Posted January 5, 2012 by Jack Jones in DVD/Blu-ray
 
 

Hammer Classics


When you think of Hammer Film Productions it’s impossible not to think of all the classic, and not so classic, Hammer horror films that dominated the market until the closing of its doors in the 1980s.

When you think of
Hammer Film Productions it’s impossible not to think of all the classic, and
not so classic, Hammer horror films that dominated the market until the closing
of its doors in the 1980s.
Under new ownership, Hammer has risen from the
ashes and is investing in new projects and releasing some of its extensive back
catalogue for home entertainment for the first time. In The Scarlet Blade and The Brigand of Kandahar, both of which
were helmed by Hammer stalwart John
Gilling
and starred Oliver Reed,
there is a look into one of the most interesting periods of film production in the
history of the British film industry and the work of one of its previously
eminent studios.

The Scarlet Blade, a
historical adventure film set during the English Civil War packed full of
costumes and set pieces to please the eye, has enough theatrically over-the-top
performances from Lionel Jeffries
and Oliver Reed that you just about
bypass the rather dated teeth grating melodrama. As one of Cromwell’s
Roundheads, Reed plays the besotted Captain Sylvester who lusts after the
daughter of the crazed Colonel Judd. His love for Claire encourages him to aid
her Royalist gang and risk punishment. Sylvester’s problems are further
compounded when Claire has eyes for someone else, the pompous Royalist hero The
Scarlet Blade, played by Jack Hedley.
Sylvester’s anger is almost uncontrollable as a result and sets in motion a
swashbuckling finale to this slightly pleasing costume drama.

Here Reed outshines everyone with a youthful charisma as
Sylvester in a film that proved that Hammer quite ably had its fingers it more
genres than just horror.

The Brigand of
Kandahar
on the other hand is a
wholly more interesting film, if not equally flawed. Set in India in 1890,
though quite clearly filmed on a studio lot, The Brigand of Kandaha is a military adventure that aims to
whist you away to the mystiques and beauty of India whilst under British
control. If the politics of the film are a bit unsure and dated, at least the
film is a postcard to old-fashioned romping action dramas. When a half-caste
British officer, Case (Ronald Lewis),
is dishonourably discharged for cowardice, a crime he was falsely accused of, he
finds himself fighting with a tribal warlord Ali Khan (Reed). Running in at under 80 minutes, the plot races along and
there are interesting themes of revenge when Case fights against his own racist
tormenters in the British Army. As Khan, Reed is imperious as the violent and bloodthirsty
warlord.

Much will be made of the ill judged “blackfacing” of white
actors for ethnic roles. But let us not forget that a heavily make-upped Alec
Guinness in classics such as Lawrence of
Arabia
and again, even as recent
as 1984, in A Passage to India is an indication that film has been
“blackfacing” actors for as long as cinema has existed and continues to do so –
see Tropic Thunder. Rightly or
wrongly, The Brigand of Kandahar is a product of its time and was more
interested in providing exotic stories and rollicking action than ensuring any
sense of political correctness. That said, The Brigand of Kandahar may not be as spellbinding a film set
in India as David Lean’s A Passage
to India or even John Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King, but is
nevertheless still engaging as a drama thanks again to the supreme talents of
Oliver Reed and extravagant and colourful costuming.

Though both of these films err on the side of exploitation
cinema, they do remind you of an era of Britain’s high volume of film
production during the 1960s and 70s. This unprecedented time for British film
is one that will never be recovered, but to see great British acting talent
such as Oliver Reed in all his early splendour, that can only be a good thing.


Jack Jones