It is currently Wed Jan 24, 2018 7:07 am

All times are UTC - 5 hours [ DST ]




Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 18 posts ] 
Author Message
 Post subject: Eclipse Series 30: Sabu!
PostPosted: Mon Aug 15, 2011 4:46 pm 
User avatar

Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 9:49 pm
Location: Denver, CO
Eclipse Series 30: Sabu!

Image

In the thirties and forties, the Indian actor known as Sabu (born Selar Shaik) captured the hearts of moviegoers in Britain and the United States as a completely new kind of big-screen icon. Sabu was a maharaja’s elephant driver when he was discovered by documentary trailblazer Robert Flaherty, who cast him as the lead in Elephant Boy, a Kipling adaptation Flaherty directed with Zoltán Korda that would prove to be enormously popular. Sabu went on to headline a series of fantasies and adventures, transcending the exoticism projected onto him by commanding the screen with effortless grace and humor. This series collects three of the lavish productions Sabu starred in for the British film titans the Korda brothers: Elephant Boy, the colonialist battle adventure The Drum, and the timeless Jungle Book.


Elephant Boy

Image

Robert Flaherty and Zoltán Korda shared best director honors at the Venice Film Festival for collaborating on this charming translation of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book story “Toomai of the Elephants.” A harmonious mix of the two filmmakers’ styles—Flaherty’s adeptness at ethnographic documentary meeting Korda’s taste for grand adventure—Elephant Boy also served as the breakthrough showcase for the thirteen-year-old Sabu, whose beaming performance as a young mahout leading the British on an expedition made him a major international star.


The Drum

Image

Zoltán Korda’s charged adaptation of a novel by The Four Feathers author A. E. W. Mason features Sabu in his second film role, as the teenage Prince Azim, forced into hiding when his father, the ruler of a peaceful kingdom in northwest India, is assassinated by his ruthless brother. Protected by a friendly British officer (Roger Livesey) and his wife (Valerie Hobson), and befriended by the regiment’s drummer boy, Prince Azim ends up fighting with the colonialists against his dastardly uncle. This rousing adventure is elevated by Sabu’s exuberant performance and spectacular Technicolor cinematography by Georges Périnal and Osmond Borradaile.


Jungle Book

Image

This Korda brothers film is the quintessential version of Rudyard Kipling’s classic collection of fables. Sabu stars as Mowgli, a boy raised by wolves who can communicate with all the beasts of the jungle, friend or foe, and who gradually reacclimates to civilization with the help of his long lost mother and a beautiful village girl. Deftly integrating real animals into its fanciful narrative, Jungle Book is a shimmering Technicolor visual feast, and was nominated for four Oscars, including for cinematography, art direction, special effects, and music.


Top
 Profile  
 

PostPosted: Mon Aug 15, 2011 4:53 pm 

Joined: Thu Jun 05, 2008 1:47 pm
Not as obscure a collection as most Eclipse sets, but very welcome indeed. I have been waiting to own some of these for quite a while.


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Mon Aug 15, 2011 5:17 pm 
User avatar

Joined: Fri May 19, 2006 10:09 am
This is pretty damn great.


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Mon Aug 15, 2011 5:28 pm 
User avatar

Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:49 pm
I wouldn't describe these films as great, but they're insanely fun and worth it for a sale price.


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Mon Aug 15, 2011 5:30 pm 
User avatar

Joined: Fri May 19, 2006 10:09 am
And for the much improved picture (I suppose), saving them from PD hell.


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Mon Aug 15, 2011 6:30 pm 

Joined: Wed Mar 16, 2005 9:20 pm
I've only seen the Jungle Book which I thought was awful. The film stock on the animal inserts don't match (and they reuse the same snippets over and over) While not blatantly racist like Sanders of The River, Jungle Book has plenty of awkward scenes of white British actors pancaked in brown facepaint and doing their Indian impressions while real Indian actors loom in the background of the village scenes etc. as extras. Sign of the times but doesn't make for great viewing by today's standards. The f/x work is also incredibly lazy. With Thief of Bagdad, they were limited by technology but they still found ways to be creative and you can tell a lot of thought went into the work, thus the f/x still retains a charm...not so much in the Jungle Book.


