Harry Black and the Tiger


What should one aim for in life, passion or contentment? Ultimately, that is the question posed by Hugo Fregonese’s Harry Black and the Tiger (1958). The answer which is proposed is one heavily influenced by notions of honor, both honor earned and honor bestowed, and there is something very fine about the means through which this accommodation of heart and conscience is arrived at in the movie.

India, a vast country filled with sound and color; the opening sequence presents both as the camera roams through forest and grassland, accompanied by the chattering of monkeys, the susurration of parched vegetation, pierced violently by the screams of alarm and the final shocking spilling of blood. The beauty and the terror of nature are encapsulated succinctly in that scene, one which establishes the threat posed by the presence of a man-eating tiger. This hasn’t been the first outrage, nor will it be the last, but the district authorities have already taken steps to ensure the killer is stopped. To that end, another killer has been employed, one Harry Black (Stewart Granger). Harry is a former soldier, an officer in the British army who lost a leg after being wounded during an escape from a German POW camp in the last war. He now makes his living hunting down and killing those aforementioned man-eaters. In the course of stalking his prey, Harry comes upon Desmond Tanner (Anthony Steel) and his wife Christian (Barbara Rush), both of whom have played significant roles in his life. Desmond is the old friend whose fear and lack of nerve cost Harry his leg, while Christian had aroused forbidden passions within his heart during a brief visit to Scotland. All of this is told via a couple of flashbacks as Harry recuperates from the wounds he suffers in a botched attempt to shoot the tiger, a near tragedy once again resulting from Desmond’s weakness. This is the point at which Harry is himself cornered, maneuvered by fate and circumstance into a position requiring him to make potentially life-changing decisions, and forcing those around him to do the same.

In a sense, Harry Black and the Tiger is a very straightforward story, one which can be approached as simply a blend of exotic adventure and romantic drama. However, as with all good movies,there is a great deal of depth should one wish to seek it out. As I stated above, it raises the issue of what one wants out of life, and thus which path will have to be followed. The focus is on three less than satisfied people: Harry, Desmond and Christian. Harry is the one most conspicuously disillusioned, making a living from death and burying himself in the wilds a world away from his home. Something similar could be said for Christian and Desmond, the former claiming to have reached a place of contentment but quite clearly still haunted by regret, while her husband is weighed down by the dreadful burden of his own inadequacy. The dilemma facing this trio stems from the fact that the prize of fulfillment for any one of them threatens to cast the others into despair.

The role of Harry Black was a comfortable fit for Stewart Granger at this stage of his career, making good use of that quality of jaded introspection he was able to tap into. There is a telling moment during his convalescence when departing nurse Kamala Devi says: “Good luck with the tigers, Mr Black… inside and out.” Prior to this we have been viewing both the tiger and Harry, hunter and hunted (though which one occupies which role may be open to debate) wounded, recuperating and recovering. As I see it, the tiger is a reflection of Harry, or maybe a reflection of the predator lurking within, that formidable and potentially destructive power he carries inside him. It is a power which threatens to consume him because in recognizing the need to harness it and trap it Harry is steadily and ruthlessly tearing his own being apart.

What follows is a personal crisis for Harry, one brought on by the clash of desire, conscience and regret, leading to a kind of temporary moral surrender. In his physically and emotionally vulnerable state, he gives in to all those fears he had repressed and rejected, retreating into a whisky-fogged breakdown. His rescue is effected by the joint efforts of his friend Bapu (a terrific piece of comic/philosophical acting by I S Johar) and his soulmate Christian. Barbara Rush is characteristically impressive not only as the woman who has captured the hearts and of two quite different men but also as the devoted mother – her every move essentially a juggling act alternating between the call of head and heart, duty and desire. Nevertheless, his ultimate salvation lies in his own hands, his release can only be achieved by confronting his own demons. In essence, he must face down the tiger, he must face himself. Having done so, perhaps the greatest sacrifice of all must still be made.

This builds into the climactic scene of the movie, one which sees Granger, Rush and Steel all shine. After triumphing over nature, both in a broader and also in a more intimate sense, Granger returns to collect the reward he feels is now to be his. It is here that the choice between passion and contentment will be made, and it’s to the credit of the performers, director Fregonese and that ever masterful writer Sydney Boehm that there are no emotional pyrotechnics on display to blunt the effect. Instead, we get a beautifully judged and sensitively handled vignette where little is said explicitly yet much is conveyed subtly and surreptitiously via glance and gesture. The resolution is bittersweet yet gratifying in its inevitability and appropriateness.

