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Just how did India become part of the British Empire? This film will
introduce you to Robert Clive, one of the great names in English history.
After viewing, a perusal of the Encyclopaedia Britannica convinced me that
essentially the film got most of the facts right. This is a colorful,
sometimes a little violent, story (empires don't come easy) which also
with the political complications for men who take Big Chances.
Ronald Colman is always fun to watch. Loretta Young is beautiful, even if her American accent gets in the way of her performance occasionally. Cesar Romero, Colin Clive & Sir C. Aubrey Smith all have small rolls.
The historical Clive died an opium addict and a suicide at the age of only 49. CLIVE OF INDIA shows us a little of his brilliance and tragedy.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Clive of India" does feature some rigorous battles with some raging
elephants but only for a few frames and not nearly enough to satisfy
any action fans. The director might even have culled some of the scenes
from other films since the overall production values of this movie are
not extravagant in any way. That said, Ronald Colman (as Clive) gives
his usual excellent performance as the British officer who first
brought India to its knees in the 18th Century. Loretta Young, looking
as beautiful as a woman can be, co-stars as Clive's loving wife. Colin
Clive, a distant relative of the real Clive of India, has a brief but
important role as an arrogant aristocrat. Most film buffs will
recognize the actor Clive as the gentleman who made such a great and
lasting impression as Doctor Frankenstein in two of James Whale's early
1930's horror classics. The story here is perfunctory but Colman has a
few good lines. After being brought before the House of Lords for
disciplinary action, Clive is approached by one of his older peers who
sneers at him, "If I were a younger man, I'd challenge you to a duel."
Clive remains unperturbed and gives it back to the old fellow with
"If you were a younger man, you wouldn't dare."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
To enjoy this film, you have to put behind you the modern viewpoint of
the imperialistic British Empire. This was film was made at at time
when imperialism was still looked at as being a great power "helping" a
backwards nation. Things have changed, and no doubt a bio pic of Clive
would be much different if made today. Incidentally, for those who
don't know, Clive died from suicide...something that is not touched on
in the film.
But we're here to review this film, not world history. And I must begin with the 20th Century Fox DVD release in 2013 -- a CD-R version. Unfortunately, the archives of Fox were apparently not kept as well as those of Warner Brothers. This print is acceptable, but that means that it is below the standard of many titles from the 1930s. It's not painful to watch, but the deterioration of the negative will be on your mind.
Since we have taken away the glow of history and the beauty of a film print, what is the main reason for watching this film? Ronald Colman. He's always a treat to watch on the silver screen, although here you will have to enjoy him without his famous mustache (as we also did in "A Tale Of Two Cities"). And, in the first two-thirds of the movie I found him overacting -- sometimes almost shouting -- something I'm not used to with the great Colman. Later in the film, that famous voice returns.
Colman's romantic interest here is the lovely Loretta Young -- an actress whose fame we don't fully recognize today. She was only 22 here, but a well-established veteran in Hollywood by this time...and so beautiful. Her role here is decent, although clearly secondary to that of Colman.
Colin Clive, who ironically was related to the title character, proves once again that he was a lousy actor. Within two years after the filming of this movie he was dead of complications related to alcoholism. Perhaps his drinking was urged on when he would watch his own performances on the silver screen.
The only other actor specifically worth mentioning is Cesar Romero, who plays an Indian leader. Although he doesn't have a lot of screen time, it's interesting to see him at the age of 28.
In terms of the script -- as much as I adore Ronald Colman, I found this film to be a bit of a potboiler...at least until the last third of the movie. It jerks around from one time to another with little apparent continuity early on. Films were evolving very quickly at this period of time...but this one seemed far more dated than I would have expected, particularly since Colman made "A Tale Of Two Cities" the same year and the monumental "Lost Horizons" just 2 years later. I'd have to blame it on director Richard Boleslawski, who never seemed to completely get past his background in silent films. Surprisingly, it paints Clive as having few scruples. At least I learned that I was completely wrong in terms of what I thought the Black Hole Of Calcutta was! In terms of battle scenes, it appears that the producers put all their money into one -- when the "monsoon breaks" -- which includes a rather dramatic sequence with armored war elephants. That is the one sequence in the movie which is truly impressive. For the rest of the film, things improve and it becomes very watchable.
