Pete’s Peek | Two vintage swashbucklers from the classic Hammer studios get digitally restored on DVD

In director John Gilling 1965’s adventure The Brigand of Kandahar, it’s 1850 and the British Army are holed up in a fort in remote north-east India (actually Bray studios in Berkshire) protecting the Empire’s interests. When a mixed-race British officer (Ronald Lewis) is unjustly discharged, he finds himself being becoming a pawn in a rebel plot to attack the fort. Oliver Reed hams it up as the ‘half-mad’ tribesman leader, while Yvonne Romain lends her exotic beauty to play his treacherous sister. Meanwhile, a foreign journalist (Glyn Houston) sets out to uncover the truth behind the officer’s dismissal and discovers not everything is black and white.

While it wouldn’t win any awards for historical accuracy or political correctness (especially the use of white actors made up and the scant regard for real Bengali culture or customs), this studio-bound non-horror Hammer is a lively enough romp to enjoy on a rainy weekend, with Romain’s busty performance being the film’s highlight. The action scenes were lifted from the 1956 adventure, Zarak, which was actually shot in Morocco, while the military-influenced music score, which you can listen to here, is by Don Banks.

A similarly enjoyable title from the same director is 1963’s The Scarlet Blade, an historical swashbuckler set during the English Civil War. On the Roundheads side, we have Oliver Reed’s devilish Captain Sylvester kidnapping King Charles on the orders of Lionel Jeffries‘s nasty Colonel Judd. Over in the Cavaliers camp, Jack Hedley (of Who Pays the Ferryman? fame) plays Edward Beverley – aka The Scarlet Blade. Thrown into the mix is Clare (played by June Thorburn, who would tragically die in a plane crash four years later) – a Royalist sympathiser who just happens to be Judd’s daughter and is going steady with Sylvester.

All manner of matinee adventure ensues as Clare helps Beverley (The Scarlet Blade is so much more masculine-sounding) rescue the King and bring Roundheads to heel. This is one of Hammer most memorable historical films, thanks to the BAFTA nominated colour photography of Jack Asher – the cameraman responsible for all of Hammer’s early horrors like Horror of Dracula and The Curse of Frankenstein. But my highlight is seeing the one-and-only Michael Ripper playing a gypsy called Pablo in some awful pantomine get-up. What a trooper that man was.

Both these vintage Hammer films have been digitally restored and appear on DVD in the UK for the first time. While they might be dated, its great to see these golden oldies from a much more innocent era be given a new lease of life.

The Brigand of Kandahar and The Scarlet Blade are released on DVD on 16 January, through StudioCanal Home Entertainment

Who Pays the Ferryman? starring Jack Hedley, is also coming to DVD on 20 February, through Eureka Entertainment

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