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Mon Aug 15, 2011 6:33 pm 
User avatar

Joined: Tue May 25, 2010 11:26 pm
I think the Korda adventure movies are the kind of thing where I can understand why they don't work for people, but they have really specific and delightful specificity to them that I love- they're like Biggles books, they're not actually part of my childhood but somehow they feel as though they were. And Sabu really is a delightful presence.


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Mon Aug 15, 2011 6:55 pm 
User avatar

Joined: Tue Aug 24, 2010 11:27 pm
I wasn't sure if I was going to buy this, but that exclamation point after Sabu has convinced me.


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Sun Sep 11, 2011 7:36 pm 
User avatar

Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 8:57 pm
Every time I see this set all I can think of is John Prine singing "Sabu Visits The Twin Cities Alone."

"Hey, look ma, here comes the Elephant Boy,
Bundled all up in his corduroy,
Headed down South towards Illinois,
from the jungles of East St Paul."


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Fri Nov 18, 2011 8:26 pm 
User avatar

Joined: Thu Aug 06, 2009 11:13 pm
Beaver


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Tue Dec 06, 2011 7:34 am 
User avatar

Joined: Mon Nov 24, 2008 2:08 pm
So, yeah... I got this thing as a screener Thanksgiving week and watched all three films in a 24-hour period. I'm writing my review now and finding it hard not to be painfully p.c. and wring my hands over just how awful the underlying philosophies are, especially in the Kiplings. Of the three, I found THE DRUM to be the best on all levels -- story, acting, cinematography, etc. It even has a little more sympathy (not much, mind you) for the native culture it so condescendingly depicts. Unfortunately, THE DRUM is the worst transfer. The picture is muddy and smeared and the audio is often warped.

Though it has many of the problems enumerated by Ian above, THE JUNGLE BOOK is charming in a Saturday matinee way. Sabu had really come into his own as a performer by this point and imbues Mowgli with the feral grace the role needs. Yeah, the effects are cheesy, they don't even try to match all the day-for-night stuff (or the exteriors with the obvious soundstage shots), but I have to cop to falling for the film a bit. Those fake snakes might be the best thing or the worst thing about the set; I can't decide.

ELEPHANT BOY has little to commend it. Sabu is good (and you can see why he became an exotic, male alternative to Shirley Temple), there's a cool sequence involving a tiger hunt, and that's about it EXCEPT...

[Reveal] Spoiler:
that weird psychedelic elephant freakout at the end, which had to have been all Flaherty; that thing is one-of-a-kind and, like the fake snakes in JUNGLE BOOK, is either ridiculously campy or just right in a dreamy, kid fantasy kind of way


My star ratings (which, unfortunately, I have to provide for the outfit I write for; never been a huge fan of numeric values on this stuff):
ELEPHANT BOY - ** 1/2
THE DRUM - *** 1/2
THE JUNGLE BOOK - ***
Set - *** (out of five)


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Fri Dec 09, 2011 5:13 pm 
My copy of this three DVD set arrived last week, and though I've enjoyed all three films in years past on VHS, only "The Jungle Book" was a marked improvement on DVD: the quality of the print and the sumptuous color are a marvel to behold. "The Drum" is my favorite of these three films, being sort of a 'dry run' for "The Four Feathers" (Korda's best and one of the all-time great films), but this print is no better than the VHS version, and is in desperate need of restoration. I'd be shocked if the BFI National Archive doesn't have a significantly better print of "The Drum".


Top
  
 
PostPosted: Wed Dec 14, 2011 9:16 pm 
User avatar

Joined: Mon Nov 24, 2008 2:08 pm
Sabu-ya! (my review for GreenCine)

And, yes Alec, the print of THE DRUM is woeful shite. I'd be interested in looking at the BFI disc, too.


