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Escape to Burma is just one of a series of adventure features starring
the estimable Barbara Stanwyck. However, where this film stands out
above many of her other pictures from this period is that the
supporting cast can actually act.
In fact, the male actors Robert Ryan and David Farrar, are so good in their roles as outlaw and law enforcer that they almost overshadow the matriarch Stanwyck herself. Almost.
Escape to Burma is standard Hollywood fare, but entertaining nevertheless; ideal for a rainy day. There are much worse ways to spend 85 minutes.
Homer Dickens in his book, "The Films of Barbara Stanwyck," suggests this is one of the low points in Stanwyck's film career but it's entertaining in a Saturday-matinée sort of way and has --considering its low budget -- colorful and exotic backgrounds. (True, these backgrounds have the look of studio sets but that only adds to an air of calculated escapism. The tiger hunt scenes, by the way, were filmed in Thousand Oaks, California, at the World Animal Jungle Compound.) The movie reaches a climax in the last reel when Robert Ryan, stripped to the waist and looking pretty good for a man in his 40s, is flogged across the back by a pair of enthusiastic whippers. Apparently he's been sentenced to death-by-flogging by the local potentate but this apprehension may not be quite correct. Some evidence suggests that the script's original plan was to have the potentate's men flog Ryan and then execute him by beheading but any mention of the "beheading" part of the potentate's sentence got left on the cutting-room floor. In any case, it's a memorable flogging scene and it ranks 20th in the book, "Lash! The Hundred Great Scenes of Men Being Whipped in the Movies."
it must have been quite impressive for it's time - Color film, old-time film noir star B. Stanwyck and film military hero Robert Ryan were the big attractions in this far-away-location B movie; one of the 2-movie pack in the discount bin from TCM. it DOES have crystal-clear color photography andexcellent sound. Lots of messing about with elephants and tigers, and actors reciting monotone lines; the script needed some more zing or something - not much of a plot in the first half, but it gets better as it goes along. This was made about 10 years before Stanwyck's starring role in "Big Valley". Robert Ryan redeemed himself by doing "Longest Day" and "Battle of the Bulge" after this. Directed by Allan Dwan, who had started in 1911 in silents, and had worked his way up in every occupation in the film industry.
It is one of the cliches of mainstream Hollywood cinema that the desire of
the hero is limited to two options - a good girl (marriage, security,
family, society), and a bad girl (lust, transgression). In this scenario,
women are barely people at all, more embodiments of Law and Desire, the
socially acceptable and unacceptable.
Not the least of this brilliant film's achievements is the way it transfers this cliche to the heroine, making it new and strange. It is the two male characters who represent the two options open to the woman - Robert Ryan is the outlaw, suspected murderer and jewel thief, sexually direct; David Farrer is the policeman, punctiliously obeisant to the law, sexually repressed.
Ryan hasn't stepped foot in Barbara Stanwyk's elephant ranch before he's made himself at home, made her frankly voracious and got her talking about 'marriage', which we suspect has little to do with religious ceremonies. Farrer no sooner arrives then he wants to take a man home with him. The film's most striking scene occurs near the climax, in the symbolic space of an abandoned, monkey infested Buddhist temple, the two men grappling like Lawrentian blood brothers, and Stanwyk gaping hungrily on, absolutely thrilled.
This central twist is part of the film's wider iconoclasm. Like more renowned peers (Minnelli, Sirk etc.), Dwan takes reactionary material and dismantles it. Firstly, the film offers an odd mish-mash of genres. The film is supposedly set in Burma and its environs, but this is an Orient in the tradition of Powell and Pressburger, the hero of whose 'Black Narcissus' stars here (Farrer).
Whereas 'Narcissus' was a work of complete, defiant artifice, 'Escape' offers a disturbing clash between real location footage and cramped studio sets, often within the one scene which, especially in action sequences, has a jarring, alienating effect. The most notable example occurs early on, when Ryan and Stanwyk hunt a marauding tiger - the effect takes us out of the 'realistic' adventure and alerts us to a more symbolic plane.
Although the film is set in the east, the three genres it evokes originate much further away. Even though the film is an action adventure - and a very exciting one, full of chases, gun-fights and dangerous animals - it is also a melodrama, about a lonely woman stranded in the middle of nowhere, powerful but so starved of 'companionship' she'll attach herself to the first man who comes along. Some of the lighting effects and careful compositions recall the contemporary melodramas of Sirk. The film also belongs to the jungle sub-genre, full of thick forests and animals being cute.
Most important, however, the film is a transposed Western, with Ryan as the outlaw hiding out in Stanwyk's ranch, and Farrer the sherriff sent to being him back. Except, like Ray's 'Johnny Guitar', the colour, the mise-en-scene, the extravagant sexual rituals tend to undermine macho Western self-importance; a female 'Eastern' reflecting back the male Western.
As the scene I mentioned earlier suggests - the brawl in the temple - the idea of play figures throughout, with narrative action turned into ritual or theatre, with extras, ceremonial gestures, and, most importantly, an audience. The most alarming of these is Ryan's torture, but throughout there is an emphasis on people watching, usually obscurely, through gaps and grills, or being framed in proscenium arches within the narrative frame.
