Powerhouse Films have recently released volume three of their Hammer Films collection featuring an array of the studio’s more obscure films from the late fifties and early sixties, as part of their excellent and on-going Indicator collection. The films in the set are: The Camp on Blood Island, The Stranglers of Bombay, The Terror of the Tongs and Yesterday’s Enemy.
The Camp on Blood Island
Director: Val Guest
Script: Jon Manchip White and Val Guest
Cast: Andrew Morell, Carl Mohner, Edward Underdown, Walter Fitzgerald, Phil Brown, Barbara Shelley, Michael Goodliffe, Richard Wordsworth, Michael Ripper
Running time: 81 minutes
Based on a story by Jon Manchip White, The Camp on Blood Island opens with a British prisoner of war being forced to essentially dig his own grave before being machine gunned into it. It’s a powerful opening scene for a powerful film full of many such harrowing moments; a film that’s miles away from the gothic stylings that Hammer studios later came to be most closely associated with.
The majority of the film centres on the British commanding officer’s attempts to keep secret, from the Japanese Captain in charge of the camp, the fact that the war has now ended, because the psychotic Captain Sakamura (Marne Maitland) has told Colonel Lambert (Andre Morell) that should the allies win the war he will personally make sure that all the PoWs are killed before they are rescued by allied forces. This then sets the scene for various sabotage missions to break the Japanese communications equipment so the camp, and its sister one nearby (containing all the female PoWs), remain isolated from the rest of the world so Sakamura is kept blissfully unaware that the Germans and Japanese have lost the war.
Camp on Blood Island received much criticism on its release for being quite racist and one-dimensional in its portrayal of the Japanese. Some of this criticism is indeed justified as pretty much all the ‘enemy’ portrayed here are borderline psychos who enjoy inflicting pain on their prisoners and show little, if no, humanity. Hammer reposted against the critics by saying that most of what is in the film actually happened in various PoW camps throughout the war, so what we have in the film can twistedly be seen as some kind of ‘best of’ compilation of all the worst atrocities that befell allied prisoners during WWII. Nice!
Camp is an engaging, exciting film, that, considering it was all shot in studios or local to Bray Studios in England, works remarkably well in ‘faking’ that time and place in world history.
In fact, the film feels grimly authentic throughout.
Much of the success of the film must be laid at the feet of the excellent cast, especially Andre Morell’s angst-riddled Lambert and the pantomime hissability of Marne Maitland’s Sakamura. Plus, it’s also great to see the beautiful Barbara Shelley given a gritty role and Richard Wordsworth a dramatic death scene. My only real gripe is in Hammer using many western actors to play Japanese, especially poor old Michael Ripper who comes across like a Cornish farmer who’s just been asked to pretend to be ‘oriental’!
As per usual Powerhouse Films has done a good job with the extras which include:
Audio commentary with Barbara Shelley and author Stephen Laws.
The Brutal Truth: Inside The Camp on Blood Island (26 mins) – an interesting documentary about the film that reveals that Camp hasn’t been seen on British TV since 1979, and that producer Anthony Nelson Keyes heard about the stories from a real PoW, although there is some debate about this. The BBFC were apparently lenient with this film, although the original poster was banned in London for being too sensationalist.
Hammer Women: Mary Merrall (10.22 mins) – Kat Ellinger talks about the life and career of Merrall who plays one of the older women in the film. Apparently she was in a number of Ealing Studios films, including the excellent Dead of Night.
From light to dark (18 mins) – Steve Chiball talks about director Val Guest and the film in question. Chiball reveals that Guest started his career working at Gainsborough on comedies for the likes of Will Hay and Arthur Askey.
Return to Blood Island (3.5 mins) – an interview with continuity supervisor Reneė Glynne, who is slightly less interesting than the dog on her lap, who tries to chew her face off at one point!
Theatrical Trailer – (2.10 mins) – quite a dramatic one
Image gallery – 54 stills, including posters
The Stranglers of Bombay
Director: Terence Fisher
Script: David Z. Goodman
Cast: Guy Rolfe, Allan Cuthbertson, Andrew Crutchshank, George Pastell, Marne Maitland, Jan Holden, Paul Stassino, Tulte Lemkow
Running time: 80.17 (UK) or 79.52 (US) minutes
Set during British colonial rule of India, in 1829, The Stranglers of Bombay sees Colonel Harry Lewis (Guy Rolfe) trying to get to the bottom of a spate of disappearances and murders of employees of the East India Company that he works for. As he digs deeper into local customs and culture he becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to his houseboy who disappears when he goes off looking for his missing brother.
Lewis eventually discovers that a secret Thuggee cult is operating throughout India, a cult that murders scores of men and women each year, not only as offerings to their god, Kali, but to rob them of their belongings too. Finally, after several set-backs the Company start to take him seriously and the British take on the cult and begin to drive them from India for good.
