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The Spiral Road contains the origin for the opening of Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969). Rock Hudson wanders aimlessly through the jungle confused to his identity, while his beard grows long and his clothes wind up in tatters. Finally he comes to a clearing where there is a pool. He sees his reflection and exclaims, "It's..." But instead of an offstage voice saying Monty Python's Flying Circus, he just says, "It's... me!". See more »
One of those special films I can watch over and over again, noticing new details on each viewing, "The Spiral Road" hasn't even made it to video--my own copy was taped off the air long ago--yet it seems to have enjoyed a long life on television. Even harder to find than the film is the book on which it's based, written by Jan De Hartog, whose other works are easily found in most libraries.
The book is very Dutch is setting and tone, and this was predictably softened in the film: Dr. Anton Zorgdrager becomes Dr. Anton Drager, Dr. Brzhezinska-Jansen becomes Dr. Brits Jansen, et cetera. Much of the soul-searching in the book is lost, though not all. In particular, the very seamy backstory of Salvation Army Captain Willem Wattereus is completely missing from the film, though Geoffrey Keen is skilled enough to convey, through looks and movement, the suggestion of uncharted depths in a character reduced by the script almost to cardboard.
It is fine performances that make this film work. Rock Hudson has always, I believe, been underrated as a dramatic actor--although this is beginning to change, as new audiences discover his brilliant performance in the video release of "Seconds." Too bad they can't find "Spiral" on video as well. He made it just before "Seconds," and he's just as good, striking the perfect balance of competence and arrogance as an opportunistic and atheistic young doctor who comes to the then-Netherlands East Indies in the late '3O's to fulfill his contract: five years of service in return for a government-financed education--during which he will confront cunning natives (the whites' contempt for them is a subtle undertone carefully controlled by director Robert Mulligan), God and himself.
Other standout performances: Burl Ives as Dr. Brits Jansen, modulating perfectly the rolling transitions of his larger-than-life character from cynicism to wonder, gravity to buffoonery; Gena Rowlands as Els, the "girl" from back home, valiantly overcoming the "fainthearted" stereotyping of her part, the afore-mentioned Keen, the always-reliable Robert F. Simon, and Philip Abbott in a role pivotal to the plot.
UPDATE (12/O6): After forty-four years, this fine film is now available on DVD. What a wonderful surprise--thank you, Universal.
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