There’s a good reason why I’m reviewing this film today. Ideally, I should have reviewed it last week, on the hundredth anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, but since I didn’t want to publish two posts on consecutive days, I decided I’d let this wait for a week.
What connection is there between Elephant Boy and Jallianwala Bagh? Nothing, on the face of it, except perhaps the rather obvious Indian connection—since Elephant Boy was based on Rudyard Kipling’s Toomai of the Elephants (one of the chapters of The Jungle Book) and was shot extensively in India (it even marked the debut of possibly the most famous Indian export to Hollywood, Sabu—but that’s another story, which I’ll touch upon briefly near the end of this review).
No, what connects Elephant Boy to Jallianwala Bagh is that the man who tried to avenge Jallianwala Bagh acted in this film. Udham Singh, who killed the former Lieutenant Governor of Punjab, Michael O’Dwyer, the man who had ordered the massacre (which was carried out by Brigadier General Dyer), had worked at various jobs before he became an integral part of the story of India’s freedom movement. He had been a mechanic, and—briefly—an actor of bit parts, small roles of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it type (more on the Udham Singh few know of, in this excellent article). Elephant Boy was one of the films in which Udham Singh appeared. Briefly, but still.
… and its sequel, Das Indische Grabmal, also 1959.
Fritz Lang made the visually stunning Metropolis in 1927. Over thirty years later, freed from the constraints of black and white and silence, he made two films, which are together known as ‘Fritz Lang’s Indian epic’. The second film was Das Indische Grabmal (‘The Indian Tomb’); the first was this one, Der Tiger von Eschnapur, or ‘The Tiger of Eschnapur’.
The story is basically the same as that of a film Lang had made even further back than Metropolis; in 1921, he had made Das Indische Grabmal, based on a book by his wife Thea von Harbou (who, as you’d recall, also wrote Metropolis). In the 1950s, Lang remade Das Indische Grabmal, this time cutting it into two parts. Both Der Tiger von Eschnapur and Das Indische Grabmal were released in 1959, and have been much acclaimed ever since.
Guts. Glory. Revenge. Honour. Two brothers in love with the same girl. A tale based on Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s classic poem of the Battle of Balaklava, The Charge of the Light Brigade. Errol Flynn. What more could one ask for?
Well, much better scripting, for one. More believable settings for another, and less melodrama. Flynn, master swashbuckler, delivers as always in this film, but other than that, there wasn’t enough to make it a memorable one for me. Into the trashcan ride these six hundred.