Harry Black and the Tiger is a 20th Century Fox movie and was released on DVD in the UK almost a decade ago. That disc, which I understand is now out of print, was pretty good for the time. The anamorphic CinemaScope transfer still stands up quite well today but there is no denying that it is the kind of picture that would benefit from the higher resolution offered by Blu-ray. Of course the chances of Fox titles making it to Blu-ray these days are, shall we say, slim. This is the third film by Hugo Fregonese I’ve featured on the site this year and I find it is always a pleasure to view and write about his work, especially a strong effort such as this. Harry Black and the Tiger is film I have seen multiple times over the years and one I hope more people get the opportunity to become familiar with.

As an aside, yesterday it was 14 years to the day since I published my first tentative blog post. The site has evolved a bit since then, and I hope I have too, but it continues to be a pleasure and privilege to have interacted with such a wide range of movie lovers. Thanks all.

51 thoughts on “Harry Black and the Tiger

  1. Colin, your observations and analysis of Harry Black could not be better, especially as this marvelous film was short-changed in that department during its initial release.

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  2. The first thing to say, Colin, is a ‘thank you’ to you for those 14 years of great writing. I have been with you for at least half that time, I believe, and your blog is a highlight I check every day.

    Some while back “HARRY BLACK” (its original UK title) was raised in discussion in the midst of an unrelated review on your blogsite. It prompted some profound discussion of the film between our friend, Blake Lucas, and others amongst us, Blake being a huge fan of the film. He and I share a great respect for the work of Stewart Granger and the debate prompted me to send for the DVD immediately and to watch it as soon as it arrived. I guess I must have been fortunate to source that DVD before its withdrawal. To my eyes, the DVD shows this film off very beautifully and I am so glad I got it.

    Your comments about the understatement of the emotion on the surface but shown via subtle glances etc are very telling. This understatement is important to the success of this film. Strongly recommended and it would be nice if Vienna were to share her thoughts if she is able to source a copy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks!
      I imagine this is a movie that most people will respond well to, the themes are handled both sensitively and subtly, and that latter quality permeates the whole production. The writing and performances go straight to the heart of the matter and draw one in. This combined with the rich visuals and the ‘Scope framing makes for a very enjoyable experience.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Once again your elegant and perceptive prose has enticed me to watch a film that I probably wouldn’t have sought out. I checked out the offering on Youtube and it is a decent print which I will watch over the weekend.

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  4. A very fine review,Colin, to mark your 14 years of blogging. Your site has given me so much pleasure and an education in film appreciation. Long may you continue! Have been a fan of Ms Rush since seeing her handle her challenging role in STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET so well.

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    • Thank you for that, Steve.
      Seeing Barbara Rush’s name in the credits always pleases me. She had a terrific run all through the 50s working with some of the finest directors. I haven’t caught up with all her movies from that time, although I have seen most or all of the big ones. I’m keen to catch up with World in My Corner and No Down Payment.

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  5. Colin, good write-up of HARRY BLACK AND THE TIGER(1958). Passion or contentment? That is the question posed throughout this movie and it will be answered in the end. Also, the tiger that is within and the tiger that is without. It appears that there are more tigers inside these conflicted individuals than outside in the beautiful rugged landscape of post-British Raj India. Of course, there is a man-eating tiger on the prowl and to kill him is the objective of the great white hunter Harry Black(Stewart Granger). Black is conducting a dangerous hunt, in more ways than one, in the hilly plains with the help of tracker/philosopher/ friend Bapu(I. S. Johar). The good screen chemistry between Black and Christian Tanner(Barbara Rush) is tense and soul wrenching.

    I don’t want to give away too much, but don’t expect a wall to wall action adventure movie, because it’s more about the human condition, which is just fine with me. HARRY BLACK AND THE TIGER has a lot going for it. The landscape and wildlife are beautifully photographed by John Wilcox. The tiger is a handsome animal and is well photographed. Also, the people of India and their culture are well presented, because they aren’t demeaned or exalted. This makes them very real. I think Bapu, as portrayed by I. S. Johar, is really effective in his role. I so agree that Barbara Rush is “characteristically impressive.” I’m a long-time fan of her work and she is still very much with us at ninety-four years young. Recently her daughter Claudia Cowan said that her mother was making ninety-four into forty-nine.

    I first viewed HARRY BLACK AND THE TIGER on the WREC Channel 3, Memphis FRIDAY NIGHT MOVIE in 1966 and Channel 3 aired it many times during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Needless to say, I like the movie and I think it is well worth watching.

