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Hammer Adventure: The Stranglers of Bombay (1959)


There's a simple reason I haven't watched most of the Hammer adventure movies until now. Categorize them as you might, but the historical dramas/adventures in foreign land films like The Stranglers of Bombay and The Terror of the Tongs have just never appealed to me. I'm glad I've forced myself to watch them, though, because I've enjoyed them. The Stranglers of Bombay, for example, is an entertaining tale filled with corporate politics, a sympathetic hero, and a murderous cult that, because the story of Kali says from each drop of blood a monster grows, kills by strangulation with sacred cloth.

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Captain Harry Lewis (Guy Rolfe) of the British East India Company is disappointed when he loses an appointment to investigate the disappearance of over 1,100 men in favor of Captain Christopher Connaught-Smith (Allan Cuthbertson). The man in charge, Colonel Henderson (Andrew Cruickshank) is more concerned with the heat and the "wholesale disappearances" of his product than he is with the missing people. Connaught-Smith is just as lackadaisical about it, so Lewis, while he waits for his resignation letter to reach London, continues to snoop around himself.

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As Lewis gets closer to locating the cult, he becomes its enemy. Cult leaders train young new recruits and tell them, "This Captain Lewis must be punished." When they throw a burnt hand through his and his wife Mary's (Jan Holden) window, Lewis tells Henderson, "You can't solve anything sitting behind a desk!" and asks, "Would there be an inquiry if it didn't affect the company?" Even when he finds a burial ground where all the skeletons have broken necks, Connaught-Smith won't take it seriously. This causes Lewis to sigh in exasperation, "Nobody cares."

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Eventually Lewis locates the cult's meeting place, where he is captured and blood is drawn from his leg to lure a cobra. Luckily, the "pet" mongoose he carries in his bag escapes and kills the cobra, which leaves the High Priest (George Pastell) to lament, "The death of a snake bodes evil. Kali is displeased. Great mother, how have I failed you?" He releases Lewis. It all leads to a finale where the merchants lead a caravan across India that they think is too large for attack. Little do they know, no caravan is too large to be attacked. A plot is also hatched to kill Lewis in a way that won't incriminate the stranglers.

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Lewis learns of these plans, hops on a horse and races to reach the caravan. Lt. Silver (Paul Stassino) insists on coming with him. (He's an agent of the cult who wants to sabotage the hero's efforts. With East India's general disinterest in the cult, you know there had to be a mole… or moles.) They're too late, but return to the cult's meeting place where Connaught-Smith has been dragged by foot. As the High Priest prepares for the greatest gift of all, human flesh, Lewis pops out of the trees shooting. "Great goddess, you have given a sign! Prepare a funeral pyre! The death of this unbeliever will be your final reward."

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I've read that The Stranglers of Bombay may have influenced Spielberg's Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom. That's interesting because this one plays a little bit like a Saturday afternoon serial, not necessarily because of non-stop adventure, but because the story is told in short scenes that make the movie speed along. (Plus, it runs only 80 minutes.) It was the first movie for screenwriter David Zelag Goodman, who would later write Straw Dogs, Logan's Run and Eyes of Laura Mars. While it was his only film for Hammer, The Stranglers of Bombay was just one of many for its director, Terence Fisher.

Written by David Zelag Goodman Directed by Terence Fisher Starring Guy Rolfe, Allan Cuthbertson, Andrew Cruickshank US Release July 5, 1962 RT 93 min. Home Video Sony Pictures Home Entertainment