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The Brigand of Kandahar (1965)
12th Jan 12
Half-cast British officer finds himself helping the local tribesman in 1880 in British India after being freed by them following a court-martial for cowardice.
Now here’s something for all fans of Hammer Film Production’s output! A world DVD premiere of their 1965 release The Brigand of Kandahar and digitally remastered no less! Actually let’s rephrase that statement. This is one for die-hard Hammer fans only and anyone else that gets their kicks from watching low budget nonsense that had it not come from such a ‘name’ studio would probably have languished in film purgatory for ever.
The Brigand of Kandahar is an adventure yarn from Hammer Film Productions rather than one of their trademark horror output. There’s no vampires or werewolves here and the production values are as low as their cost effective budgeting would allow for - meaning the make-up department were on constant standby to dampen down and add a little glistening to actor’s foreheads to remind us that the action is taking place in India rather than Bray Studios, as well as Oakley Green in Berkshire in England.
Writer/director John Gilling’s movie is a very colourful production, courtesy of Eastmancolor, from the costumes, the awful fake backdrops and fibre glass rocks that bring to mind those used in dodgy alien environments in Sixties Star Trek episodes. In fact one such ‘rock’ shakes like no rock should ever do as a character falls over it during one of the plentiful gun battles. There’s a certain charm to its flaws though that brings up nostalgic thoughts towards the sort of movies one’s grandparents would happily fall asleep to after a full roast dinner on a Sunday afternoon.
Where the film lacks is in the scripting and performances, although such a product was surely never looking to enthral on either count - designed as a cheapie to bring in quick bucks and consequently disappear from your consciousness as soon as its short eighty minute running time expires.
Ronald Lewis plays Lieutenant Robert Case. Within a short while we learn that our mixed race lead has been playing hide the sausage with another fella’s missus and when he returns without said mate both the missus and the Army believe he left the guy there to die and so court martial him for cowardice. He is soon sprung from jail by rebel Bengali tribesman Ali Khan’s (Oliver Reed) crew and takes to training Khan’s soldiers against the British Army by teaching them their techniques. In the meantime English journalist Marriott (Glyn Houston) is captured by Khan’s men and learns of the injustice against Case and intends for people back in England to hear the truth behind the brigand of Kandahar.
Ronald Lewis has the physicality to make for an impressive lead but fails to convince as a half-English, half-Indian in the British Army - often looking half as lost as the audience by the obvious plotting and by-the-numbers action scenes. As for Oliver Reed’s Ali Khan, you learn that he is meant to be bonkers when he says he trusts Robert Case as much as his own brother - to which his sister says, "You killed him!" "Yes, I know... That’s why I trust him!" he returns in that whispery voice of his. Outside of that there is nothing in Reed’s performance to believe that he is indeed unhinged. He appears to be thinking more of that cool pint waiting for him the moment he wraps for the day, rather than channelling his larger than life persona into the mix.
The Brigand of Kandahar is packed full of love trysts and a battle every ten minutes or so just in case interest flags in the flat story telling and elsewhere it cribs extensive footage from 1956’s Zarak to spice up its limited production values. For all its faults there’s a certain naive charm that wins you over as you chuckle at the over-acting, the flimsy sets and the so-called twists and turns in the narrative. It was never intended to be perfect and it’s certainly far from that. As a slab of dispensable entertainment for a wet Sunday afternoon it’s ideal - and there’s always a place for that.
1st Nov 04 Above all though, it is the relationship between John and Laura Baxter which is the film’s central focus throughout, and the gradual disintegration of their relationship amidst a haze of grief.