Harry Black and the Tiger

HARRY BLACK AND THE TIGER is rewarding for its location filming in India and for the good work from adventure flick stalwart Stewart Granger, playing the lead role based on David Walker’s experience-vetted novel “Harry Black”. The path was paved by producer John Brabourne being the son-in-law of Lord Louis Mountbatten, who, among his other duties, had been a Raj viceroy in India; his contacts who smoothed potential problems. Directed by Hugo Fregonese (Black Tuesday, The Raid) with a script written by Sidney Boehm (When Worlds Collide, The Big Heat) it also provided the first English-language credit to the great Indian actor I.S. Johar.

I.S. Johar, 1920-1984 actor/writer/director/producer

Even an artificial leg from a war wound doesn’t deter ex-soldier ‘Harry Black’ from his task of hunting down a man-killing tiger plaguing Indian villages. Though loyally assisted by friend ‘Babu’ (Johar), Harry’s final reckoning with the wily cat is complicated by the presence of ‘Chris Tanner’ (Barbara Rush) with whom he shares unrequited love. That’s a sticky wicket since she’s married to a former comrade, the weak and jittery ‘Desmond’ (Anthony Steel), whose fumbling at crisis points has repeated dire consequences for Black.

Flashbacks to Harry & Desmond’s escape attempt from a Nazi P.O.W. camp and Harry’s meeting with the betrothed Chris flesh out the triangle angle, but neither Rush (saddled with a worse hairdo than even Jane Wyman) and the dulled Steel offer much dramatic counterweight to Granger’s interestingly layered character. Did Barbara Rush ever make a movie where she didn’t have at least one crying scene? Here she’s got at least four. Plus the little tyke (played by Martin Stephens, best known as one of the spacy kids in Village Of The Damned) is a shrill irritant in every scene he’s in: you relish the bit when Rush orders her housekeeper to give him a whipping to get him to shut up!

Thankfully, the jostling, affectionate camaraderie between Granger and the endearing Johar makes all their scenes work quite well, the tiger footage is expertly handled, and Clifton Parker gives it a colorful score. A few poorly matched process shots (driving vehicles) are the only drawback to the otherwise compelling location work, offering some choice views of the then-unspoiled Indian countryside. As in King Solomon’s Mines, outfitted with bush clothes and rifle, Granger fully looks the part of a fellow you’d trust on safari: if you’re edging through a dark cave with a flashlight looking for a 500-pound animal with an attitude and appetite, you don’t want to bet your chances on Woody Allen. An underrated movie. *

With Kamala Devi, in a neat role as an aloof nurse. 107 minutes.

* Though it appears to have done decently elsewhere, for the U.S. release 20th Century Fox threw it away on a double-bill with a minor western Showdown At Boot Hill: box office was negligible.

His seven year contract with MGM expired, Granger at 44 made this his first go as an independent lead. He’d already had experience filming in the region (Bhowani Junction had Pakistan subbing for India) and certainly had more than earned adventure stripes, from King Solomon’s Mines on, thru Soldiers Three, The Prisoner Of Zenda, Scaramouche, The Wild North, All The Brothers Were Valiant, Green Fire, Beau Brummel, Moonfleet and The Last Hunt. My late brother-in-law Larry Pennell worked with Granger on a 1965 item called Old Surehand escaped released in the U.S. three years later with the insert-joke title Flaming Frontier. A German-made western shot in Yugoslavia. Go figure. Though the movie was hardly a winner, Larry really enjoyed Granger. Many years later, my sister (who’d gone along for the shoot) was shopping at a market in L.A. and she spied Granger. She didn’t think he’d remember her and did not want to pester him, so she didn’t approach him. After a minute, he walked up and mock-scorned her with “So, what are you, stuck-up or something?” and they had a nice catch-up chat. A cool guy.

 

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