Monday, June 27, 2011

Pleasant Little Surprise

Leave it to TCM to do it again!

This morning I sit down with my tea, turn the TV on and there was a film set in 19th Century NWFP during the British Colonial Era. You may recall that my bedside book is now Soldier Sahibs which is about that very subject, specifically the legendary soldiers like John Nicholson and the like. Imagine my good fortune to discover it was yet another of those obscure adventure-tinged films I had never heard of: Zarak (1956) starring Vicor Mature, Michael Wilding, a most tasty Anita Ekberg, and a young up-and-comer named Patrick McGoohan.

Zarak is set in the NWFP of the 19th Century and tells the story of a chief's son caught with one of dad's sexier wives (Ekberg). Dad isn't too happy and has Zarak beaten and, after a holy man takes pity and saves his life, banished. Zarak gathers loyal brigands and becomes a successful bandit chief with a good soul, of course. He then discovers that dad's hot ex-wife Salma (Ekberg) was also saved from death by a more reasonable associate of the rash and tyrannical dad. Zarak and Salma resume their affair freely. Well, it isn't long before Zarak's antics draw the attention of the nearest Brit field commander, Wilding's version of John Nicholson (who also inspired Kipling's hero 'Red Beard' in Kim), who intends to put an end to Zarak's shenanigans, making the frontier safe for civilized barbarians. I will leave the rest for you to seek out and view, but rest assured there is much sword clashing, rifle and mortar fire, and some lancing between manly posturing and romantic clutches.

Of interesting note is that the film was shot on location -- but in Morocco. Having spent some time in Central Asia and the former NWFP soldier sahib haunts, I was impressed with their convincing use of the terrain to depict the setting of the story. Also, one of the producers was Albert Broccoli, legendary for the Bond series and the director was Bond director Trence Young himself. Having missed some of the credits, I later discovered the writer to be Richard Maibaum, who adapted Dr.No, From Russia With Love, and Goldfinger to the big screen. For this film, Maibaum adapted a book by A.J.Bevan which tells the true story of the real Zarak Khan, a 20th Century figure who fought for the British during WW2 and was executed by the Japanese in Burma.

I liked this movie. Good fun, classic trappings. I'd like to have it in my collection. Check it out!

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