Cast & Crew
On the Northwest frontier of India, a British column marching through tribal territory is attacked by machine guns, and Capt. Carruthers, operating undercover disguised as a native, learns of another smuggled caravan of guns. Carruthers returns to Peshawar, reports his news, then asks Margery, the Colonel's niece, to marry him. Acting on Carruther's information, the British make a treaty with Mohammed Khan, the ruler of Tokot, promising protection and peace if he will forbid the passage of arms through their region. Carruthers and his column are greeted by the enthusiastic young Prince Azim, the old Khan's young son, who learns to play the drums from Bill Holder, a young British drummer of his own age. The Khan's brother Ghul opposes the treaty, because he plans to establish a Moslem empire that will end British rule. When the British depart, Ghul murders the Khan, takes control of Tokot, then orders Azim's murder. Azim escapes with friends, however, and returns to Peshawar. There he visits Bill, then eludes his assassins until he finds a British home, where he is protected. Azim's benefactor is Margery, now married to Carruthers, who has been assigned to go to Tokot as the British resident. Ghul pretends to honor the treaty made by his brother, and invites the British to a polo match while guns are brought in the other side of the city. Mohammed Khan tries to warn Carruthers, but is taken prisoner. The Great Drum of Tokot signals the beginning of a five day feast, at the end of which the British are to be massacred, providing the spark for Ghul's great native uprising. Although the British would then be obliged to replace Ghul with him, Azim refuses to allow the Carruthers to be killed. He tries to warn the British of Ghul's plans, from Bill to the Governor, but no one will believe him. Azim rides to warn Carruthers himself, but a British spy confirms his story, and a column is sent to Tokot. Meanwhile, Carruthers suspects a conspiracy, but is ready to sacrifice himself. During a dinner, the British are placed in a courtyard surrounded by hidden machine guns. Azim then reaches the drum, and plays a warning drumbeat that Carruthers recognizes, thus giving the British a crucial moment's warning. After a battle in the palace, most of the British retreat to the residency, but Carruthers has been captured by Ghul. The troops from Peshawar arrive, attack the city and defeat Ghul's forces, and Azim's supporters carry the dying Mohammed Khan so that he can shoot Ghul. As the new ruler, Azim reviews the British troops, including Bill.
Francis L. Sullivan
Michael Martin Harvey
Hector Campbell Brigadier
David B. Cunynghame
F. D. Henslowe Lieut. Colonel
A. W. Watkins
The Drum -
In The Drum, Massey is second-billed as a rebel leader so determined to get the British out of India he kills his brother, the Maharajah of the fictional border land of Tokut, and tries to have his young nephew, Prince Azim (Sabu), assassinated. He also feigns friendship with the British in hopes of luring them into a trap. All of this is opposed by Sabu, who has bonded with the British colonial forces, particularly Captain Carruthers (Roger Livesey), his wife (Valerie Hobson) and a feisty young drummer boy (Desmond Tester), who teaches him how to play the instrument.
Although Massey's role is reminiscent of Scar in The Lion King (1994), in many ways the role would seem more sympathetic to contemporary sensibilities, which would side with the Indian rebels determined to drive out their British colonizers. The Drum, however, was made in a very different era. It is the second of a trilogy of 1930s pictures from London Films dealing with the British Empire. Although not conceived by the Kordas as such, later critics would dub this film, Sanders of the River (1935) and The Four Feathers (1939) "The Empire Trilogy." All three are very much the product of British colonial myths, which were also central to the novels of writer A.E.W. Mason, including The Drum and The Four Feathers. In The Drum, the good Indians work with the occupying British forces while the evil ones are fighting for independence. In addition, Sabu was one of the few Indian actors in the film, with other roles played by Western actors like Massey wearing brown face. By the 1930s, many of those colonial attitudes were already considered outdated, though it would be another decade before Great Britain would relinquish its colonial hold on India.
London Films had introduced Sabu, the son of an Indian elephant driver, a year earlier in Elephant Boy (1937). After the film's international success, the Kordas signed him to a long-term contract and began looking for another vehicle for him. Originally, they wanted to put him in a film to be directed by Michael Powell, but plans were going nowhere when Mason submitted a detailed synopsis for what would become The Drum. Mason published the novel in 1937, while London Films' chief scenarist, Lajos Biro, turned it into a screenplay.
