ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Hammer Volume 3: Blood and Terror Blu Ray Collection (Indicator)
This latest collection of old Hammer Studios films courtesy of the Indicator label brings together four historical adventures.
The Camp on Blood Island (1958)
This WWII action-drama is set in two Japanese-run POW camps on an island in South East Asia - one for men and the other for women. Colonel Lambert (played by André Morell) attempts to keep his troops together in the face of a catalogue of brutalities carried out by at the whims of the sadistic Captain Sakamura (Marne Maitland) and the camp commander Yamamitsu (Ronald Radd). One day, he learns from an intercepted radio transmission that the war is over. However, what should be a time of celebration could be the end of them all as Yamamitsu has threatened to slaughter the captive men, women and children in retribution if he ever receives news that Japan has lost. Lambert and his men attempt to keep the news from reaching him while biding their time for an opportunity to escape.
The Camp on Blood Island is helmed by veteran British journeyman Val Guest, who handled a number of Hammer’s other films over the years. It’s a well-made and acted affair, authentically capturing the sweaty and sweltering atmosphere of South East Asia despite the fact that it was shot entirely in England. The violence is pretty brutal considering that it was made in 1958; sure, a decapitation scene remains firmly offscreen but there is some blood visible (albeit filmed in black and white) during scenes where characters are shot or have their throats slashed. The action and suspense sequences are solidly handled on a low budget, especially during the film’s third act.
The somewhat less welcome aspect here is its portrayal of the Japanese characters. They are mostly depicted as one-note bloodthirsty sadists, one of whom is even seen snickering with glee when killing an escapee in front of his wife. Also in common with other films of this period, some of them are played by actors who clearly aren’t East Asian. This is particularly obvious in the case of the two most significant Japanese speaking parts: Yamamitsu (played by English-born Ronald Radd) and Sakamura (played by Indian-born Marne Maitland).
Still, if you can overlook these issues then you will find it to be a gripping and gruelling wartime drama graced with a suitably stoic, yet tangibly human lead performance by André Morell.
Runtime: 81 mins
Dir: Val Guest
Script: Jon Manchip White, Val Guest
Starring: André Morell, Carl Möhner, Edward Underdown, Walter Fitzgerald, Phil Brown, Barbara Shelley, Michael Goodliffe, Ronald Radd, Marne Maitland
The Stranglers of Bombay (1959)
Guy Rolfe plays Captain Henry Lewis, an officer working in India during the British Colonial era. Himself and another captain, Christopher Connaught-Smith (Allan Cuthbertson) are assigned to probe the disappearance of a large number of people and trading caravans. The culprits belong to the Thuggee Cult, a brutal and dedicated criminal gang who worship the goddess Kali. However, the matter is complicated by two issues: firstly, the difficulties in getting any of the locals to disclose information and secondly, the arrogant Connaught-Smith believing that his method of behind-the-desk interrogations is superior to Lewis’s more hands-on cultural experience and investigatory techniques.
When Lewis’s manservant Ram Das (Tutte Lemkow) disappears and his severed hand is subsequently thrown into his home in front of his terrified wife Mary (Jan Holden), he decides to pursue the matter on his own volition. Naturally, this puts him in great danger of facing the Thuggees’ ruthless ways.
As with The Camp on Blood Island and the other films in the set, The Stranglers of Bombay pushes the violence and bloodshed envelope as far as it could go for a late-1950s British film. It also tries its damnedest to make the Callow Hill Sandpit in Surrey, England resemble a sweltering Asian landscape. Unfortunately, it’s significantly less interesting than Blood Island. While that film’s limited budget and few sets lent themselves well to the claustrophobically tense setup, this one feels like it was trying in vain to paint itself on a more grandiose canvas despite being saddled with the same constraints.
