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An arrogant young doctor helps an eccentric older doctor care for natives in the Dutch West Indies circa 1936. Challenged by love, leprosy and black magic, he undergoes a series of ordeals on a spiritual journey through the jungles of Java.Written by
Gary R. Peterson
This is a big picture, which deserves more exposure. In the early 60s Universal was more known for fluffball (but high quality) Doris Day product, but here they show their diversity by presenting what was obviously a prestige picture. Bob Mulligan, who scored a hit with 'To Kill a Mockingbird' in the same year, got to try his hand at an epic. The main titles are perfect to set the mood: youthful Jerry Goldsmith's talents as a composer are spectacular and atmospheric. He of course used gamelans in his score, but he uses them with concise effect, and without cliché. The graphics of the titles are very fine: colourful maps guide us in to a strange 'exotic' place. Such a relief from the sterile titles of today.
This film really made a big impression on me as a kid when I saw it on TV in the late 60s. 'Pan and scan' TV viewing had a definite mystique to it, as the process of squeezing anamorphic images into The Box automatically made the picture in question important. 'The Spiral Road' was no exception. But it IS important. I can imagine the grandeur of seeing it in a full-blown picture palace. Everything in the film is competently executed. I even remember the props, such as Rock's intriguing spherical fan on his bedside table.
The performances are excellent, reliable, and everyone really delivers. Burl Ives practically steals the show (as usual), and gets some good 'honeylamb' lines in. The aged Sultan is memorable. The fabulous Larry Gates, one of the greats, never disappoints. This role was a warm up for his deeper part as the missionary in 'The Sand Pebbles', a more profound companion to this picture.
'Lord Jim' of 1965 explores the same 'dark side of the jungle', only a century earlier. All three are outstanding examinations of the many dimensions of tropical and Asian colonialism, albeit from a Western viewpoint.
I agree that it's time this picture, and many more like it, was allowed into wider exposure via video/DVD. Vendors, take note!
PS: I just saw the DVD edition, and I was not disappointed. The picture holds up very well, though I would have wished for more Burl Ives in the last sequences. Russell Harlan's camera-work is outstanding, only matched by his work on 'Hawaii' a few years later.
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