The Drum was the first film to shoot scenes beyond the Khyber Pass in Afghanistan. Other locations included Chitral, Jammu and Kashmir in India, where temperatures usually rose to 130 degrees during the day. The company then moved to London Films studios in Buckinghamshire for interiors. Osmond Borradaile shot the Indian footage, with Georges Perinal taking over in the British Isles, both working in Technicolor. That was a pretty amazing accomplishment for a film shot in Southeast Asia at the time. The picture also featured massive crowd and battle scenes, prompting London Films to advertise it with the line "A Cast of 3,000." Director Zoltan Korda was not happy, however, when his brother tightened the purse strings. After the high cost of Elephant Boy, which was shot extensively on location, Alexander insisted more of the film be made in the British Isles. As a result, most of the mountain scenes were shot in Wales, with local extras, elephants borrowed from a circus and all the horses they could rent from the nearby stables.
The picture was originally released in the U.S. as Drums, though British, Australian and Danish audiences saw it with Mason's original title. It won strong reviews and box office in Western countries, but triggered protests in Bombay and Madras, where it was branded colonialist propaganda. Zoltan Korda shared some of those objections. In fact, he had lobbied his brother to present the Indian rebels more sympathetically. It would be more than a decade before he could film a more sympathetic portrayal of Third World peoples, when he got London Films to produce the first film version of Alan Paton's indictment of Apartheid, Cry, the Beloved Country (1951).
Director: Zoltan Korda
Producer: Alexander Korda
Screenplay: Lajos Biro, Arthur Wimperis, Patrick Kirwan, Hugh Gray
Based on the novel by A.E.W. Mason
Cinematography: Osmond Borradaile, Georges Perinal
Score: John Greenwood
Cast: Sabu (Prince Azim), Raymond Massey (Prince Ghul), Roger Livesey (Capt. Carruthers), Valerie Hobson (Mrs. Carruthers), David Tree (Lieut. Escott), Desmond Tester (Bill Holder), Francis L. Sullivan (Governor), Leo Genn (Abdul Fakir), Guy Rolfe (Bit)
By Frank Miller
The Drum -
Eclipse Series 30: Sabu - THE JUNGLE BOOK & Other Exotic Adventures in ECLIPSE SERIES 30: SABU
Alexander Korda was already the biggest producer in England and perhaps Europe as well; the maker of prestige films practically was the British film industry for a number of years. To interpret the stories of writers Rudyard Kipling and A.E.W. Mason, Korda sent film crews to India and Africa, often with cameraman Osmond Borradaile, who took second position on Jungle Book and The Four Feathers despite filming dazzling Technicolor images under extremely hostile conditions. The location scenes for these films were seamlessly blended with scenes shot back in England, often months later. Eclipse's Series 30 disc set Sabu! rounds up the actor's remaining three Korda pictures, each of which is a special cinematic treat.
Elephant Boy immediately captured hearts and imaginations and even won a Venice film festival best direction prize for its two directors, Zoltáan Korda and ethnographic filmmaker Robert Flaherty. The original story is a chapter from Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, turned into an appealing colonial adventure with elements of both documentary and fantasy. Young Toomai (Sabu) tends his father's elephant, the towering Kala Nag, so well that they're practically a symbiotic pair, bathing together in the river and cooperating to steal melons ripening on the market rooftops. Englishman Petersen (Walter Hudd) is gathering a safari to capture more elephants for construction work. He immediately chooses the impressive Kala Nag, and when he sees Toomai's ease in handling the enormous monster, allows the boy to come on the dangerous trek as well. When the elephant herds prove elusive and tragedy strikes the caravan, jealous handlers declare Kala Nag to be a hazard. Fearing that his elephant companion will be shot, Toomai flees with him into the wilderness. He then stumbles upon a secret gathering place for hundreds of pachyderms, and witnesses their mysterious rituals.
