The Stranglers of Bombay (1960)

80-81 mins | Drama | May 1960

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HISTORY

The working title of this film was Stranglers of Bengal . The film opens with the following written prologue: "For hundreds of years there existed in India a perverted religious sect dedicated to the wanton destruction of human life...so secret was this savage cult that even the British East India Company, rulers of the country at the time, was unaware of their existence." The film closes with the following written epilogue: "In the end, over one thousand thugs were tried and convicted of cold-blooded murder...the innocent victims totalled over a million (one thug alone claimed seven hundred)...Major General Sir William Sleeman, the officer of the East India Company actually responsible for their capture, wrote of his fellow officers: '"If we have done nothing else for India, we have done the good thing.'"
       The East India Company was incorporated on 31 Dec 1600 by a group of British merchants, who received monopoly privileges on all trade within the East Indies. Over the years, as the British launched a massive expansion of their trading operations within India, numerous trading posts were established along the east and west coasts of India, and large English communities developed around the towns of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. By the 19th century, the era in which The Stranglers of Bombay takes place, the company's rule extended across most of India, Burma (now Myanmar), Singapore and Hong Kong.        Thuggee was an Indian cult worshipping the goddess Kali. It was a hereditary cult in which induction was passed on from father to son. The members practiced large-scale robbery and murder of travelers through strangulation. The ferocity of ... More Less

The working title of this film was Stranglers of Bengal . The film opens with the following written prologue: "For hundreds of years there existed in India a perverted religious sect dedicated to the wanton destruction of human life...so secret was this savage cult that even the British East India Company, rulers of the country at the time, was unaware of their existence." The film closes with the following written epilogue: "In the end, over one thousand thugs were tried and convicted of cold-blooded murder...the innocent victims totalled over a million (one thug alone claimed seven hundred)...Major General Sir William Sleeman, the officer of the East India Company actually responsible for their capture, wrote of his fellow officers: '"If we have done nothing else for India, we have done the good thing.'"
       The East India Company was incorporated on 31 Dec 1600 by a group of British merchants, who received monopoly privileges on all trade within the East Indies. Over the years, as the British launched a massive expansion of their trading operations within India, numerous trading posts were established along the east and west coasts of India, and large English communities developed around the towns of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. By the 19th century, the era in which The Stranglers of Bombay takes place, the company's rule extended across most of India, Burma (now Myanmar), Singapore and Hong Kong.        Thuggee was an Indian cult worshipping the goddess Kali. It was a hereditary cult in which induction was passed on from father to son. The members practiced large-scale robbery and murder of travelers through strangulation. The ferocity of their crimes led to the adaptation of the name thuggee into the modern word "thug."
       As shown in the film, the thuggees would fall in with travelers, ease their suspicions, strangle them with a handkerchief, rob them, and after an invocation to the goddess Kali, bury them in previously prepared graves. Thuggee was suppressed in the 1830s, when due to the extensive efforts of Major General William Sleeman, a police organization known as the Thuggee and Dacoity Department was established within the government of India. It remained in existence until 1904 when it was replaced by the Central Criminal Intelligence Department. The defeat of the cult secured Indian loyalty to the British Crown for decades. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
23 May 1960.
---
Daily Variety
7 Dec 59
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Feb 1959
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
18 May 60
p. 3.
Monthly Film Bulletin
Jan 1960.
---
Variety
23 Dec 59
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
In association with
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Supv ed
COSTUMES
Ward mistress
MUSIC
Mus comp
SOUND
Sd ed
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Historical adv
Prod mgr
Cont
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Stranglers of Bengal
Release Date:
May 1960
Premiere Information:
London opening: December 1959
Production Date:
6 July--21 August 1959 at Bray Studios, Windsor, England
Copyright Claimant:
Hammer Film Productions, Ltd.
Copyright Date:
1 May 1960
Copyright Number:
LP16624
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound Recording
Black and White
Widescreen/ratio
MegaScope
Duration(in mins):
80-81
Length(in feet):
7,238
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In nineteenth-century India, a group of new initiates raptly listens as the High Priest of the Children of Kali, a cult group also known as Thuggees who venerate the Hindu goddess Kali, recounts the origin of the cult’s sacred silk cloth used to strangle their victims, thus enabling them to “kill without spilling any blood.” Meanwhile, in the British-ruled city of Bombay, Col. Henderson calls a meeting with members of the British East Indian Company to discuss the continuing disappearances of the company’s caravans and the men escorting them. Burns, an executive in the company, complains that the British Army has been ineffective in protecting their shipments and demands that Patel Shari, the former “head man” be reinstated to his previous status. Acknowledging that thousands of people have been reported missing, Capt. Harry Lewis suggests appointing a special staff to investigate the disappearances. After the meeting, Lewis, who believes that an organized conspiracy is behind the disappearances, returns home to his wife Mary, eagerly anticipating that he will be appointed to head the new staff. Lewis is bitterly disappointed when Henderson appoints Capt. Christopher Connaught-Smith, the supercilious son of one of his schoolmates, to lead the investigation. The next day, as Lewis rides out to meet Smith, he sees two Indians attack a wagon. After capturing the thieves, Lewis confiscates the white scarves they are carrying, but they soon manage to escape. Lewis then continues on to meet Smith, who has just arrived in Bombay with a complete complement of polo equipment. At the post, Smith discounts the assailants as simple bandits. Meanwhile, the High Priest condemns the thieves, ... +


