Monday, January 05, 2015

Fred Blosser reviews "Campbell's Kingdom"

                      by Fred Blosser

Most of the adventure and thriller writers who crowded publishers’ lists in the 1950s and early 1960s are all but forgotten today.  Mention Victor Canning, Desmond Cory, Andrew Garve, William Haggard, Nicholas Monsarrat, or James Munro, and most people now will draw a blank.  Blame changing tastes and dramatic shifts in global politics, not any intrinsic lack of quality in the novels themselves.  And don’t forget a rather significant element of luck.  I mean, what if Ian Fleming had stuck by his Reichenbach moment for 007 at the end of “From Russia With Love” (1957),  and the Bond series had ended there with the first five books, before the advent of Doctor No, Goldfinger, SPECTRE, and the films?  Would Fleming and Bond be anything more than footnotes in a dusty bibliography today? 

Canning, Cory, Garve, W. Haggard, Monsarrat, Munro -- and add Hammond Innes as another of those storytellers from the era between WWII and Vietnam whom you have to go to used-book dealers or, in some cases, obscure e-books to find nowadays.  Yet he was popular enough in the ‘50s that his novels inspired three relatively high-profile movies, including 1957’s “Campbell’s Kingdom,” directed by Ralph Thomas and starring three leading British movie actors of the day (Dirk Bogarde, Stanley Baker, and Michael Craig), with several other “I think I recognize that guy” faces in the supporting cast (James Robertson Justice, Finlay Currie, Sid James, John Laurie, Robert Brown).

“Campbell’s Kingdom” still turns up on the TCM channel occasionally in an uncharacteristically mediocre print, and a DVD edition is available from VCI.  In Innes’ rugged story,  insurance clerk Bruce Campbell (Bogarde) comes to the Canadian Rockies from London to claim a sprawling high-valley tract left to him by his late grandfather.  The old man believed that there was oil on the property, and died after a geologist’s report failed to find the right geologic conditions.  

Campbell originally plans a brief visit to settle his grandfather’s estate, but stays around when he comes to suspect that Owen Morgan, the boss of a dam construction project that will flood the valley (Baker), tampered with the report.  Campbell, told by his doctor in London that he an incurable disease and only has six months to live, decides to fight for his property, keep the ruthless Morgan and his crew at bay, and find oil before the dam can be finished.

I imagine that the Rank Organization, which produced the film, took the option on Innes’ novel because it gave them a chance to make an English version of a modern-day Western picture at a time when American Westerns were big box-office around the world.  If you liked the old Roy and Gene movies where the cowboys were as likely to ride pickup trucks as horses, or the Westerns where the underestimated tenderfoot shows the tough guys at the local saloon a thing or two, you’ll probably like “Campbell’s Kingdom.”

Bogarde and Baker are well matched as the antagonists.  Had it been an American production transposed to the U.S. Rockies, Glenn Ford probably would have played Campbell and Kirk Douglas would have played Morgan.  As much as I like Ford and Douglas, I don’t think they could have done any better than Bogarde and Baker.  Today’s casting in the same roles: James McAvoy and Jason Statham?  But . . .would a  movie in which the good guy is an oil prospector fly with today’s green-minded audiences?  Probably not.  And, at the risk of revealing a spoiler, the resolution of Campbell’s health problem in the final scene is a little too neat; but who wants an unhappy ending when the underdog squares off against overwhelming odds?   

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