Hammer fails to shine in this re-release of The Brigand of Kandahar.
Hammer Films are usually guaranteed to entertain us with extreme levels of over/under-acting, vibrant red fake blood, and special effects so wonderfully tacky that you think they must’ve been intentionally done that way. Such is the expectation with The Brigand of Kandahar, but this tame Middle-Eastern tale lacks the trademark Hammer charm.
Kandahar is the story of half-cast British Lt. Case (Ronald Lewis), who gets banished from the British army and joins a band of Indian rebels led by Ali Khan (Oliver Reed). While with them, he sees that Khan is even more ruthless than the British forces and, with the help of Khan’s sister, attempts to oust him.
It’s hard to point out a single element of Kandahar that really shines. The sets look ridiculously artificial, even by Hammer standards, the costumes are too brightly coloured and look like they’ve been freshly ironed, and the script is barren. It’s telling of a film when its key source of entertainment is the laughably patchy make-up slapped on English actors to make them look Indian.
The performances in Kandahar lack the usual melodramatic campiness we’ve come to expect from Hammer films. Ronald Lewis in the lead role spends most of his time frowning at the poor treatment of English prisoners by Khan’s men (or maybe he’s frowning at the unconvincing sets?). In fairness, the script has given him little opportunity to shine. Oliver Reed’s bellowing and guffawing in the role of Khan does steal a few scenes, but that’s more down to the capacity of his lungs than his undeniable acting talent.
Kandahar plods along at a pedestrian pace towards an ending that’s not quite as predictable as one would’ve assumed. The film does attempt to infuse some thematic depth by pointing out every now and then that Case is half-cast and that this causes some vague identity crisis for him, but even this feels hollow and underdeveloped. The Brigand of Kandaharmarked a downward turning point for Hammer Films, as with this film they ended their association with Columbia Pictures and the irreplaceable Oliver Reed. Based on this half-assed production, it’s not that surprising.