Director Terence Fisher probably didn’t help matters either. He helmed some of Hammer’s most fondly-remembered productions, including a number of their studio’s classic Dracula and Frankenstein films. In this case, however, he didn’t seem to be in his element; the pacing is somewhat sluggish and there’s an overuse of master shots which ends up deadening the intensity of would-be exciting sequences.
On the plus side, Guy Rolfe makes for a decent impromptu detective-style hero and his butting of heads with Allan Cuthbertson’s pompous Connaught-Smith adds a few much-needed sparks. The fact that a mongoose features heavily in a couple of crucial scenes is also an interesting touch. There’s even a tense moment when it fights with a cobra which was cut from an earlier version by the BBFC. As with The Camp on Blood Island, some ethnic casting decisions were made which seem dubious nowadays. Amongst the actors playing Indians are two Cypriots (George Pastell and Paul Stassino), another born in London to a French mother and Spanish father (Roger Delgado), and even a Norwegian (Tutte Lemkow). However, at least the actual Indian actor Marne Maitland got to play an Indian role this time, unlike in the aforementioned film.
The Thuggee Cult would be brought up as a cinematic force of villainy again in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). While the latter film isn’t the best entry in the hugely popular Indiana Jones series, I would take it over this plodding potboiler any day.
This disc contains three versions of the film: one is the original UK release, another is the original US release and the final a so-called “Integral Version”. The first two incarnations have had different scenes removed according to the guidelines set out by the respective countries’ censorship bodies. The Integral Version restores all of the footage cut from both of those versions.
Watch a trailer:
Runtime: 80 mins
Dir: Terence Fisher
Script: David Zelag Goodman
Starring: Guy Rolfe, Allan Cuthbertson, Andrew Cruickshank, George Pastell, Marne Maitland, Jan Holden, Paul Stassino, Tutte Lemkow, Roger Delgado
Yesterday’s Enemy (1959)
After The Camp on Blood Island, director Val Guest helmed another gritty WWII drama for Hammer. This one is set in Japanese-occupied Burma (now Myanmar) and features Stanley Baker as a hard-nosed British Army Captain named Langford who leads what is left of his brigade through a jungle in an arduous struggle to reach safety. When they come across a remote village, they are ambushed by a group of Japanese soldiers who occupy its huts. They manage to drive them out, but not before a number of their own are injured.
One of the men fleeing (played by Wolfe Morris) is dressed like a normal villager rather than a soldier. Langford suspects him to be an informer and attempts to pressure him into divulging information about the Japanese presence in the area. When he refuses to speak, Langford decides to resort to desperate measures by shooting two villagers in front of him. This is despite the objections of both a war correspondent (Leo McKern) and the brigade’s Padre (Guy Rolfe), who can see that his long days fighting have corroded his moral values.
Yesterday’s Enemy is a hard-hitting anti-war parable which proves that Hammer was capable of rising well above mere genre fare. While once again, the production was obviously small-scale (in this case, limited to a couple of fairly cramped sets representing a jungle and a village), the claustrophobia adds to the taut atmosphere. The amount of mud, blood and sweat seen caking the soldiers makes the whole thing feel highly realistic. There are some truly stark and shocking images here, ranging from a man emerging from a stream into enemy fire just so he can throw a grenade with his last breath, to the mournful final shot of a mass grave. There are some telling pieces of dialogue too; when a peasant woman is quizzed as to why she is leaving the occupied village, she responds “English, Japanese, no good.”
The acting is excellent, with the standouts being Stanley Baker as an intimidatingly tough military officer who is more than willing to make tough choices regardless of the human cost, and Leo McKern as an equally strong-willed reporter who provides the script’s true moral compass. Gordon Jackson (later to star in the TV series Upstairs, Downstairs and The Professionals) also appears in the cast list as a sergeant who is loyal to Langford, while Burt Kwouk (who became famous playing Cato in the Pink Panther films) has a smaller role as a Japanese soldier.