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    • I wonder if the fact that it’s not, as you correctly point out, a wall-to-wall action picture has allowed it to drift somewhat as far as wider recognition/popularity is concerned. I was quite surprised when I went to IMDb to add in the usual link to external reviews to see that prior to that there had only been two others, and neither one in English.
      Mind you, Fregonese’s films in general aren’t talked up as much as they might be.

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  6. Colin
    A truly fine write-up my good fellow. I was still in high school the only time I saw HARRY BLACK AND THE TIGER. So needless to say that it hits the re-watch list. I caught the pretty Barbara Rush last month in the decent sci-fi film from 1951, WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE. It was also about the same time I caught the Fregonese film, THE MARK OF THE RENEGADE.

    Many, many congrats on hitting fourteen years on the blog!!!!!!!!!!
    Gord

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  7. Granger stopped in Toronto flogging Sparks Fly upward, which is good to a great read. I had the chance to spend a little time with him, call it half an hour over drinks at The Sutton Place Hotel. He was, in no particular order, enormous, funny as hell, and everything a movie star should be. I loved him. Now about Harry Black — the American reviews were terrible. I never understood that, but just check in on Leonard Maltin, and he was or still is, thumbs down as well.

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    • Sometimes poor reviews can be prompted by a movie offering that ran contrary to expectations at the time, perhaps in terms of genre, setting, casting etc. Contemporary reviews can give a flavor of the times in which they are written, perhaps even acting as reflection of that rather than an evaluation of the movies themselves. Distance is often a key element in evaluation in my view, allowing both breathing space and the type of separation that encourages different critical perspectives to flourish.

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      • Colin, congratulations on fourteen years of blogging. I admire your stick to it qualities and focus. Also, your writing abilities. Keep on doing what you are doing.

        Well, there have been a lot of movies, tv shows, books, magazines, and so forth over the years. The answer to why a particular, in this case the movie HARRY BLACK AND THE TIGER, hasn’t had a wider recognition can be because of more than one reason. I don’t think that the so-called movie critics of the time had a lot to do with why the general public went to see, or not to see a movie. The making of and the distribution of movies is and has always been a business. To stay in business the product has to be sold to the public, so here comes the advertising and publicity campaigns. So, it could be how a movie is sold to the public through the ad’s, posters, and trailers. It depends on how the movie distributer wants to go. It depends on what is to be played up. The hunter and man-eating tiger duel, the love triangle story, or both. What will appeal the most? What will bring in the most money? Who knows?

        A personal aside here, because I just know what I like. I first viewed HARRY BLACK AND THE TIGER on television, as a youngster in 1966. I liked Stewart Granger, because he was in KING SOLOMON’S MINES(filmed 1949-50, released 1950), which I had first viewed on the ABC SUNDAY NIGHT MOVIE earlier that year, and believe you me, it took a really good movie to keep my family from watching BONANZA on NBC instead. Getting back to the movie at hand, I really liked the tiger, wildlife, and the photography of India. Not so much, at the time, the mushy love story. When I viewed the movie, as a young man. on the WREG Channel 3 LATE MOVIE in 1975, my viewpoint had expanded. I better appreciated the conflicted love triangle and the talented and beautiful Barbara Rush. Of course, I still liked the man-eating tiger, wildlife, and photography of India. Because of Colin’s good write-up, I located the movie online and viewed it again. I enjoyed it more this time than I did before. So, time and distance does make a difference in some instances, but not every time.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Always enjoy your comment, Barry. Forgive my ignorance but would you mind my asking what was your role in the film world. I love the inside snippets of info you can impart and I often wonder what your work was.
      Your take on Stewart Granger is exactly as I remember when he was interviewed on the Michael Parkinson Show here.

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      • Not the film world, Jerry, but the entertainment industry. I started out at nine years as both a child model and the world’s most enthusiastic Louis Hayward fan. A spoiled brat, I was also the child of homeless bankrupt and might have been homeless myself if friends in New York City had not taken me in. I needed more than a few day’s pay as a bit player, found an ad in the Times, which said learn the agency business from the ground up. i thought it was the personnel agency world, but it was the Music Corporation of America. I did not get the position, but Larry Barnett, head of the office spent time with me and gave me an education. Great guy. As a consequence, I went from job to job and managed to stay afloat supplementing my income with bits on Another World, Naked City, The Defenders.

