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An arrogant young doctor helps an eccentric older doctor care for natives in the Dutch West Indies circa 1936. Challenged by love, leprosy and black magic, he undergoes a series of ordeals on a spiritual journey through the jungles of Java. Written by
Gary R. Peterson
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 Rock Hudson's best dramatic performances is to be found in The Spiral Road. Coming in the midst of all those screen comedies he made with Doris Day and others it's often overlooked. But don't you overlook it.
The Spiral Road casts Rock Hudson back in the day when Indonesia was a colonial possession of the Dutch and called the Dutch East Indies. Rock is a newly minted doctor his education paid for by the Netherlands and he owes them five years of colonial service. But he intends to make it pay for him.
His intention upon arriving in Batavia which is what Jakarta was called way back when is to wangle service with Burl Ives who is a doctor who has a great reputation of treating leprosy. But he also hasn't published in 20 years and his knowledge with a little editing from Rock would land him a top research job.
Ives is a crusty old soul, but a real humanitarian, a kind of Albert Schweitzer wrapped in burlap. They take to each other even after Ives finds out what Hudson's doing and even after Hudson's sweetheart Gena Rowlands comes in from the Netherlands to be with him. They even marry though she stays in Batavia weeks at a time.
Hudson's going through a spiritual crisis and is convinced of the fact that he needs nothing in the way of any kind of faith to help him in life. His father was a bible thumping hypocrite, a modern day Pharisee as he describes him. It's turned him into quite the atheist.
He's going to need something to refuel his psyche when he's caught out in the jungle matching wits with a witch doctor on his own turf. Those last 20 minutes or so when Rock the matinée idol turns into something like Cro-Magnon man are something to see.
The Spiral Road is not a pretty picture of colonialism, in this case the Dutch variety. The scenes of the drunken revelry among the rich planters with Ives even joining in the fun are revealing. One of the best performances in the film is that of Phillip Abbott as another doctor who has totally assumed an air of white supremacy to mask a whole lot of insecurities.
The opposite of him is Geoffrey Keen who is a member of the Salvation Army and who runs the leper colony. One of the most moving scenes in the film is Keen, Ives, and Hudson at the bedside of Keen's wife who has become a leper. She's never shown because of the curtains around her bed, but it's clear she's in the final stages. Keen is concerned for her, but not much more so than he is for all the people in his charge. Another key scene is when Hudson and Ives discuss his recommendations based on Ives's case study notes. It sounds like a plea for privatization which you hear often these days from folks on the right. Get rid of the ones who are able to fend for themselves and a non-religious run colony is the best way to do it. The problem says Ives is that due to the misconceptions about leprosy these people have no place else to go.
Some viewers might also object to The Spiral Road's overtly Christian message. One of the other characters is a native Moslem doctor who also falls prey to that witch doctor and Hudson's character remarks that his prayer rug wasn't enough to keep him from any harm. Of course atheist, Christian, and Moslem are all not playing in their own ballpark.
Despite the great acting and the wonderful location color cinematography which will remind you a lot of The Mission. It should because The Spiral Road was also shot in Surinam when it was still Dutch Guiana. The Spiral Road's message is not all that clear. It wants to be Christian, but can't quite come to grips with the concept.
I think that Hamlet said it best when he remarked to Horatio that "there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy." That's the message the film gives out.
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