This is a fierce and intelligent depiction of the ugly cruelties of war. While one can make the usual criticisms about some of the ethnic casting decisions (albeit these aren’t as glaring as the other films in the set), it hasn’t lost any of its overall power with age.
Watch a trailer:
Runtime: 95 mins
Dir: Val Guest
Script: Peter R. Newman
Starring: Stanley Baker, Guy Rolfe, Leo McKern, Gordon Jackson, David Oxley, Richard Pasco, Philip Ahn, Bryan Forbes, Wolfe Morris, Burt Kwouk
The Terror of the Tongs (1961)
This period adventure set in early 20th-century Hong Kong features Christopher Lee as Chung King, the leader of the Red Dragon Tongs, a criminal organisation which profits from white slavery and opium smuggling. Geoffrey Toone plays Jackson Sale, a British sea captain who is given a message by a contact named Ming (Burt Kwouk) containing information which can be used to bring down the Tongs.
When Sale’s ship reaches the colony’s port, Ming is assassinated by a Tong member. However, when the gang learns that the latter has already passed on the message, they break into Sale’s house and kill his 16-year-old daughter Helena (Barbara Brown). The grief-stricken Sale sets out to investigate and avenge her death. During his crusade, he crosses paths with both a mysterious agent who poses as a beggar (played by Marne Maitland) and a beautiful half-caste who has her own interest in helping him (played by Yvonne Monlaur).
Sorry to sound like a broken record but… yes, it’s yet another Hammer film with dubious ethnic casting, most notably of all Christopher Lee wearing slant-eyed makeup and pretending to be Chinese, in a role which prefigured his more famous turn as Fu Manchu in a series of five Harry Alan Towers-produced adaptations. That said, at least Lee brings his usual larger-than-life grace and gravitas to the part. Some familiar faces from the other films in this boxed set pop up again here, including Roger Delgado, Marne Maitland and Burt Kwouk.
As with The Stranglers of Bombay, this is a dubious and largely racist historical potboiler. There’s not even a great deal of pulpy entertainment value on offer, mainly a lot of talk and a handful of fight scenes which look all the more pathetic considering the deluge of great Hong Kong action cinema which would be ushered in by The Shaw Brothers later in the decade. Once again, there’s a fair amount of violence throughout - although some of this was cut by the BBFC at the time and, unfortunately, the missing footage has been lost since then. This is particularly noticeable during the killing of Helena: the Tongs overcome her, placing her hand on a nearby desk for some reason, then there’s an abrupt jump in the music as they are suddenly seen carrying her over to her bed to finish her off. Apparently, a finger-chopping was excised from this sequence.
On the other hand, it’s an undeniably good-looking effort. It is the only one in this boxed set to have been shot in colour (using the Eastmancolor process) and certainly goes to town with a rich palette of blues, reds and purples. Some of the production design is also surprisingly lavish, especially the sets representing the harbour and the Tongs’ palatial base (the former was apparently built for another Hammer production and reused here). However, as with the other films in this collection, the budget only stretched to a small number of different sets, ultimately making the proceedings feel cramped and curtailed.
Hammer Films buffs will find this one to be worth a watch (if only just) thanks to Christopher Lee’s performance, the visuals and a decent climactic few minutes. However, casual viewers will probably end up feeling somewhat bored, not to mention left wondering how the filmmakers managed to let Yvonne Monlaur get away with her ludicrously melodramatic performance as a half-Chinese woman sporting an obviously French accent.
Watch a trailer:
Runtime: 76 mins
Dir: Anthony Bushell
Script: Jimmy Sangster
Starring: Christopher Lee, Yvonne Monlaur, Geoffrey Toone, Marne Maitland, Brian Worth, Roger Delgado, Burt Kwouk, Barbara Brown
Blu Ray Audio Visual
The rich hues of the full-colour The Terror of the Tongs make for arguably the most impressive presentation here. However, the three other (black and white) films also look great, with consistently clear and blemish-free images which pick up everything down to the beads of sweat on the actors’ faces.
