is in charge of this investigation, and he’s elated. His wife, however, seems to wish he didn’t take the job, but then after talking, sees it his way.   Stranglers#2 The next day, Captain Lewis and a detachment of men are heading out to protect a caravan heading on a long trip. As they approach the caravan, bandits are ransacking it, and attempting to murder the people. Captain Lewis and his men stop and capture them before they can get away. Both of the men have a silk scarf and a certain branding on their arm. Captain Lewis is wondering what this means, but needs more clues. On his way back into town, Captain Lewis runs into another soldier, Captain Christopher Connaught-Smith (Allan Cuthbertson – image below), who is a bit of a jerk. Once they’re both inside headquarters, Colonel Henderson tells Captain Smith that he will now be lead investigator of this operation, and not Captain Lewis. Lewis is devastated, and then Henderson tells Lewis that he went to school with Smith’s father, and now he understands why he was passed over.   stranglers#6 Back at the temple of Kali, the two men that attacked the caravan are now in the custody of Patel Shari (Marne Maitland), a local government official, who has ties to the cult. He tells them that they’ve violated the laws of Kali, and tried to kill for their own greed, so they must be punished. The men then have their eyes gouged out and their tongues cut out as well. Harry is back at home, and talking to his wife about getting passed over at work. One of his servants comes running in, and tells him that he saw a caravan and that he believes his brother (who was abducted years ago) was inside. Change the scene back to the temple, and we see that the High Priest is “training” one of the younger members on how to gain the trust of a stranger, just before killing them! In the brush nearby, a woman (Marie Devereaux) watches, as a man then rushes in, and tells the High Priest that Captain Lewis is asking a lot of questions, and then decrees that he must be punished.   stranglers#3 The next day, Lewis hands over his documents about his investigation of the missing persons. Captain Smith isn’t impressed and gives him the cold shoulder. Lewis is less than impressed with him, so he leaves. Lewis is almost immediately attacked  and the robbers take the piece of silk he had obtained from the men that attacked the caravan earlier in the week. Lewis spends a day tiger hunting with a friend, but he can’t concentrate on anything except the missing persons. He also gets a severed hand delivered to his dinner table, and this is another warning, one that Lewis doesn’t take lightly. He speaks to the Colonel the next day, but gets little satisfaction. The conversation gets ugly, and Lewis threatens to offer his resignation.   After resigning, Lewis begins his own investigation into the matter, and begins asking around the seedy parts of town about the missing people. One man seems to know something but is hesitant to speak. While out tiger hunting, Lewis and his party make a startling discovery. They find a mass grave of bodies, and they are all of native people, that have had their necks snapped. He reports his findings, but gets the run-around from Captain Smith. Lewis visits Patel, and tries to convince him to help with the investigation. He tells him he can do nothing, and Lewis shows signs of giving up. Back at headquarters, a man was caught trying to rob a house, and is going to be questioned. It’s here, that we see that Lieutenant Silver (Paul Stassino), is part of the cult, and obviously aiding them when he can.   stranglers#4 Will Lewis be able to single-handedly be able to thwart this fanatical cult? Or will he succumb to the stranglers silk?!? OK, here are my thoughts: Make no mistake about it, Guy Rolfe and George Pastell, made this film what it is. These two actors really give grade “A” performances that make you believe that the characters are real. The supporting cast isn’t too bad either, as Cruickshank and Cuthbertson also play solid roles. Cuthbertson is especially nasty, and really makes you dislike him from the first scene. His snotty attitude towards Rolfe is undeniably something that will make want to crawl into the movie and slap the taste out of his mouth! Pastell seems to be born for roles like this, and really shines here, as well as in the two Hammer “Mummy” movies he appeared in. The biggest and most awesome thing about this film aside from the two lad roles, has to be the sets. I’ve never personally been to India, but I feel like I have been after watching this movie. From the jungle scenes to the tiger, or even the temple where the cult practices its insane worshiping, the sets are completely believable. This film is something that probably wasn’t really socially significant when this was released, but in this day and age, it seems fearfully symmetrical in certain situations. Lost in all of this is the beautiful Marie Devereux (image below). Her hotness is undeniable, but she really doesn’t get much screen time, and that is a shame! Look for this one at the usual spots (Amazon, etc.), and give it a watch, because it’s definitely worth your time!   stranglers#7   Click here for the trailer!


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