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Sun Nov 11, 2012 2:40 pm 
User avatar

Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 7:33 pm
Just went through these the last couple of days. My personal favorite was Elephant Boy which I found joyous and charming. I was a little underwhelmed with the Drum but enjoyed the Jungle Book as weekend morning adventure.


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Sun Nov 11, 2012 3:30 pm 
User avatar

Joined: Fri May 19, 2006 10:09 am
Couldn't agree more. The charms of "The Drum" - if there ever were any - haven't aged well. A sometimes appalling exercise in colonialist worldview.The disastrous picture quality - probably the worst ever on a Criterion disc - doesn't help either. But I loved "The Elephant Boy", especially for the very imaginative nature/animal photography thanks to Flaherty.


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Tue Mar 17, 2015 12:11 am 
User avatar

Joined: Fri Jan 18, 2008 12:44 am
Many years ago, when I first discovered TCM, they were about to run Black Narcissus, and before they did they had one of those shot featurettes on Sabu and mentioned how Sabu was discovered on a location scout for The Elephant Boy and became a star because of it. I'd always wanted to see the film, but had forgotten it until reading the liner notes.

while not as offensive as something like Trader Horn or Sanders of the River, The Elephant Boy is firmly in their vein of offensive colonial mindsets. What sets the film apart, however, is two fold. One, all the Indian actors do not debase themselves with pidgeoned portrayals. The adults carry themselves with dignity and speak flawless English, I'm sure the filmmakers wanted some funny Indian caricatures, like the 'funny' africans of Sanders of the River, but the actors don't give in to that. Sure there is a cruel man who is a villain, but he is just a villain, not a villain and a cartoon. Even Sabu, supposedly speaking his lines phonetically is a portrayal that is overall positive. And two, Sabu himself is magnetic, with a magnificent face for the camera and a relaxed naturalism and emotional expressiveness that is just gobsmackingly outstanding for a boy of ten or eleven, he's an instant star from the moment he's on screen (the terrible prologue not withstanding). Whatever 'it' is, he's got "it."

On the other hand, the plot itself is sort of gut churning in its casual horror. They're going on a giant elephant hunt. I think, perhaps, they intend to capture and sell the elephants, but considering the cruel man talks about how much money he'd get for chopping up sabu's elephant and selling the parts I imagine they were not going to be shipping them off to zoos.

When the film climaxes in Sabu 'saving' the failed hunt by finding the elephant herd and being given his desired title of Elephant Hunter, it has the feel of traumatic feel of tragedy. This re-interpretation of the film as tragic almost makes the film something profound and powerful and sad, unfortunately there's really no substance for this sort of over-determination to sustain itself, but it interesting to consider it thus.

It's rather frustrating, the film is utterly charming in it's first ten or twenty minutes. Flaherty's gorgeous black and white footage is wonderful, and the baby elephant playing in the river with it's mother is unspeakably adorable. Then later, the goofy editing of the elephant "dance" belies the inherent magnificence of the beasts and the simple awe you get from seeing dozens and dozens of them crowding the frame. Again, Flaherty's photography is fabulous, but the execution of the film itself is not.


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Sat Mar 28, 2015 6:17 pm 
User avatar

Joined: Fri Jan 18, 2008 12:44 am
The Drum is a fairly terrible colonialist piece that is more or less saved by it's impressive cast. Sabu is the standout, an impressive feat in a film with the likes of Roger Livesey and Raymond Massey (unfortunately in brown face).