Highlights amongst the extras
There is a wealth of extras here including commentaries, booklets, documentaries, trailers and image galleries. Here are some of the best:
Brutal Truth: Inside The Camp on Blood Island
This solid 26-minute documentary takes a look at the film’s production, its casting and its reception by censors, critics and audiences. The BBFC were surprisingly lenient, perhaps due to its basis in wartime history. However, the film’s original advertising poster - depicting a Japanese executioner raising a sword to strike - was considered to be too lurid and was banned by both the London Poster Advertising Association and London Transport. Most critics of the time snubbed the film as they felt it was too sensationalist and exploitative. However, it was a big success at the box office.
It is also of interest to note that it was one of the first three Hammer films (along with Dracula and The Snorkel) to have been distributed by Columbia Pictures in a partnership which would last until 1964. This distribution deal with such a large Hollywood company was considered a major coup for Hammer at the time. However, it and a number of similar deals over the years have meant that the English studio ultimately lost the rights to many of their own productions.
Hammer’s Women: Mary Merrall
Kat Ellinger gives us another nice tribute to a minor Hammer actress - in this case Mary Merrall, who played Mrs. Helen Beattie in The Camp on Blood Island. She was born in 1890 and had a major career as a stage actress but was mostly confined to smaller supporting roles on TV and in film. The most interesting section of this featurette comes when Ellinger takes a look at the woman behind her career, whom she describes as “a bit of a hellraiser” due to the fact that she was divorced by her husband because of her affairs with several other actors! She also revels some anecdotes by comedian Ronnie Corbett, who spent some time living in her boarding house.
From Light to Dark
Steve Chibnall, professor of British Cinema and director of the Cinema and Television History Centre, talks about director Val Guest and Camp on Blood Island. He reveals that Guest’s early pre-Hammer career was based largely around screenwriting light comedy vehicles for the likes of Will Hay and his wife Yolande Donlan.
The script for Camp on Blood Island was written by Jon Manchip White, a former POW who had a chance meeting with Hammer producer Anthony Nelson Keys in a bar. However, Guest made a few changes in order to put his own stamp on the finished film. While the production was shot in Southern England rather than South East Asia, the fact that it happened to be an unusually hot summer during that year (1957) helped with authenticity.
Unsurprisingly, the film wasn’t released in Japan. A campaign by Japanese interests was also launched in America in an unsuccessful attempt to block its release there as well. While it was a big box office hit for Hammer and its novelisation was popular for decades, it was rarely shown on television due to its controversial nature and has thus become a relatively forgotten entry in the studio’s back catalogue.
Ritual Murder: Inside The Stranglers of Bombay
Kenneth Hyman, an American-born producer who worked for Hammer, was inspired to make a film based around the experiences of Sir William Sleeman, a British soldier based who as based in India and was involved in combating the Thuggee Cult. He initially wanted to adapt The Deceivers but, when obtaining the necessary rights proved too expensive, he ultimately made The Stranglers of Bombay based on related material from the public domain. The film’s main protagonist, Captain Henry Lewis (Guy Rolfe), was loosely modelled on Sleeman.
While the film was shot in a widescreen process known as Megascope, it was dubbed Strangloscope on release posters. Despite its gruesome content (including an implied eye-gouging and the shot of a severed hand), the BBFC granted it a fairly lenient A rating, meaning that children could see it if they were accompanied by an adult.
The Stranglers of Bombay and the Censor
This one is an absolute must-watch, especially for those curious to explore the rather arbitrary and subjective decisions that censorship bodies tend to make when it comes to what is and isn’t acceptable for audiences to view.
