Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Robert J. Flaherty
|Produced by||Alexander Korda|
|Written by||Rudyard Kipling|
|Screenplay by||John Collier
Marcia De Silva
|Based on||Toomai of the Elephants|
|Music by||John Greenwood|
|Edited by||Charles Crichton|
|Distributed by||United Artists Corporation|
|5 April 1937 (US)
9 April 1937 (UK)
Elephant Boy is a 1937 British adventure film starring Sabu in his film debut.Documentary filmmaker Robert J. Flaherty, who produced some of the Indian footage, and supervising director Zoltan Korda, who completed the film, won the Best Director Award at the Venice Film Festival. The film was made at the London Films studios at Denham, and in Mysore, India, and is based on the story "Toomai of the Elephants" from Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book (1894).
Toomai (Sabu), a young boy growing up in India, longs to become a hunter. In the meantime, he helps his mahout (elephant driver) father with Kala Nag, a large elephant that has been in their family for four generations.
Petersen (Walter Hudd) hires the father and Kala Nag, among others, for a large annual government roundup of wild elephants to be tamed and put to work. Amused by Toomai and learning that he has no one but his father to look after him, Petersen allows the boy to come too.
Strangely, no elephants have been seen in the region in a while, so Petersen has staked his reputation on a guess that they will be found further north. However, six weeks of hunting prove fruitless. He is ready to give up, but his right-hand man, Machua Appa (Allan Jeayes), persuades him to keep hunting for another month. When the other hired natives learn of Toomai's ambition, they mock him, telling him that he will become a hunter only when he sees the elephants dance (a myth).
One night, Toomai's father spots a tiger prowling near the camp and wakes Petersen. When the two go out to shoot the beast, Toomai's father is killed. Kala Nag's grief becomes so intense, he rampages through the camp, only stopping when Toomai calms him down.
Petersen decides to assign cruel Rham Lahl (Bruce Gordon) to Kala Nag, as Toomai is too young for the job. When Rham Lahl beats the elephant, however, Kala Nag injures his tormenter. The mahout insists that Kala Nag be destroyed, as is the law. Petersen manages to get him to change his mind and accept 100 rupees instead by threatening to have him removed from the safety of the camp.
Unaware of this reprieve, Toomai takes Kala Nag and runs away into the jungle. There, they stumble upon the missing wild elephants, and Toomai sees them dancing. He leads Petersen to them. The other natives are awed, and hail him as "Toomai of the Elephants". Machua Appa offers to train the boy to become a hunter, a plan Petersen approves of.
In a contemporary review, The New York Times found the film "one of the most likable of the jungle pictures. Having a simple story at its heart, it has had the wisdom and the good taste to tell it simply and without recourse to synthetic sensationalism. Sabu, its 12-year-old hero, never once is chased by a tiger, embraced by a python or dropped into a swirl of crocodiles," and concluded, "Sabu, the Indian boy, is a sunny-faced, manly little youngster, whose naturalness beneath the camera's scrutiny should bring blushes to the faces of the precocious wonder-children of Hollywood. He's a much better actor than the British players Mr. Flaherty tried to disguise behind frizzed beards and Indian names"; while more recently, Time Out thought the film "Amiable but dated," and specifically, "Fiction and documentary footage rub shoulders uneasily, but the latter (shot by Flaherty in India) is vividly watchable."
Michael Korda, Charmed Lives: The Fabulous World of the Korda Brothers (1980) 118-20.