Thursday, November 13, 2014

Kim ( 1950 )

1885 Lahore, India: 

Colonel Creighton, head of the British-India Secret Service receives a report that the Russians are planning an attack on India via the Khyber Pass…where and when they plan on attacking is unknown. With the help of “Red Beard” Mahbub Ali, their top agent who disguises himself as a horse trader; the “Fat Man”; and an orphan English boy named Kim, they try to uncover the Russian’s plan before it is too late. 

Rudyard Kipling’s thrilling adventure novel “Kim” was brought to the screen in 1950 in brilliant eye-popping Technicolor and boasted a splendid cast with Errol Flynn as the magnificent Red Beard, Cecil Kellaway as the Fat Man, Paul Lukas as the Holy Man ( a Tibetan monk with an unusually strong Austrian accent ), and Dean Stockwell as our boy-hero Kim - a young English lad who learns how difficult it can be to play to spy for the Great Game, especially when he learns that he must forsake his scavenging ways and don the manners of his own people.

"You belong with your own people. A true man, like a true horse, runs with his own breed"

Kipling's novel was based on real-life spying methods during the era of the Great Game. This was the familiar term for the rivalry the British Empire had with Russia for gaining territory ( and supremacy ) in Central Asia. The "game" began in 1813 and continued on for nearly 100 years. In 1885, the year that Kim was set in, the two powers nearly declared war on each other when Russia seized Afghan territory near Panjdeh.

Filmed on location in Rajasthan and Utter Pradash, India ( as well as Lone Pines, California ), the movie gives us a grand tour of India and how it may have looked during the Age of Imperialism, when British troops paraded on grounds outside city walls and wily dangerous characters lurked in dark corners of crowded sadaks. 

The rights to Rudyard Kipling's popular adventure novel were purchased by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the mid-1930s with the intention of casting Freddie Bartholomew in the title role. For unknown reasons, this project was abandoned and not taken up again until the late 1940s.

During this time, Errol Flynn was loaned to MGM from Warner Brothers for two pictures. The first one was That Forsyte Woman where, opposite Greer Garson, he was cast as the unloved Soames Forsythe. His second feature was a choice between King Soloman's Mines or Kim. Both were to be filmed on location. Errol opted for India over Africa and the lead role of Allan Quartermain in King Solomon's Mines was turned over to English actor Stewart a very enjoyable version of the story too, if I say so meself. 

Kim is a wonderful adventure film as well – enjoyable for all ages – but alas, it fails to be a truly memorable film, mainly due to its heavy reliance on voice-over narration rather than pictures and dialogue. However, when there is dialogue, it is spoken right from the pages of Kipling’s novel and pleasantly plays on the ears in lyrical fashion.

" You should believe only your eyes…and not the voices of others."

" This is a child’s game, Mr. Luzor "

" It is part of a Great Game ". 

Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the famous British Army scout and founder of the Boy Scout movement, would of fully approved of the lessons this film teaches…..key lessons on observation and judging character; always being aware of one's surroundings and being prepared.

Dean Stockwell is particularly noteworthy as the English sahib living life as an Indian boy. Devoted to his Holy Man, Kim acts as his chelah ( a servant to a monk ) while travelling across India with him in quest of the sacred River of the Arrow. Begging on the streets, climbing across rooftops, cursing passerby's, and donning a dark tan, he is an unlikely suspect to his enemies and hence...becomes a master player of the Great Game.

This post is our contribution to The British Empire in Film Blogathon being hosted by The Stalking Moon and Phantom Empires. It's a ripping good event covering all the grand and glorious films set in the age of Imperialism. Be sure to check it out!


  1. Tip top post! This is such a lovely, colorful and satisfying film. A great adventure an, as you say, a wonderful tour of India.

  2. Errol Flynn is the man, per usual, and looks extremely dashing in a beard and turban. Even young Dean Stockwell can't sink this story (mostly kidding...I have a low tolerance for child actors, but Stockwell's actually not too bad here). Nice job comparing the movie to the Kipling novel. KIM does end up being an espionage tale as much as anything, and there's some nimble spycraft on display.

    Great choice for the blogathon!

  3. The interesting and thoroughly professional cast make this story most enjoyable. I'm a big fan of Dean Stockwell, both young and old.

  4. I love this film; realy pretty colourful and fun! I think it's in my Amazon wishlist, and it's moving farther forward. :) Thanks for this great addition to our blogathon!

    Clayton @ Phantom Empires

  5. You know, this is another film about the British Empire I've not seen but it sounds like one to watch for, even if it isn't as memorable as some. Great review!