Elephant Boy is enchants audiences from the moment Sabu scrambles atop his beloved friend's enormous head. Kala Nag picks his tiny handler up in his trunk and helps him ascend, and they stroll about with such confidence that the elephant can step over and around a baby without causing alarm (we're alarmed anyway). In footage usually credited to Robert Flaherty, the maker of the semi-documentaries Nanook of the North and Man of Aran, early scenes allow us to watch as Toomai takes Kala Nag to the river for a good wash. Not far away, a mother and calf bathe as well. The baby cavorts in the water so happily that it must have been an animation source inspiration for Walt Disney's Dumbo. We're told that Flaherty made his Korda connection years before, in attempt to sell the mogul on an essentially similar story about a Mexican boy and his bull.
The colonial vision of Elephant Boy posits India as a happy place under English administration, and Petersen is a wise fellow. The Sahib exercises his prerogatives with admirable restraint, never losing his patience despite hardship and squabbles among the handlers. When Toomai absconds with Kala Nag, Petersen blames himself. The script smartly allows the naíve but ethical Toomai to follow his heart and earn an honored position among the handlers, even though he's still just a child. More political minds might see this as a pretty feeble reward, but Elephant Boy makes Toomai's promotion into a great honor.
Adding to the film's charm is Sabu's natural speaking voice. The highly intelligent actor spoke no English but was not dubbed by another: he learned his lines phonetically, a dodge than only makes him sound more authentic. With his bright eyes and beaming smile, Sabu became England's next major star.
A very young Wilfrid Hyde-White (of My Fair Lady) has a role as a colonial administrator. With the use of doubles and matching sets back in England, it's possible that few if any of the Anglo actors even went to India. The film's illusion of continuity is masterful.
The Technicolor production The Drum (released in America as Drums) is a more traditional colonial military adventure from the author of The Four Feathers, A.E..W. Mason. Sabu has top billing in a story of a treacherous breakaway warlord set in the tribal desert of northern India, in what is now Pakistan. The story takes place in the 1920s, and the script by Lajos Biró is clearly meant to bolster English-Indian relations. Cast with star talent and climaxing in an exciting pitched battle, The Drum is also a guaranteed popcorn matinee performer.
The cocky young Prince Azim (Sabu) greets an infantry column headed by Captain Carruthers (Roger Livesey) with a clever trick to see if the English can be easily fooled. Carruthers sees through Azim's charade and the two become fast friends, promising always to be truthful with each other. The British want to secure this corner of the Kingdom against armed incursions from the north, and unknown forces are importing machine guns and training rebels in their use., When his chieftain father is assassinated by his wicked uncle Prince Ghul (Raymond Massey), the honest young Azim finds himself the pawn in a cruel power play. The boy barely escapes alive and must pretend to be a beggar in the nearest city, where he appeals to Carruthers and his wife (Valerie Hobson) for aid. Carruthers has guessed Prince Ghul's strategy, but diplomatic necessity forces him to accept Ghul's invitation to take 50 troops to a dinner at the palace. Azim can't convince Carruthers' superiors of the threat, and risks his life to warn his new friend of the death trap that awaits him -- Prince Ghul has surrounded the pavilion with machine gunners.
The Drum must have been a source of great national pride, as it presents the English Army as a beacon of stability and goodwill in India. Sabu even makes friends with a boastful young drummer-boy (Desmond Tester) who teaches him how to tap out a special recognition signal. Just as with Kipling's Gunga Din, Azim proves his loyalty by warning Carruthers, precipitating an unusually violent shoot-out between a hundred armed men in a confined space. The sinister Ghul (sounds like Ghoul) is not a religious fanatic, and makes a point of suppressing a fundamentalist calling for holy war. Having experienced real war with the Turks at Gallipoli, Ghul believes that he can only win against the colonial armies by creating a rebel alliance and leading the English enemy into a trap. Raymond Massey plays Prince Guhl as a scheming opportunist, hoarding cash for a quick getaway should his dastardly coup not pan out.
Blessed with an amazingly sincere voice, actor Roger Livesey oozes British reserve and honor. Leaving for a reception that he knows to be an ambush, Carruthers tucks a pistol into his tuxedo and tells his wife that doing so is his proper function as a diplomat. Britain's greatest victories are often preceded by the sacrifice of good men to heathen treachery. Valerie Hobson lets her husband walk away with a look of quiet dignity: they both know that if he is killed, her life will be forfeit as well. The controlled emotions of their farewell capture the essence of the British "stiff upper lip".