I’ve always had a fascination for cults, and the Indian Thuggee cult in particular, so a film that features them prominently was always likely to attract my attention. However, until Powerhouse Films came along actually being able to see Stranglers was difficult and one had to rely on inferior Region 1 imports. The presentation here is Sony’s own remaster and the film’s original mono audio was remastered at the same time.
The Stranglers of Bombay is an engaging film that covers a number of issues including the British occupation of India, politics of the time, Indian culture, and religious bigotry and intolerance, especially between Hindus and Muslims. Quite a grown-up film from a studio usually associated with gothic creatures of the night!
Set design, production values and acting is all top notch and Guy Rolfe makes for a likeable hero, even if his relationship with his stay-at-home wife is the opposite of feminist! The film also doesn’t stint on the grim nature of the Thuggee assassins’ brutal nature and there is a genuine sense of menace at times.
Special features include:
Audio commentary with screenwriter David Goodman
Ritual Murder – Inside The Stranglers of Bombay (17 mins) – talking heads style of documentary where writers like Jonathan Rigby discuss the film, including positing the notion that the attractive woman seen knocking about in the Thuggee camp is actually an incarnation of the goddess Kali.
Hammer’s Women: Jan Holden (5.5 mins) – Colette Balmeir talks about Jan, who actually lived in India for a number of years, and was a theatre prompter at the Old Vic theatre.
The Stranglers of Bombay and the Censor (27 mins) – Richard Falcon explains how the censor reacted to the film, which was leniently considering the amount of violence in it. Apparently, the scene with the mongoose in was a problem though.
About the versions (6.5 mins) – the different versions of the film are compared. Both versions were cut for different reasons and sadly the cut footage no longer exists.
Musical Orientalism (17 mins) – Musician David Huckvale discusses James Bernard’s work and explains the Tritone, or the ‘Devil in music’.
US Theatrical Trailer – (2 mins);
Brian Trenchard Smith commentary of the trailer (3.50 mins) – here he references the film’s sadistic undercurrent, and explains that Thuggee meant ‘Deceiver’.
Image Gallery – 50 stills, including posters
Director: Val Guest
Script: Peter R. Newman
Cast: Stanley Baker, Guy Rolfe, Leo McKein, Gordon Jackson, David Oxley, Richard Pasco, Philip Ahn, Burt Kwouk, Bryan Forbes
Running time: 95 minutes
During World War II a band of Allied troops find themselves exhausted and lost in the jungles of Burma being hunted by Japanese soldiers. Their number include a padre and a war reporter. After clearing a village of unfriendly forces, the Allied rabble move in to recover from their jungle escapades and to repair their radio. They have also taken one of the Japanese sympathisers prisoner, who the leader of the allied troop, Captain Langford (Stanley Baxter) tries to interrogate about a jungle map which seems to be important.
When the prisoner refuses to talk Langford orders that two villages be executed to demonstrate that he will kill the prisoner if he doesn’t cough up what he knows. Seeing the resolve of Langford the man spills the beans, but by then it’s too late for the group to act upon what they know since a new wave of Japanese have caught up with them…
I don’t really want to say too much more about the story as I would rather readers watch the film as fresh as they can. However, I will say that this film, unlike The Camp on Blood Island is more nuanced in its portrayal of the Japanese, and therefore less racist. In fact, the main Japanese leader, Yamazaki (Philip Ahn), who they encounter towards the end of the film, is a very three-dimensional character and quite sympathetic in a way.
Unlike the previously made The Camp on Blood Island, Yesterday’s Enemy is a far more balanced movie and tries to be less sensationalist regarding the subject matter. It’s still authentically grim and gritty, but there’s certainly no sign of exaggerating the facts here. Plus, there are proper Asian actors (well, Chinese waiters) playing the Japanese soldiers, which is at least a step up from dodgy eye make-up effects that were prominent in the previous film.
Director Val Guest uses no music throughout the film, just jungle noises, which seem to ratchet up the danger and tension. There’s also some excellent framing of shots by photographer Arthur Grant, which really adds to the overall quality of the production.
Yesterday’s Enemy’s trump card though is that it promotes discussion on the nature of war, and itself includes some interesting verbal sparring concerning war and the rules of engagement, and where the line should be drawn with regard to the treatment of PoWs. It’s also one of the first war films to show an allied leader as an anti-hero; someone who is fallible and prone to making mistakes in the heat of the moment.
The acting is top-notch with the likes of Baker, Rolfe and Ahn standing out, but I have to say Gordon Jackson and Leo McKern were also excellent in their lesser roles, especially the latter as the hard-bitten hack who has bitten off more than he can chew as a war correspondent.
Special features include:
Guardian interview with Val Guest (45.5 mins) – Interesting interview with the director moderated by journalist and author Jonathan Rigby. The interview took place on 12 May 2005 at the NFT after a screening of one of Guest’s other films, namely Hell is a City. During the discussion we find out that it was Guest who suggested Sean Connery for Bond!
Total War: Inside Yesterday’s Enemy (25 mins) – a talking heads documentary; this is full of interesting stuff and we discover lots of facts and interesting tit-bits about the film, including the fact that the Jungle sets were built on revolving sections, part of which was later used for The Mummy.
