(director: Victor Saville; screenwriters: Helen Deutsch/Leon Gordon/Richard Schayer/from the novel by Rudyard Kipling ; cinematographer: William Skall; editor: George Boemler; music: Andre Previn; cast: Errol Flynn (Mahbub Ali, the Red Beard), Dean Stockwell (Kim), Paul Lukas (Lama), Robert Douglas (Colonel Creighton), Thomas Gomez (Emissary), Cecil Kellaway (Hurree Chunder), Arnold Moss (Lurgan Sahib), Reginald Owen (Father Victor); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Leon Gordon; MGM; 1950)
“Bombastic, animated and lush, but hardly convincing or genuine in attitude or atmosphere.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Victor Saville (“Dark Journey”) directs a schoolboy adventure story based on the novel by Rudyard Kipling that is bombastic, animated and lush, but hardly convincing or genuine in attitude or atmosphere. It also comes with an unswerving positive message for British colonialism in India, which should cause some concern to the politically aware viewer. It’s set in the India of 1886, when Tsar Alexander III ruled Russia and Queen Victoria ruled England, and tells the tale of an orphaned son of British parents (the Irish father, O’Hara, was a bugler in the British Army) who goes by the name of Kim (Dean Stockwell) as he poses as a native (garbed in a turban and native dress) and uses his wits to live on the streets by begging, stealing and running errands. He does this so he won’t have to go to school, as he states “missionaries take white boys to school.” His main benefactor is also a white man posing as a native, the horse trader Mahbub Ali, the Red Beard (Errol Flynn), who is in reality a spy for the Empire and uses Kim as one of his trusted couriers.
On his way to deliver a vital message for Red Beard to Colonel Creighton (Robert Douglas), the head of a Secret Service branch of the Brit Army, Kim meets a gentle holy man coming from Tibet (Paul Lukas), who is also a white man posing as a native. He’s a Buddhist searching for a mythical holy river, called the River of the Arrow, that will cleanse sins and pave the way for enlightenment. Kim follows Red Beard’s advice and accompanies the holy man as a chela (apprentice) to Benares because it will avoid suspicion of him and it’s on his way to Creighton’s headquarters. The message Kim is carrying is about a call to war, as it reports that rebel troops are massing at the Khyber Pass and are getting ready to attack India. Kim bonds with the holy man and learns from him about the importance of wisdom, and stays on with him until he accidentally makes contact with his father’s old regiment and they read the letter the father left with his illiterate son that they should take care of him and send him to the regiment’s school. The British officers promise that they’ll “make a white boy of you,” which the holy man agrees is best for the boy. But the boy feels caged in at the military orphanage, until the holy man, concerned with Kim’s education, gets his contacts from abroad to pay for his schooling at the exclusive private school, St. Xavier’s. Kim has difficulty keeping up with the others in his schoolwork, but has promised the holy man he will try. On his school break from the Lucknow-based school, Kim sneaks away from returning to the orphanage by going native in dress again and gets some useful spy lessons from a British agent (Arnold Moss) and then joins Red Beard in another heroic adventure when his errand mission is compromised. On a mountain along the Afghanistan border, Kim and Red Beard track down a couple of Russian spies posing as surveyors and Red Beard has no choice but to kill them with his rifle and then cause a rock slide that crushes the advancing rebel troops. With that worry over, Kim is ready to start school again as the new term begins. Colonel Creighton is so pleased with Kim, that he gives him as a present his gold watch.
I had an empty feeling over Hollywood’s take on Kipling; but, the film was admittedly an easy watch, the beautiful scenic locations were easy on the eyes and if you were ignorant of history all the better for you to enjoy such rousing nonsense. Stockwell is asked to carry the movie, and does so for the most part. As for Flynn, he looks as if he rolled out of bed after a night of drinking and can’t wait to go out partying again.
REVIEWED ON 4/24/2005 GRADE: B-