Just one year later, Sabu's acting is assured, as is his command of English. The actor's intelligence shines through his eyes; he's a genuine original. The only scenes that come off as forced in The Drum occur when Azim makes fast friends with his British counterpart, the cheerful drummer boy Bill Holder. Azim's eagerness to someday don a British uniform of his own seems a possible call for Indian recruitment. Although his films were sometimes controversial with Indian audiences, Sabu was enormously popular in the country of his birth.
Leo Genn and Guy Rolfe are said to have uncredited parts in The Drum. Portly actor Francis L. Sullivan (Night and the City) has a plum role as the local Governor, who won't act on Prince Azim's pleas of calamity without corroboration from his own spies.
For most of the video era Jungle Book has been seen only in inferior transfers, with the result that it is less well known than it deserves. With England and India engulfed in the war, Korda's production of The Thief of Bagdad was relocated to Hollywood in mid-filming, and Jungle Book followed suit. It lacks the authentic feel of the other pictures, yet is in keeping with the fantastic folk tales from the Rudyard Kipling source book. The jungle is a living thing that speaks to Kipling's young hero. The animals remain loyal to their separate species-tribes, yet speak with one another. They have names like Shere Khan, Kaa, and Baloo the bear.
In an interesting touch, the story of Jungle Book is told by its villain, Buldeo the shopkeeper (Joseph Calleia). A generation ago the evil Tiger Shere Khan killed the husband of Messua (Rosemary DeCamp). Her baby disappeared the same day but did not perish; it was instead raised in the wild by wolves. Lean, scarred and unable to speak the human tongue, the feral Mowgli (Sabu) returns to his loving mother but is rejected by the superstitious, mean-spirited Buldeo. Mowgli soon learns to speak, and acquires a "tooth" (a knife) to slay his mortal enemy Shere Khan. Before he does he takes Buldeo's sweet daughter Mahala (Patricia O'Rourke) on a nighttime adventure to witness the magic of the jungle, and view the secrets of a forgotten ancient city. Mahala brings back a single gold coin from a fantastic treasure room. The coin inspires her father and his equally greedy friends the Barber and the Pundit (John Qualen & Frank Puglia) to torture Mowgli for the secret location. Mowgli calls on his friend Bagheera the panther to frighten Buldeo away, but the man only becomes convinced that Mowgli is a shape-shifting witch. When Buldeo threatens to burn Messua on a bonfire, Mowgli has no choice but to allow the bandits to raid the treasure. He knows that the evil riches within will cause the humans to destroy each other.
Yet another masterful Korda production, Jungle Book creates miracles amid wartime shortages. The independent show (released by United Artists) has magnificent exterior sets enhanced and amplified by elaborate matte paintings and other optical effects. The entrance to the fabulous treasure room is through a cracked dome, a design lifted intact for the 1974 Harryhausen film < I>The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. With the exception of some puppet snakes and a mechanical crocodile, the animals are all very alive and active. The filmmakers appear to have used partially hidden cameras, for in many scenes big cats prowl right up to the lens, filling the screen in with curious close-ups. This aspect of the film is very successful.
Jungle Book has charm and humor to spare. No longer the tiny little Elephant Boy, Sabu now has a muscular, lean body that looks convincingly feral. His adjustment to the human village takes amusing turns. When Mowgli finds a bear rug on the floor of Buldeo's house, he remarks, "It's you ... you went missing several weeks ago!" The larger story takes a refreshingly unsentimental attitude toward nature. The great serpent Kaa says that he learned of Shere Khan's whereabouts from a now-deceased jackal, and points his nose to the lump in his body where the animal is being digested. Mowgli knows very well that the humans will betray one another when he leads them to the treasure, just as Buldeo allows his friends to kill each other in order to avoid direct responsibility for their deaths. The movie ends on the side of the jungle, when Mowgli proclaims that corrupt humankind should be shunned. Mowgli surprises us with his final choice.
Binding the film together, Miklós Rózsa's masterful score expresses the wonder and majesty of nature. The music soars when Mowgli gives Mahala a grand tour of the wonders of his jungle home, bringing the matte paintings and the spray-painted palm leaves to life. Jungle Book is still a wondrous movie.