The brits are worried that the tribesmen of Afghanistan are going to get access to artillery--machine guns--which is terrible for the brits because it would put these non-whites on equal footing with the brits, which just is not right. Sabu is a prince in the region in question, his father is relatively peaceful and signs a peace accord with the brits, agreeing to a garrison in their main town headed by diplomat Livesey. Massey plays Sabu's uncle, who--ala Claudius--kills the king and plans on making a show of upholding his brother's peace agreement. The plan is to lure the British troops into their new base, invite them to a party and then use the machine guns to slaughter the entire garrison. This would then prove to the Afghani locals that the British are not to be feared, allowing the uncle to consolidate power nominally to achieve 'independence' from their patronizing colonial overlords.

Unfortunately, Sabu escapes his uncles assassins and lives in hiding before contacting his friend Livesey and his wife. Sabu comes under their protection then goes into hiding again. When his friends joyfully tell him of his uncle's plan to free their people, Sabu knows he must betray his people to regain his crown and put the british foot properly back on the Afghani throat where it belongs. So he undergoes a quest to achieve this, although the Brits are skeptical that a native would so inexplicably sell out his own people to them, eventually one of their own undercover brown-face (literally a person wearing brown face to blend in, cause no one would notice obviously) spies confirms the info they snap to the ready. Then birth of a nation style, crisis is averted at the last minute.

Oh, and at some point, Massey has a minion throw a severed head through Livesey's window, the severed head of Livesey's trusted native assistant. quite gruesome and unexpected jolt that moment provides.

Transfer wise, this is an interesting affair, it has the right palatte of early technicolor--muted and brownish--but it is not consistent, additionally from the opening credits through the first reel or two there is a tremendous amount of master-tape artifacting to be seen in the transfer (this is off color banding, especially noticeable in the opening credits). It's almost the worst color transfer criterion's put out (that I've seen) on any format, but there's always Good Morning around to helpfully stay as the worst looking thing they've put out.

Jungle Book is a lush and beautiful transfer, looking nearly HD in it's blazing sharpness and technicolor clarity with Wizard of Oz style exploding saturation. Some of the shots of the animals are absolutely amazing. The film also features some of the worst, stilted dialogue imaginable, accompanied by awful acting and mediocre blocking. There's also a decent amount of charming special effects that are quite fun throughout the film. Sabu is again the best in show in this film, and it's a shame he decided to stay in hollywood where the racists did nothing to capitalize on his talents or star power--instead they (probably deliberately) buried his career. Which is a shame, because he is a remarkably gifted actor who elevated all the material of this set. Had he been given quality roles, he'd probably be a legend today, and had he stayed with Korda, I think he would have gotten the roles.


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Wed Sep 02, 2015 4:58 pm 
User avatar

Joined: Wed Aug 26, 2015 4:19 pm
Location: Minnesota
Just watched Elephant Boy recently and, much like you movielocke, I struggled with my viewing. I just couldn't adjust my perspective to the film's attitude toward animals, in this case elephants. Sabu was charming and it's easy to see why he became a star as a result of this film, even if his stardom was, at least in part, a result of orientalism. But we're ultimately cheering for Sabu's character to become a great elephant killer.

Most Kipling adaptations on film are enjoyable adventures, but most also contains some problematic political or social undercurrent that conflicts with today's views. The Man Who Would Be King comes to mind. Elephant Boy was just too much for me.

The scene inwhere the hunting party wrangles about thirty elephants into their cage, and they cry out in fear, while the film's score boasts a victorious tune, was pretty hard to watch. And yet, earlier, Sabu begs for the life of his devoted elephant. This is the equivalent of rounding up a bunch of dogs to eat or sell for parts, but meanwhile arguing that your Fido deserves to live because he's loyal. Nevermind that the others have the potential of being loyal, intelligent animals. There's ivory to be sold and heads to be mounted.

Anyway, it was a rough start for this Eclipse set. All of technical and historical merits aside, I had a very emotional gut-reaction to this film.


Top
 Profile  
 
Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 18 posts ] 

All times are UTC - 5 hours [ DST ]


Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users


You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum

Jump to:  
Powered by phpBB® Forum Software © phpBB Group




This site is not affiliated with The Criterion Collection