In nineteenth-century India, a group of new initiates raptly listens as the High Priest of the Children of Kali, a cult group also known as Thuggees who venerate the Hindu goddess Kali, recounts the origin of the cult’s sacred silk cloth used to strangle their victims, thus enabling them to “kill without spilling any blood.” Meanwhile, in the British-ruled city of Bombay, Col. Henderson calls a meeting with members of the British East Indian Company to discuss the continuing disappearances of the company’s caravans and the men escorting them. Burns, an executive in the company, complains that the British Army has been ineffective in protecting their shipments and demands that Patel Shari, the former “head man” be reinstated to his previous status. Acknowledging that thousands of people have been reported missing, Capt. Harry Lewis suggests appointing a special staff to investigate the disappearances. After the meeting, Lewis, who believes that an organized conspiracy is behind the disappearances, returns home to his wife Mary, eagerly anticipating that he will be appointed to head the new staff. Lewis is bitterly disappointed when Henderson appoints Capt. Christopher Connaught-Smith, the supercilious son of one of his schoolmates, to lead the investigation. The next day, as Lewis rides out to meet Smith, he sees two Indians attack a wagon. After capturing the thieves, Lewis confiscates the white scarves they are carrying, but they soon manage to escape. Lewis then continues on to meet Smith, who has just arrived in Bombay with a complete complement of polo equipment. At the post, Smith discounts the assailants as simple bandits. Meanwhile, the High Priest condemns the thieves, who are followers of Kali, to having their eyes gouged out as punishment for stealing for personal gain. Soon after, Ram Das, the Lewises’ devoted servant, tells Lewis that he saw his missing brother Gopali passing by in a caravan and asks permission to search for him. Lewis gives Ram Das a horse, food and money to help in his quest. At the shrine of Kali, meanwhile, the priest instructs Gopali on how to infiltrate a caravan by posing as a simple traveler and begging for refuge. At the post, when Lewis offers Smith the notes he has laboriously compiled about the disappearances, Smith summarily dismisses Lewis and his documentation. After leaving Smith’s office, Lewis walks through a narrow alley and is accosted by two assailants sent by the priest to retrieve the silk scarves. When Lewis reports the theft to Smith, Smith belittles the importance of the scarves. That night, Sidney Flood, the Lewises’ next door neighbor who works as executive for the East India Company, is playing cards at the Lewis home when a package wrapped in cloth comes hurtling through the window. After Lewis opens the package and finds Ram Das’s hand inside, he complains to Henderson that Smith is incapable of dealing with the situation and asks for permission to look for Ram Das. When Henderson bristles at Lewis’ “insolence,” Lewis resigns from his post. Deciding to investigate on his own, Lewis questions the villagers about Ram Das, but when they are uncooperative, he decides to join Sidney on his jungle tiger hunt, hoping to find some leads. As Sidney lays in wait for a tiger, Ram Das’s pet mongoose, which Lewis has brought along, jumps out of its sack and runs to a barren patch of land, under which lies a mass grave. Although Lewis observes that all the bodies in the grave have had their necks broken, Smith finds nothing strange in the circumstances of their death and declares that the land must be a forgotten cemetery. Later, a thief breaks into Burns’s house, and Lt. Silver, who is part Indian, questions the thief, who bares the brand of Kali. Exposing his own mark of Kali, Silver warns the thief to prepare to die for betraying Kali for personal gain. On the day of the thief’s hanging, Lewis is puzzled by the high spirits of the crowd and follows them once they leave the city. Lewis tracks them to the shrine of Kali, where he is caught and staked to the ground. As a deadly serpent slithers toward him, the mongoose jumps from Lewis’ saddlebag and kills the snake. Declaring the death of the snake to be a sign of Kali’s displeasure, the priest orders Lewis released. Upon returning to headquarters, Lewis reports that he has noticed several men in the marketplace bearing the brand of Kali, but Smith laughs the brand off as a simple scar. Meanwhile, at the shrine of Kali, the priest pulls Ram Das from the cage in which he has been imprisoned and orders Gopali to strangle his own brother. In Bombay, Patel, who is a clandestine member of the Thuggees, advises the traders that it would be safer to ship their goods in one single caravan. After the caravan heads out led by Smith, Patel and Silver plot to kill Lewis and make it look like a robbery. To make the robbery more convincing, they decide to raid the Lewis house, too. That night, after Sidney is killed, Lewis realizes that he was the real target. The next morning, Lewis learns that the caravan has left, and sensing that it is in danger, decides to ride after it, and Silver insists on accompanying him. Along the trade route, Gopali approaches the caravan and begs Smith for refuge. That night, as the members of the caravan sleep, the Children of Kali sneak into camp and silently strangle them. Emerging from his tent, Smith is met by a sea of dead bodies, the silk scarves of Kali encircling their necks. After killing Smith, the Children of Kali dump their victims into a mass grave. When Silver and Lewis find the camp, Silver insists that its occupants have moved on, but Lewis senses they have all been murdered. As the men dismount their horses and remove their jackets, Lewis spots the brand of Kali on Silver’s arm and shoots him. Lewis follows tracks leading to the shrine of Kali, where the priest condemns him to die on a funeral pyre. Breaking free of his captors, Lewis topples the pyre, setting fire to the shrine. Lewis then returns to headquarters with Gopali as his prisoner. He finds Patel dining with Henderson, and when Gopali confirms that Patel’s servant is a member of the cult, Patel stabs the man before he can talk. Realizing that Lewis has accurately assessed the situation, Henderson recommends him for promotion and reveals the he never processed his resignation. Lewis then warns that Kali is “still out there.” +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.