Eclipse's Series 30 DVD of Sabu! is an optimized but not restored set of transfers of movies that are on the verge of slipping into obscurity, despite their former fame. All three look much better than the battered TV prints that circulated for decades on end. Elephant Boy is in the best shape, in crisp B&W with clear audio. The Drum is the weakest, especially at the beginning, which verges on the look of an older film-chain transfer. Both of the Technicolor releases have been mastered from composite negatives with occasional built-in registration flaws. Viewers asking why the films have not been fully rejuvenated, as has been done with titles like The Wizard of Oz need to understand that those laborious photochemical-digital restorations can cost millions of dollars. Few older films have the earning potential to make such efforts practical. Just the same, Jungle Book is a quantum improvement over an older laserdisc I once saw, where the Technicolor image was rendered in a high contrast that erased color values and plunged any un-lit object into inky blackness. Aside from some odd color values and an occasional mis-registered shot, Eclipse's transfer looks very good. Not having seen an original I.B. Tech print of Jungle Book I cannot say if the color and contrast values in the matte paintings are accurate. Some of them look fairly artificial.
Eclipse discs normally have no special extras, but Michael Koresky's liner notes are once again informative and concise. We are told that The Drum played to a mixed reaction in India, where many in the independence movement considered it an insult.
For more information about Eclipse Series 30: Sabu, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Eclipse Series 30: Sabu, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Eclipse Series 30: Sabu - THE JUNGLE BOOK & Other Exotic Adventures in ECLIPSE SERIES 30: SABU
Dating from a time when the sun never set on the British empire (although it was about to), Drums today can hardly be regarded as anything more than dated, imperial chest-thumping, patronizing and paternal, in which Brits alone know what's good for the rest of the world, in this case India. Set between Peshawar and the Khyber Pass, it features some location shooting although not as much as Zoltan Korda, taking over from Robert Flaherty, had been permitted to shoot in India for Elephant Boy (1937) or in the Sudan for The Four Feathers (1939). To keep costs down, producer Alexander ordered brother Zoltan to shoot most of the film in the hills of South Wales, near Harlech. Hordes of Welsh miners and shepherds pocketed pence and shillings for playing turbaned gurkhas and Muslim tribal rebels in blackface.
Elephant Boy will be remembered as the breakthrough film of the teenaged Indian actor, Sabu, who had been a real mahout (elephant driver). Exotic, lively, gentle in manner and unthreateningly deferential to the British, he was a big hit, whereupon Korda signed him to a long-term contract. Drums, with Technicolor enhancing its action and spectacle, was the first film under that contract. It casts him as a young pro-British Indian prince who befriends a lowly drummer boy (Desmond Tester) in a British regiment (clearly Scottish, although the film refers to it as English!). The army drummer teaches the prince drumming. Not surprisingly, down the line, the prince, whose father was killed by his evil rebel brother (the Canadian Raymond Massey, under layers of, yes, blackface!), saves the British from being massacred. He warns them by beating out a signal on the sacred drum that was to have been the harbinger of their doom.
Pretty absurd stuff, and Hobson isn't spared. As the colonel's daughter who marries Roger Livesey's smug, superior captain in command of the garrison, she's required to stand straight-faced while her husband speaks lines like, "The sacred drum will beat three times at midnight," before she replies, "And then everything will be over?" In between, she demonstrates her steadfastness by insisting on accompanying her new husband to the outpost where he's assigned to keep the peace and sign a treaty offering British military protection in exchange for a ban on arms traffic through the region. Too late, as it happens. Massey's rebels are already heavily armed ("Good Lord, a machine gun," the captain exclaims on a reconnoitering mission). While pretending to host the British at a feast while lining them up in his sights, the rebel prince expresses the fundamentalist view that women should never dance with men, but for them.
