THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY doesn’t have anything to do with Bombay, but the catchy title helped filmgoers place it in India, where the grisly action takes place, not in the teeming city, but in the lulling countryside. All over the country, in fact, and for centuries, as the hero—an East India Company officer—discovers when he investigates ongoing ritual murders in the days when ‘The Company’
plundered ran the subcontinent. Hammer Films and their go-to director Terence Fisher take on history’s notorious Thuggee cult in a 1959 item that raised hackles with censors of the day for its sensory-offending nastiness quotient. Scabs are still picked today with p.c. fanatics whose mission is to throttle enjoyment of anything that might irk someone, somewhere, over something from some time in the past that portrayed something from some earlier period of history. Drop hankies. Seize the throttle scarf of your choice. It’s time to “KILL! KILL for the Love of KALI!”
India, 1829. ‘Captain Harry Lewis’ (Guy Rolfe) loyally serving the British East India Company, tries to find out who’s behind so many missing person cases. His knowledge of the country and progress on the mystery are ignored and stymied by his superiors, so, at great risk, he goes it alone, uncovering a vast cult that robs, mutilates and murders. Suspects grow, victims pile up.
Even though Eduardo Ciannelli’s maniac from Gunga Din left mighty sandals to fill, Cyprus-born George Pastell does a great job rousing homicidal intent as the fervent High Priest. Written by David Selag Goodman, the ick quota features plenty of maiming, including eye-gouging, branding, slicing and a mass strangling—just the kind of stuff kids would eat up and their parents deplore. One of 29 pictures director Fisher helmed for Hammer, again using resident composer James Bernard, whose angry score prods the 80 minutes of mayhem. Working overtime to make up for the low budget, Arthur Grant’s cinematography helps with the mood, especially with the night-time shots. The less-exciting ‘countryside’ exteriors were shot in a sand & gravel quarry in Buckinghamshire.
The bring-your-bad-taste advertising campaign not only made sure you were aware that ‘faction’ was being presented in “Strangloscope!”, but that women being also being threatened, to further lure those who worried that garroting males exclusively signified gender bias. Placed where her ample thespian qualities could best serve the historical record, as hottie Kali disciple ‘Karim’, va-voom vixen Marie Devereux does a lot of blood-lust panting while strategically leaning forward. Mind thy topple. *
With Andrew Cruickshank, Allen Cuthbertson (snide again, just asking for it), Marne Maitland (duplicitous smarm provider), Jan Holden (noble, understanding hero’s wife), Paul Stassino (treasonous swine), Tutte Lemkow, Roger Delgado. 81 minutes.
* When his budding career as a leading man went askew from a bout with tuberculosis, imposing Guy Rolfe (1911-2003) carved out a supporting niche as formidable villains in faves like Ivanhoe, King Of The Khyber Rifles and Taras Bulba. Nice to see him as a lead and good guy here; he also had a sympathetic role that year in the excellent WW2 story Yesterday’s Enemy.
Before retiring at 24 to raise a family, British pinup model Marie Devereux (1940-2019) had a brief run at a cinematic cleavage career, from 1958s The Woman Eater to 1964s The Naked Kiss, with stops along the way to increase pulse rates in The Brides Of Dracula and Cleopatra. We who were devout to sigh, salute you…