Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Dirty Cotton

Uncle Tom’s Cabin
aka Onkel Toms Hütte

West Germany/France/
Directed by Géza von Radványi
and Al Adamson
Severin Blu Ray Zone A

Wow... okay then. First of all, as you’ve probably guessed form the specs up the top, if you didn’t already know, that this movie is one of those bizarre Al Adamson re-purposed films that his company, IIP, used to foist onto the public as new product, following the latest trends and, somehow, managing to be quite successful for the most part. This time it’s the turn of a 1965 West German movie called Onkel Toms Hütte and based, of course, on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s popular and somewhat influential (by the sound of it) novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Now, I don’t really approve of slavery as a thing and I also hate watching a lot of it in movies. I can tolerate stuff like Ben Hur because I know the lead protagonist removes himself from the equation to get his revenge but, as a rule, this trend of slaves working on cotton plantations is not something I can usually stomach and, truth be told, I tend to find these things really boring. Indeed, I only saw Tarantino’s Django Unchained once, when it was released into cinemas, because the whole second half of the movie is just such a tale. Honestly, the first half of that film was electric but when it reached a certain point, my brain kinda switched off. However, this one is part of the massive, 32 movie Al Adamson - The Masterpiece Collection box set from Severin which I’ve slowly been making my way through and, well, I really didn’t want to miss any of the films out.

The re-release of this film in this particular form comes about because of two things... the success of the plantation movie Mandingo, from two years prior and, more importantly, the success earlier in the year of the TV mini series Roots. IIP wanted something to capitalise on the success of that show and so they got hold of this movie but needed to really spice it up for audiences if they were going to make a success out of it.

Now then, the original version of the movie is almost three hours long. Here, Adamson has shot and added in a few scenes which lurk completely on the periphery of the plot in that way only he seems to be able to get away with... containing all the lurid content you will find in this movie totalling for, maybe as much of twenty minutes of it. However, bear in mind that, even with Adamson’s extra sex and torture footage added into the mix, the re-release only plays out for just over an hour and a half. So something in excess of an hour and a half has been excised from the original film’s running time.

Now, the film itself, the original, obviously jumps around a bit now but it basically tells of a nasty cotton farmer/slave trader called Legree (played here by Herbert Lom) and of the slave ‘Uncle’ Tom played by John Kitzmiller who, when he is close to death after one of many horrible crimes upon his people perpetrated by Legree, incites the slaves to run, burn down Legree’s big house and flood the cotton fields as they make their escape. And, from what I can see of it, despite the horrible subject matter, it’s a fairly engaging film and I could take it or leave it. Preferably leave it.

But then there’s Adamson’s scenes including a slave called Napoleon, who ties in with the West German footage only because he has the same name of a barely glimpsed character who jumps off a steamer and is suddenly played by a different actor, Prentiss Mouldon. Adamson regular, the lovely Marilyn Joi, also turns up in a pre-credits rape scene. And there’s some interesting things going on with the film in this version.

For example, sandwiched between the prologue and the opening credits, such as they are, is a load of footage from the film (including, I suspect, some of the excised bits) with screen loads of short, sharp blurb about the importance of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel and it kind of makes a bizzare, mini trailer for the film you are about to watch...which I’ve never seen done before.

The other interesting thing about it is just how well Adamson works to blend his footage in with the original film. I mean, don’t get me wrong, once you know it’s extra footage inserted you can tell, for the most part, which are the additional scenes... and I suspect a siege on a monastery near the end of the picture may also be ‘Adamson enhanced’ because, for a minute there, it almost turns into a Western... yarhoooo! However, you can tell that Adamson’s really given it some thought here because he’s obviously studied what Radványi did in his version of the movie. For example, the whole movie, including Adamson’s sections, is based on a very pastel colour scheme which is almost exclusively browns. Everything looks like it’s brown or sepia almost, with no other really strong colours showing up too much. Another thing Adamson does, at least at the start of his scenes, is take a page from Radványi’s book in approaching things from a distance with long shots. Radványi uses a lot of master shots rather than reverting to close ups on his film and, although Adamson doesn’t eschew close ups like the former director, he does give it that kind of look in parts of his scenes to better match up, in visual style at least (certainly not tone), to the original footage. So, yeah, bearing in mind what he did with films like Horror Of The Blood Monsters (reviewed here) and Mean Mother (reviewed here), it’s really a step up for his approach on this one, I think.

All in all, though, I don’t have too much to say about Uncle Tom's Cabin. I’m not even once tempted to try and source the original 170 minute version to watch and I probably won’t ever revisit this version again. It’s not as bad an experience as I thought it would be, for sure but, I didn’t really have a good time with it and wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, in all honesty. Interesting as another experiment in the way you can change films but, ultimately a chore to watch and I’m much more looking forward to the next couple in Severin’s mighty boxed edition. 

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