While the men are busy rattling sabers, Hobson's lady mostly rattles teacups, but she easily convinces us she's a woman of backbone and rectitude, coolly picking up a firearm and aiming it at an assassin who means to knife Sabu's prince and heir apparent taking refuge in her garden. Driving the thug off, she's as convincing when standing her ground as she is at sophisticated drawing room banter, injecting a dash of '30s glamour, every inch a colonel's daughter, an instinct for command in her DNA. But then the '30s were, if unenlightened in some ways, admirable in the shared tacit assumption of the period that one was obliged to meet life with a sense of style. This Hobson did with unfaltering elegance. Ironically, just as Massey's deadly fundamentalist zealot anticipates today's Taliban, so Hobson's wifely steadfastness was to reverberate through her off-camera life. Married to John Profumo, the MP who was implicated in a sex scandal that made Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies tabloid icons in 1963, she stuck loyally by him, joining him in charitable endeavors after he resigned his seat in Parliament. Her career ended in 1954 where it began, on stage at the Drury Lane Theatre. She enjoyed widespread admiration until her death at 81 in 1998.
Sabu died young, at 39, in Hollywood, of a heart attack, seldom recapturing the acclaim of his early films -- his Mowgli in The Jungle Book (1942) and young general in Black Narcissus (1947) are exceptions, although he was seldom unemployed. Livesey is remembered mostly for his role of the prickly laird who in his dour way romances a young Wendy Hiller in the Michael Powell-Emeric Pressburger I Know Where I'm Going (1945). Powell and Pressburger were protégés of Alexander Korda, who spent the war years in America (and was accused of tepid patriotism until it was revealed that he was a courier for Churchill). If the unquestioning acceptance of the imperialist sentiments in Drums seems in retrospect nonsensical, it was, in Korda's case, sincere. Like so many immigrants, the Hungarian brothers embraced the country that embraced them and were not inclined to challenge its prevailing order. Still, they might have wondered why the British in the script wouldn't believe the warning of Sabu's prince at first, but would believe their own spy, who didn't know the territory as well. Nor did they see fit to discourage a Brit-worshipping passivity in the young prince, to whom a life oriented toward serving British interests seems the best of all possible scenarios. Still, it must have been fun to watch the sheep scatter on that hillside in Wales when the rousing action scenes heated up.
Producer: Alexander Korda (uncredited)
Director: Zoltan Korda
Screenplay: A.E.W. Mason; Lajos Biro (adaptation); Arthur Wimperis, Patrick Kirwan, Hugh Gray (all three scenario)
Cinematography: Georges Perinal; Osmond Borradaile (Indian location scenes)
Music: John Greenwood
Film Editing: Henry Cornelius
Cast: Sabu (Prince Azim), Raymond Massey (Prince Ghul), Roger Livesey (Capt. Carruthers), Valerie Hobson (Mrs. Carruthers), David Tree (Lieut. Escott), Desmond Tester (Bill Holder), Francis L. Sullivan (Governor), Archibald Batty (Major Bond), Frederick Culley (Dr. Murphy), Amid Taftazani (Mohammed Khan), Laurence Baskcomb (Zarullah).
by Jay Carr
American Film Institute Catalog of Feature Films, 2002
British Film Institute: BFI Screenonline, 2003-2008
Valerie Hobson obituary, The Daily Telegraph (UK), 21 November 1998
Charmed Lives: a Family Romance, by Michael Korda, Harper Perennial, 2002
Alexander Korda: The Man Who Could Work Miracles, by Karol Kulik, W.H. Allen, 1975
This film was also released in Great Britain under the title The Drum. The British release of the film was 104 minutes, 8 minutes longer than the American version. After the opening credits, the movie is prefaced with the note, "London Films Productions wish to record their appreciation of the valuable assistance extended to them by His Highness the Mohtar of Chitral during the making of this picture." According to publicity, the film required a cast of 3,000 and marked the first time filming was done beyond the Khyber. Hollywood Reporter noted the authentic shots of this region and Peshawar. Tokot was a fictitious city, and the company's location was at Chitral, India, where the temperature reached 130 degrees. According to modern sources, the cast also included Alf Goddard as Private Kelly, and the following additional credits: Robert Krasker (Camera Operator), Edward Colman (Special Effects), Christopher Challis and Geoffrey Unsworth (col tech), Maurice Harley (Assistant Editor), and Andre de Toth (Production Assistant). Modern sources also add that Ferdinand Bellan assisted Vincent Korda on color setting design and that Miklos Rozsa also contributed to Greenwood's musical score. Most of the exteriors were shot in the hills outside Harlech in Wales, as Korda wanted to avoid the expensive location difficulties experienced the previous year with another Sabu vehicle, Elephant Boy.