In the absence of any detailed notes from the period, former BBFC examiner Richard Falcon takes a look the possible reasons why The Stranglers of Bombay was treated so leniently by the British censorship board. It received an A rating after three rather mystifying cuts, one example being shots of the character Christopher Connaught-Smith being dragged on the ground by a horse. The gorier moments depicting knife lacerations, an eye gouging aftermath and a severed hand, meanwhile, survived intact. While the original A rating meant that under-16s could still see the film if accompanied by an adult, recent rereleases have been rated 15, meaning that it is not allowed to be shown to anyone under that age.
Falcon theorises that the fact that the film was more of a transplanted Western (complete with a morally upstanding protagonist in the form of Captain Henry Lewis) may have helped its cause, as did the fact that it was filmed in black & white, thus neutering the lurid red blood that sold the likes of Dracula (1958) to audiences. He even posits that the fact that it wasn’t written by usual Hammer scribe Jimmy Sangster, who had a bad reputation with the board, may have helped its cause. Ironically, the film’s then-unknown writer David Zelag Goodman would later go on to script Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971), which was notorious for running into trouble with the BBFC over a scene depicting the rape of Susan George.
Total War: Inside Yesterday’s Enemy
This documentary takes a look at a film which was proposed by Michael Carreras in response to criticisms made about The Camp of Blood Island being too exploitative. It was based on a play written by a former RAF pilot named Peter R. Newman, previously adapted for television in 1958. While Gordon Jackson and Burt Kwouk reprised their roles from the TV version, the rest of the parts were recast.
Owing to the fact that the set was too large to be housed at Hammer’s usual Bray Studios, most of the shoot was relocated to Shepperton. The main jungle set was built on a series of moveable platforms in order to make it look larger than it was in reality. The swamp set was reused in The Mummy. Despite the fact that the film was shot entirely on English soundstages, when director Val Guest was seated beside Lord Mountbatten during its UK premiere, the latter nudged him and claimed that he recognised some of the locations!
Hammer’s Women: Edwina Carroll
Becky Booth presents yet another minor but interesting British actress: Edwina Carroll, who played a Burmese villager named Suni in Yesterday’s Enemy. Her career spanned 3 decades and 22 screen credits, arguably the most familiar of which is the Aries-1B stewardess in 2001: A Space Odyssey. She also took part in various modelling gigs, including as a “Judo girl” on adverts for BMK carpets, and three different front covers for an army morale-booster periodical known as Parade. Her final movie role was in Carry On Up the Jungle in 1970.
Hatchet Men: Inside The Terror of the Tongs
This enjoyable retrospective reveals that The Terror of the Tongs was basically a quickie thrown together mainly to make use of an expensive dockside set built for a TV pilot called Visa to Canton (1960). Apparently, Jimmy Sangster only agreed to write the script because needed the money in order to pay his mortgage. Notably, the it was the first film of Christopher Lee’s career for which he would receive top billing. In previous Hammer productions such as Dracula, he was second billed to Peter Cushing.
The BBFC opted to give the film an X certificate after receiving some flak for letting The Stranglers of Bombay get away with an A rating. Moreover, they elected to impose considerable cuts on the various scenes of violence. The novelisation contains considerably more explicit descriptions of violence than those seen in the film, a couple of which are read out here. They do indeed sound fairly nauseating.
Hammer’s Women: Yvonne Monlaur
Laura Mayne of The University of York takes a brief look at the French actress who played love interest Lee in The Terror of the Tongs. Yvonne got her big break modelling for the likes of Elle in the 1950s. She then appeared in a number of French and Italian films during the same decade before trekking to England. Her most famous role was in The Brides of Dracula, another Hammer production. While she retired from acting in 1970, she continued to engage with fans via her online blog and appearances at Hammer conventions up until her passing away in 2017.
This collection doesn’t necessarily represent Hammer in their best light due to the rather dated racial treatments. However, Yesterday’s Enemy still holds up well as an anti-war parable, while The Camp on Blood Island offers enough tension to hold the interest.
The Camp on Blood Island (1958)
The Stranglers of Bombay (1959)
Yesterday’s Enemy (1959)
The Terror of the Tongs (1961)