The Brigand of Kandahar (1965) – released on DVD for the first time this week – is one of Hammer’s most seldom-seen films. After viewing it, you will instantly understand why, as it must rank as one of the studio’s slowest and least imaginative offerings. Written and directed by Hammer stalwart John Gilling, this ‘Boy’s Own’ adventure set during the British rule of India in the 1850s starring Oliver Reed and Ronald Lewis has very little to recommend in terms of both performance and production values.
After being branded a coward in action, mixed-race British army officer Lieutenant Case (Lewis) escapes imprisonment and joins a local group of Indian rebels led by the charismatic Ali Khan (Reed) in their fight against the British occupation.
Many Hammer films (particularly their non horror titles) were ‘B’ pictures often shown as double bills or supporting titles to bigger releases. The Brigand of Kandahar clearly fits this bracket, made simply to fill contractual obligations (it was the last film Reed, Lewis and British ‘Scream Queen’ Yvonne Romain were to make for Hammer, as well as marking the end of the studio’s long association with Columbia Pictures). With the appearance of those Saturday morning Western serials popular with young boys during the 1950s, the acting appears almost as wooden as the scenery.
The Brigand of Kandahar would never get past the script stage today. Though authentic in it’s representation of the Victorian British ruling classes, the depiction of foreign nations and peoples will likely appear offensive to today’s politically-correct audiences. This attitude is highlighted by the studio’s habit of using white British actors to play ethnic races (a widely prevalent practice in filmmaking at the time) as seen here with a heavily made-up Oliver Reed in the role of Indian tribal leader Ali Khan.
The Brigand of Kandahar could be viewed as a testament to two lost worlds – namely, those of the once mighty British Empire and the equally powerful Hammer Studios. In the light of this particular film, the eventual demise of both may have been seen as an inevitability.