        I finally landed at the General Artists Corporation. They represented Louis, Kathryn Grayson, and Lerner and Lowe, and backstage at a performance of Camelot, I met Louis. Two years later I went past a marquee that read Jean Pierre Aumont, Hardy Kruger and Viveca Lindfors in Postmark Zero. In rehearsal, jean Piere’s name was being taken down. I phoned the production office and asked if they would like Hayward to replace him. Astonished, the director took the call and said, ‘What do
        I have to do?’
        I had no idea, but send me a script and a firm offer. Which he did. In the morning, I phoned Malibu. For the first time, I called California on my own dime. Hayward picked up and the conversation went like this:
        “Mr. Hayward, please.’ ‘Yeah, who wants him?’ “My name is Barry lane, we met backstage at a performance of Camelot.” His attitude changed immediately. ‘I remember you, the young man with the stars in his eyes.’
        He had no interest in Postmark Zero but three months later I became his personal manager. Many adventures to follow. Including broadcasting in Montreal and Toronto, producing a revival of The Pleasure of His Company. And more stuff along these lines.

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        • Thanks so much, Barry, for the personal details of a rather amazing career. How fantastic that you became personal manager later to an actor you had always admired so much.
          I understand Louis had invested wisely and was able to go into the production side of entertainment after his film career. I remember well his TV series “THE PURSUERS” filmed here in the UK 1961-62 at Elstree. We lived quite close to Elstree at the time.
          Again, Barry, thanks so much. I do hope you didn’t mind my curiosity.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Barry, thank you for your reminiscences, which are very interesting too me. I think how people get started in the the work world is always interesting, no matter what the profession is. The entertainment industry has always intrigued me and I’m not alone in that regard, by any means. Thank you for your personal details.

          Correct me if I’m wrong, didn’t THE PLEASURE OF HIS COMPANY play, which you produced in Toronto, star Cyd Charisse and John Ireland? Also, wasn’t there an almost television deal, but Paramount wouldn’t come to terms?

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  8. I found “Harry Black and the Tiger” to be a rewarding viewing experience. For over two hours I forgot my surroundings and was completely engaged in the story. Hugo Fregonese perfectly paced both the hunting of the man-eater and the escalating tension in the love triangle. The writing by Sidney Boehm was splendid.

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    • Frank, I feel the same way. Also, I think Hugo Fregonese is a talented director, whose work should be reevaluated. Colin is doing his part on HARRY BLACK AND THE TIGER and in previous write-ups of Fregonese’s movies.

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  9. Weekend films

    Tonight’s starter is the 2009 Michael Caine film, HARRY BROWN. Revenge at its best.
    Then I’ll dive into one of my favorite sci-fi films of the 1950s. IT ! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE -1958. This is the grandfather of Ridley Scott’s ALIEN.. Love this film.

    Gord

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  10. R.I.P. actress Arlene Dahl, has left us at age 96
    Journey to the Center of the Earth, No Questions Asked, The Outriders, Desert Legion, Wicked as they Come, Inside Straight, Ambush etc. Was on screen and television between 1947 and 1999.

    Sleep well

    Gord

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  11. The news of Arlene Dahl’s passing away is indeed sad news. It’s always sad when an actor or actress of the Classic era passes away. The talented and beautiful Arlene Dahl left behind a body of work, which will be enjoyed for as long as we have movies to view.

    ARLENE DAHL R.I.P.

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  12. RE: “World in My Corner” 1956 and “No Down Payment” 1957.
    What can I say……from “stinker” to “sleeper”. Riveting performances by all the main players. Never have I seen a perfectly cast Cameron Mitchell this good. The film is well paced throughout depicting early suburban life in 1957 Southern California. The Direction and Screenplay portraying the characterizations of the inhabitants are realistically gut wrenching much of the time. Strongly recommend this one.

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  13. Arlene Dahl was in Anthony Mann’s noirish take on of the post French Revolutionary period, REIGN OF TERROR(filmed 1948, released 1949). This was a dark violent movie for it’s time. Dahl was hung up and tortured.

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  14. Weekend watching will be…
    KHARTOUM 1966 Chuck Heaston, Larry Olivier

    SWORD OF THE BEAST -1965 Japan

    PLUNDER OF THE SUN 1953 Glenn Ford, Diana Lynn, Patricia Medina

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    • I bought (or upgraded to, if you like) the UK Blu-ray of Khartoum not that long ago. I haven’t seen the film for a good many years so I’ll hopefully get to it at some stage over the holidays when I have more time on my hands.

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  15. I’ve never sought out this film because I have an aversion to Stewart Granger. But you’ve made such a good case for this film – and for Granger himself – that I might have to give it a go.

    Belated congrats on 14 years of blogging! That is awesome! Here’s to many, many more years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much for that.
      I hope you get to see the movie and of course I hope you like it too. Pretty much everybody has stars they are not so fond of for one reason or another, but I’ve found that in my own case that can sometimes be down to having seen them in roles which, let’s say, didn’t do them any favours.

      Liked by 1 person

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