David and I are back with another episode of The Eclipse Viewer, the podcast dedicated to the Criterion Collection’s Eclipse Series of DVDs.
In this episode, we talk about Eclipse Series 30: Sabu!
This is, to date, the only Eclipse Series that is focused on an actor, and Sabu is worthy of the distinction. Sabu was a child star of the 1930s, and his story is incredible: an orphaned elephant handler, he was discovered by documentary filmmaker Robert Flaherty, who was scouting around India for footage for his new project with the Korda crew. Sabu was only eleven.
Elephant Boy (1937), based on Rudyard Kipling’s story “Toomai of the Elephants,” a delightful adventure story that is also slightly weighed down by its colonialist mentality. Regardless of any weaknesses the film contains, it’s easy to see why Sabu became a star.
If the colonialist mentality weighs down Elephant Boy, it crushes the second film in the set: The Red Drum (1938). Which isn’t to say the film isn’t worth watching and discussing, because it certainly is, and not only because it’s an early film for one of my favorite actors, Roger Livesey.
Jungle Book (1942) is the last film in the set (though in our discussion we do touch on The Thief of Bagdad (1940) to get there). The film may suffer a bit for being too mannered, especially in contrast to the authentic natural world captured by Robert Flaherty in Elephant Boy, but it is visually stunning. And, as with the others, we are in awe at the young man in the center role.
These films come from a different time, and it shows. It must be said, though, that they stirred up controversy even in the 1930s. Indeed, when The Drum was shown in India, it caused protests. The times were changing, quickly, and these films are important pieces of that history.
Please find the podcast, the shownotes, and plenty of links over at CriterionCast here.
In the next episode of The Eclipse Viewer, David and I will be discussing Eclipse Series 25: Basil Dearden’s London Underground, covering these four films: Sapphire (1959), The League of Gentlemen (1960), Victim (1961), and All Night Long (1962).