Hammer’s Women: Edwina Carroll (8 mins) – Becky Booth talks about the actress, who was originally the ‘BMK Karate Girl’ for Allied Carpets in their commercials and later progressed to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Edwina had Anglo-Burmese heritage, which explains why she went for the part.
Introduction by Stephen Laws (8 mins) – The horror novelist and Hammer fan explains how Guy Rolfe ended up in a Puppet Master film years later and how David Ahn went on to play David Carradine’s mentor figure in the Kung Fu TV series.
New Territory (13 mins) – Steve Chibnall talks about Yesterday’s Enemy and how it was nominated for best British film for its year of release.
Frontline Dispatches (8 mins) – Hugh Harlow and Peter Allchorne recall their experiences working on the film. Hugh was the second unit director and Peter was responsible for floor props. We learn that the cast played poker between takes and one of the guns went missing for a time before turning up in one of the actor’s dressing rooms!
Theatrical Trailer – (2.44 mins) – features a journalist voiceover expressing their positive opinion of the film.
Image gallery – 132 stills, including posters.
Terror of the Tongs
Director: Anthony Bushell
Script: Jimmy Sangster
Cast: Christopher Lee, Yvonne Monlaur, Geoffrey Toone, Marne Maitland, Richard Leech, Burt Kwouk, Brian Worth, Ewan Solon, Roger Delgado
Running time: 76 minutes
The Terror of the Tongs has been a film I’ve wanted to see for ages – well, since I used to read House of Hammer magazine as a boy. There was something exotic and mysterious about it that appealed to my less-than-worldly spotty self. So, was it worth the long wait? In a nutshell: yes!
The triad-like Tongs, at their height, touched the lives of 70% of the population of China and The Terror of the Tongs is a rather violent boys-own type of adventure that sheds a little light on their activities, in a historical setting.
Captain Jackson Sale (Geoffrey Toone) is given a book by a trusted business confident, Mr Ming, who is shortly thereafter assassinated by the Tongs. What the Captain unfortunately doesn’t realise, until it’s too late, is that inside the book is a slip of paper with all the names of the key Tong operatives working in that area. He presents the book as a gift to his teenage daughter on his return home, but the Tongs send killers after the book, who not only ransack the Captain’s house looking for the paper, but also murder his defenceless daughter. This sends the Captain into a rage and he endeavours to go after the men behind his daughter’s death and bring them to justice.
Full of Caucasian Brits in dodgy make-up posing as Chinese people, colourful sets (this is the only film in this boxed set that’s in colour), and more nefarious characters than you can shake a stick at, Terror of the Tongs is a fun ride, whether you’re a fan of the film studio that birthed it or not. Although the acting is a little variable, and the script not as smart as it should have been, Tongs is still well worth checking out, if only to witness Christopher Lee doing a warm-up for his Fu Manchu character in the later Harry Alan Towers produced Fu Manchu series of films, based on the novels of Sax Rohmer.
Terror of the Tongs is worth seeing if only for some lovely-looking women, some great sets, and a fun fight between our hero’s Eastern mentor, (a pretend beggar who’s really trying to take the Tongs down), and a Sandor-like henchman, who’s very good at his tumbles. Enjoyable hokum all round.
Special features include:
Audio commentary with Jimmy Sangster, Chris Barnes and Marcus Hearn
Hatchet man: Inside ‘The Terror of the Tongs’ (21.5 mins) – a featurette including pieces to camera with Jonathan Rigby and Alan Barnes discussing the film. They reveal that the film had lots of cuts by censors, who were tough on Hammer after they felt they were too lenient with them on The Stranglers of Bombay. In the States the film was paired with William Castle’s ‘Homicidal’.
Hammer’s Women: Yvonne Monlaur (6 mins) – Laura Mayne talks about the actor, who also appeared in Brides of Dracula and Circus of Horrors. She was first ‘discovered’ by a fashion photographer and died in 2017.
Introduction by Stephen Laws (8 mins) – The horror author reports that this was really Christopher Lee’s first starring role with dialogue which is why he relished getting stuck into the part. Apparently, the eye make-up was pretty uncomfortable to wear though.
Hammer & Tongs (10.5 mins) – composer David Huckvale discusses the film’s score, which he thinks has many similarities to Hammer’s later The Legend of Seven Golden Vampires.
Sheer Terror (2.40 mins) – an interview with costume designer Yvonne Blake who only did the female costumes on the picture, which were all made through a company called Burmans.
Theatrical Trailer – (2.5 mins) – Where we learn that Chris Lee plays the character of Chun King, which isn’t very obvious in the film itself!
Image gallery – 57 stills, including posters.
All the films in this collection come with their own informative booklet featuring collections of writings on each film, complete with full cast and crew listings, and other useful information about the movies in question. These are all excellent and expertly researched. All in all this is another indispensable collection from Powerhouse.