Another motif alerting us to mistrust appearances is the mirror- so often a symbol of metamorphosis or revelation; actual mirrors co-exist with mirroring scenes, for example the symmetrical skulking of Stanwyk and the tiger watched by Ryan (doubly mirrored and reversed in the temple scene)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I suspect you have to possess a highly-developed sense of camp to truly appreciate "Escape to Burma".Judged by nearly all conventional standards it is quite dreadful.Poverty Row production values,laughable performances, sub "Sanders of the River" script and a storyline William S.Hart would have rejected as being old-hat are all presented with a straight face. It was made by a man who directed his first film in 1911 and who lived to see Ronald Reagan become president.Ludicrously considered by some back in the sixties as an auteur,Mr Alan Dwan was a journeyman director who spent 50 years doing hackwork in the studios.Whilst respecting,at least quantitavely,his output,there is very little in it that suggests he ever did more than take the money and run.He bought the product in on time and under budget;period.Presumably in the spirit of post-modern irony praise has been heaped on "Escape to Burma" for portraying its heroine as an unprincipled man-hungry bitch - a giant leap for womankind indeed. Miss Barbara Stanwyck tackles this role with gusto and strides about the set barking orders to her mahouts with barely concealed glee.She has two men to choose from,macho sneering Mr Robert Ryan or borderline closet queen(and ,worse,English borderline closet queen)Mr David Farrar. Mr Ryan oozes testosterone,Mr Farrar oozes Guerlaine's "Ode".Mr Ryan is wanted for murder,Mr Farrar is the Marshal(sorry,policeman),come to take him to jail.No contest there then. The two boys spend a lot of time fighting and trying to avoid knocking over bits of scenery .Miss Stanwyck and Mr Ryan go on a tiger hunt,their quarry clearly not even photographed on the same film stock let alone the same set.To everybody's surprise and relief Mr Ryan is revealed to be innocent after all,but not before being tortured and whipped whilst gritting his teeth bravely.Sadists and masochists are people too,you know.Where was Mr Dwan's head when he was making this?God alone knows. He was 72 at the time - I suspect he was having a senior moment.
Direction, acting and virtually everything else about this mid-fifties
pulp action flick are too flat to make it more than mildly enjoyable in
a camp way. Ryan and Farrar fare better than Stanwyck, whose
performance here unintentionally verges on self-parody. Stanwyck is
very watchable here, but the script is so lazy and routine that her
typical (and admirable) energy in tackling the role works against her.
Ryan more appropriately gives the script its due,expressing obvious
contempt for some of his lines. For a fifties flick, the quick sexual
hookup of Ryan and Stanwyck is surprising (though a 10-year-old kid
could see the film and not know what was happening between them).
I think this and "Cattle Queen of Montana" are Stanwyck's only color films. Black and white works better for her; the heavy makeup here makes her look inappropriately feverish, even for a jungle flick.
"Escape to Burma" is enjoyably bad in a mild way. I loved the back-lot jungle sets and obvious tropical foliage decoration. Nice house Stanwyck has there in the jungle too. Super art direction (always an RKO forte).
"Slightly Scarlet," "Silver Lode" and "The River's Edge" are far more enjoyable and interesting Allan Dwan efforts from the fifties.
This adventure movie produced by RKO , Radio Picture Inc , deals with a
man on the run for a killing he did not commit and he finds refuge and
romance in an isolated jungle mansion . As a local prince in British
Burma has been murdered , apparently by his prospecting colleague
called Jim Brecan (Robert Ryan) . The bereaved daddy wants Brecan's
head , no questions asked , but Captain Cardigan (David Farrar) of the
colonial Rangoon District Force hopes to encounter him first for a fair
trial . As the fugitive in British Burma hides on a teak plantation and
find solace in the arms of a rich owner called Gwen Moore (Barbara
Stanwick) . Brecan finds certain protection , thanks to a mutual
attraction with Gwen and help each other , soon makes him indispensable
. In the plantation Jim works as a right-hand man . Later on , they
flee and find shelter in a Burmese jungle temple . The jungle , of
course, is endangered by some kind of wild life , for this reason they
find themselves in a strange atmosphere . There takes places a searing
story of sudden love and sudden death in the hot green hell of the
Burma's balmy jungles provide the backstage for a torrid love between Barbara Stanwick and Robert Ryan , in this post-prime Allan Dwan effort . ¨Escape to Burma¨ is a B-adventure movie , a menace melodrama with a wide view of a huge tropical bungalow , exotic scenarios with rage excessively colorful , big bull elephants , an amazing mansion , a love story , chases and many other things . A monsoon , a violent as well as spectacular fighting between Robert Ryan and some bandits , elephants doing pirouette , a likable chimpanzee (though only live in Africa) and an orangutan are among the movie's extra added attractions . Action fans will enjoy the continuous pursuits and confrontations between Robert Ryan and David Farrar . Furthermore, an exciting final climax at the mansion in which the protagonists are besieged by an army . This picture bears remarkable resemblance to ¨Elephant walk¨ (1954) by William Dieterle that contains a similar jungle scenario (Sri Lanka) , elephants and known actors as Elizabeth Taylor , Peter Finch and Dana Andrews . ¨Escape to Burma¨ packs a colorful cinematography print in Technicolor by John Alton who along with Nicholas Musuraca are considered to be two of the best cameraman specialized in Noir cinema . Thrilling as well as evocative musical score by Louis Forbes .
