Zarak (1956)

This desert-set adventure flick exemplifies the subtle difference between Hokum and Camp: recently, I had watched its star, Victor Mature, in THE VEILS OF BAGDAD (1953) – spirited, tongue-in-cheek and generally exuding an air of unpretentious low-budget professionalism, it falls firmly into the former category; ZARAK, on the other hand, tries to be serious (with its religious/political undertones and calling into question familial/patriotic loyalties at times of stress) but is so relentlessly high-strung as to emerge a fount of virtually uninterrupted (but clearly unintended) hilarity!

These are too numerous to cite and most have, in any case already subsided in my memory, but I can’t fail to mention Mature’s irrepressible resourcefulness – though very obviously doubled at times – when aroused (including high-kicking his opponents and vigorously hacking away at a rope-bridge on which his arch-nemesis Michael Wilding is hanging for dear life), stoicism in the face of torture and impending death and, particularly, his wallowing in self-pity (and hysterically funny subsequent haunting) after unwittingly bludgeoning to death the current Mullah of the mosque – who had actually interceded for Mature during a public flogging and does the same, much to the latter’s evident chagrin, for the British Major at the aforementioned bridge sequence! That is not to say ZARAK is a bad film in the strict sense of the word: for one thing, there’s plenty of action throughout (some of it actually borrowed from the classic Alexander Korda production of THE FOUR FEATHERS [1939]!) – but, to be sure, the narrative is inordinately muddled for this type of film (not only in delineating the plot or the hero’s motivations, but also by having such a prominent character as that of Bernard Miles vanish altogether halfway through)!

This was the second of six British-made actioners featuring Hollywood hunk Mature, filmed virtually back-to-back and after which his career would slowly grind to a stand-still; for the record, the others – none of which I’ve watched – were SAFARI (1956), INTERPOL (1957; also with co-star Anita Ekberg), THE LONG HAUL (1957), NO TIME TO DIE (1958) and the somewhat similar THE BANDIT OF ZHOBE (1959; actually directed by the co-story writer of this one, John Gilling). Sexy in scantily-clad attire, Ekberg even gets to perform a sultry exotic dance but is otherwise underused here; Wilding is as ineffectual playing the stiff-upper-lipped cavalry officer after Mature as the latter is wooden in Afghan tinge and garb(!), Miles appears as the star’s one-eyed comic relief sidekick (at one point drooling over the heroine’s writhing and to which he’s vainly attempting to draw his brooding partner’s attention), while Finlay Currie is – what else? – the earnest but ill-fated Holy Man. Apart from these, the supporting cast includes: Bonar Colleano (as one of Zarak’s treacherous younger siblings), Frederick Valk (in his last role as his tyrannical father), Eunice Gayson (best-known for first eliciting the celebrated trademark response of “Bond, James Bond” – in DR. NO [1962], of course – is here Wilding’s ingenuous bride) and Patrick McGoohan (youthful but already imposing in what is presumably his first sizeable part in a film as Wilding’s aide). The behind-the-scenes credits are similarly notable – several of whom would soon prove instrumental in cementing the 007 image into the public consciousness.