For quite a while as I watched I kept thinking the unthinkable -- that this DVD of a Colman film might end up at a garage sale. But, the latter third of the film redeemed itself quite a bit, so it will stay. However, I can't say that I particularly recommend this film, except for Colman fans.
Robert Clive was an 18th century Lawrence Of Arabia, a man completely
convinced he had a destiny and was fanatical in pursuing it. He went to
India as so many did from Great Britain to seek fame and fortune. You
recall young Lieutenant Lawrence in Lawrence Of Arabia toiling away at
some desultory job in Alexandria when he's given an assignment to seek
out Prince Faisal. It was his destiny calling and Peter O'Toole ran
Something very much like that happens to Robert Clive as played by Ronald Colman here. Convinced he has a destiny like Lawrence did, Clive leaves the British East India company clerk job and joins the army where like Ulysses S. Grant he has a talent for war.
War is what he makes and by the end of his career the French who also had imperial ambitions were chased out of India and it was British for almost 200 years. Clive wanted India to be a crown colony, but it was run by the British East India Company who not under any law and away from the monarchy's writ were quite a corrupt outfit. The Indians never got over it.
Colman brings out the fanaticism in Clive. Usually the self assured polished English gentlemen, Colman adds on that with Clive being the self assured man of destiny, but also terribly worried that destiny will pass him by. After the story of this film is concluded, Clive died by his own hand in 1774 pretty much forgotten by the British public who worshipped him at one time.
This film has not been available for years. I'm glad I finally got to see it.
Clive of India (1935)
** (out of 4)
Disappointing bio of Robert Clive (Ronald Coleman), the British man who rose to power by leading the British government to take over India and destroy Suraj Ud Dowlah. Along the way Clive finds time to get a wife (Loretta Young) but this too leads to hard times. I'm really not sure what was up with this movie but it was described as an epic upon its original release but it seems like a good hour and a half was cut out of the film. There were many bloody battles during this time and for some reason the film decides to jump over these scenes in favor of just giving us title cards to read. These title cards are used throughout the film so we actually learn more by reading than actually watching the film. Coleman gives a very good performance in the lead but sadly the screenplay doesn't give him too much to do. Young is wasted in her role, which mainly requires her to stand around and look at her husband. Colin Clive, a real life relative to Robert Clive, has a small, thankless role as does Cesar Romero. There's a great sequence at the end as Clive leads him men into battle, which includes them fighting against men riding on elephants. I'm not sure how the effects were done but there's some truly great moments here including one scene where a man is being eaten by one of the elephants. This sequence is pretty violent for the times but I only wished the rest of the film was half as good.
I love the period from the 1920s-1940s in film, however, there are a
couple genres within this that I am less than fond of and try to
avoid--such as musicals and costume dramas. Of course there are
exceptions to the rule, but in general these are among my least
favorite old films. With musicals, often the story seems unimportant
and the songs dominate and with costumers, too often the tales look
great and have nice sets and clothes but seem emotionally sterile.
"Clive of India", clearly, is a very sterile and dry film. Despite starring the wonderful Ronald Colman (one of my favorites), the picture comes off as episodic and amazingly dull. This is a shame, as the real life Sir Clive was an amazing man and as an American I am glad he fought in India and not North America--otherwise, we might still be a British colony! He was talented and yet also very screwed up (his suicide comes to mind) and how all this managed to be so dull is beyond me. I think it's because so much energy is spent on the sets and making it all look good that little attention was given to the script--the characters just seemed wooden and lifeless.
Overall, you can watch it if you like, but I suggest you'd get more out of Wikipedia on this one!
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