This quickie was professionally directed by Allan Dwan , a craftsman working from the silent cinema . He was Gloria Swanson's favorite director and after he began to work for Triangle in 1916 , he also won the respect of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford , who were , at that time, the most powerful couple in the film business . Dwan directed over 1400 films , including one-reels, between his arrival in the industry (circa 1909) and his final film in 1961 . Among them some good Western as ¨ Restless breed¨, ¨The rivers edge¨, ¨Cattle Queen of Montana¨ and ¨Montana Belle¨ , being ¨Silver Lode¨ is his unqualified masterpiece . ¨Escape to Burma¨ results to be an acceptable and passable picture . Watchable results for this classic adventure movie .
In Escape To Burma no time is referenced in the story. Knowing that
Burma declared its independence from Great Britain in 1948 and in 1945
for the first half of the year they were in the middle of World War II
being fought the actions here would seem to take place in the years
before the war. That would seem to be the only explanation for the
total lack of any reference to the reality of what was going in Burma,
it wasn't the political landscape of the country as it was in 1955 the
year the film came out.
Barbara Stanwyck is the owner of a teak plantation and she gets a pair of gentlemen callers. The first is Robert Ryan fleeing from a charge of murder of the son of the local maharajah. The second is David Farrar the British policeman sent by provincial governor Reginald Denny after him.
There's also the maharajah's own forces and they're not about to wait for justice British style. They've got their own nasty methods to deal with assassins even if they were business partners with the prince.
Escape To Burma is an interesting if rather pedestrian action/adventure film. Ryan is the best here. Given the kind of roles he's played and the ambiguous nature of his character we never know how this will turn out. In fact the story of the killing of the prince is something of a let down.
But fans of the stars should be happy.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In one of the oddest casting choices in film history (and of a certain
legend's career), the role usually played by Maria Montez is taken over
by...Barbara Stanwyck??? She's the matriarch of a Burmese plantation
who welcomes strangers into her house with open arms (and apparently an
open bar), not even checking their references. The moment alleged
killer Robert Ryan shows up, she's eying him up and down like a search
light, offering him a second drink just as he's chugged down his first.
She's just inspected the elephants and the men who use them to work in the jungles and fired one of them for repeatedly abusing the elder of the pack. This Elephant Queen of Burma treats the riders well, and immediately places a Sabu-like youngster on the back of the abused pachyderm, promising him great rewards if he does his job well. But the natives believe that evil spirited tiger has killed an elephant in the jungle, and Stanwyck heads out there with Ryan to prove that it was a real tiger, not some invisible spook with the power to kill beasts of burden three times the size of real tigers.
On the search for Ryan is David Farrar, hired by the ruler of Burma to find the man they believe killed the prince. Ryan and Stanwyck encounter Farrar after their return from the jungle and this leads to another jaunt into the tropical forest where they encounter bandits and an oncoming monsoon. The three of them are forced to spend the night in an abandoned ancient ruins where chimps, orangutans and other assorted small monkeys reside. Before you can say, "Me Tarzan, You Jane", the king's men are on the march, having arrested one of the bandits who is in possession of one of the late princes' bracelet.
Unbelievable adventure in the realm of Maria Montez/Yvonne de Carlo adventures of the 1940's (with a touch of "Elephant Walk" thrown in), this seems totally out of Stanwyck's element, and even her performance seems out of whack, sometimes so kindly you'd think she'd never played all those deadly film noir vixens. Visions of various jungle animals (including the deadly tiger as well as a black panther) add to the colorful vision of this jungle paradise, and the audacious set design is equally camp in its presentation. "You two men make me prefer the company of elephants!", she barks at one point to the fighting men, and certainly, her pachyderm pals are as loyal to her as her servants. Much of the acting of the mostly British cast playing the Burmese is amateurish and silly, but this isn't without its compensation. I've never had so much fun laughing at a Barbara Stanwyck movie in my life, and it wasn't one of her classic screwball comedies.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Allan Dwan seems more interested in filming the elephants than he is in
directing his actors.Most of the time,excellent actors such as Barbara
Stanwyck and Robert Ryan are left to their own devices:it's obvious in
their first meeting and in the intimate scenes.
As for the story,if you have not guessed that Ryan is not guilty long before the extravagant "explanation" ,you are very naive.At times,it looks like an Asiatic western,the elephants replacing the horses.It's an interminable chase ,with a stubborn English cop,nasty natives, a meal in the jungle where the heroes eat elephant stuffed with tiger or the reverse and precious stones .
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