Thunder in the East – Blu-ray Review

4 Stars Ladd action/adventure pic debuts on Blu-ray
Thunder in the East Screenshot

Today, Thunder in the East. At the start of the 1950’s, Alan Ladd had established himself as one of Paramount’s top actors on their roster with films like The Glass Key (1942), This Gun for Hire (also 1942), The Blue Dahlia (1946), Two Years Before the Mast (also 1946), Whispering Smith (1948) and The Great Gatsby (1949). However, by time Ladd finished work on Botany Bay (1953) in early 1952, his contract with the studio had expired and he would begin free-lancing work as an actor; so, Paramount staggered the release of his final three films – including the aforementioned Botany Bay as well as Shane – of which Thunder in the East was among the trio. Kino has licensed the movie for its home video debut.

Thunder in the East (1952)
Released: 02 Apr 1953
Rated: Approved
Runtime: 97 min
Director: Charles Vidor
Genre: Drama, War
Cast: Alan Ladd, Deborah Kerr, Charles Boyer
Writer(s): Jo Swerling, George Tabori, Frederick Hazlitt Brennan
Plot: In a remote region of post-independence India, the love of a blind British woman pricks the conscience of an arms dealer.
IMDB rating: 6.3
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Paramount
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 38 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Blue keep case with slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 05/14/2024
MSRP: $24.99

The Production: 3.5/5

Although India had just gained its independence from Great Britain in 1947, the northern Indian state of Gandahar is under threat from the rebels lead by Newah Khan. When gunrunner Steve X. Gibbs (Alan Ladd) arrives to sell his shipment of arms to the state, the state’s prime minister Singh (Charles Boyer) steadfastly refuses, believing in Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of peaceful, non-violent resistance. As Steve bides his time in Gandahar, he also attracts the charms of Joan Willoughby (Deobrah Kerr), a blind woman part of the community of Anglo-Indians who’ve stayed in India following independence. But as Khan’s army approaches, Singh’s resistance to use the weapons harden further and Joan is disgusted by Steve’s opportunistic impulse to cash in on evacuating the remaining citizens for an exorbitant rate, leading to the possibility that their fate may have been already sealed…

Thunder in the East was one of the first films in Hollywood that dealt with post-independence India and looks at the regional insurgency the country dealt with in the wake following independence from Great Britain. Based on the novel The Rage of the Vulture by war correspondent Alan Moorehead – which was also the working title of the film – director Charles Vidor wrings out a clash between competing principles on how to achieve and sustain peace during the tumultuous time following independence; Steve represents the principle of armed resistance against the insurgent rebels while Singh represents Gandhi’s belief of non-violent resistance regarding Khan and his rebels. Although the film is not technically a noir, cinematographer Lee Garmes (with some uncredited assistance from John F. Seitz) shoots the movie like one, with stark shadows signifying the encroaching danger and the battle between consciences going on in Steve’s head.; Garmes was certainly no stranger to shooting an adventure movie like a noir, as he famously lensed Shanghai Express (1932) – well before noir entered the American cinema lexicon – in a similar stark and impressionistic manner and won an Oscar for it. The film also benefits from the strong performances of the three leads and also boasts the strong and polished production values that Paramount was known for; the only downside is that the film’s political content of the story feels heavier handed than it should be, and it does weigh down the pacing of the proceedings. Nevertheless, Thunder in the East is still a solid entry in the career of Alan Ladd, one that’s worth rediscovering.

In a part that feels like a pale echo of his earlier performance in China (1943), Alan Ladd nonetheless acquits himself well as the mercenary that has to act according to his conscience when it matters the most; as it was mentioned earlier in this review, Ladd had already left Paramount by the time filming was completed on Botany Bay, but he did return to the studio for what would be his last film, The Carpetbaggers (1964). Borrowed from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for the part, Deborah Kerr brings a luminous presence as the woman who prods Steve’s conscience and his heart; Corinne Calvet – on loan from frequent Paramount producer Hal B. Wallis – is equally luminous as the French adventuress caught up in the growing unrest (and also vying for Steve’s affections). Despite playing the role in “brownface”, Charles Boyer is actually quite good as the prime minister who wants to remain steadfast in his belief in solving the insurgency without resorting to violence; it should be worth noting that Boyer here bears a striking resemblance to then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Rounding out the cast here are Cecil Kellaway as the vicar, Marc Cavell as Gandahar native Moti Lal, John Williams as Sir Henry Harrison, Leonard Carey as Dr. Paling, Philip Bourneuf as rebel leader Newah Khan, John Abbott as Nitra Puta, Charles Lung as the Maharajah, Margaret Brewster and Arthur Gould-Porter as the Corbetts, Queenie Leonard as Miss Huggins and George J. Lewis as the hotel bartender; look for Jill St. John as one of the English kids (it was her film debut).

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film is presented in its original 1:37:1 aspect ratio, taken from a 2022 HD transfer created by Paramount Pictures from a 4K scan of the film elements. Film grain, gray scale and fine details are all presented faithfully with minor cases of scratches, tears and dirt present on the transfer. This release is likely the best the movie will ever look on home video.

Audio: 5/5

The film’s original mono soundtrack is presented on a DTS-HD Master Audio track. Dialogue, sound mix and Hugo Friedhofer’s music score are all presented faithfully and clearly with minor cases of distortion like crackling, popping and hissing present. This release is likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video.

Special Features: 3/5

Commentary by author/film historian Lee Gambin and costume historian Elissa Rose – Newly recorded for this release, Gambin and Rose go over the film’s background, including production, cast & crew as well as Edith Head’s costumes designed for the movie.

Theatrical Trailer (2:20)

Bonus KLSC Trailers – Lucky JordanChinaCalcuttaO.S.S.Chicago DeadlineThe Chalk GardenA Woman’s Vengeance Back Street (1941)

Overall: 4/5

Though it has faded from the mainstream in the years following its release, Thunder in the East is still an entertaining film in the career of Alan Ladd. Kino has done a great job of rescuing the movie from obscurity here, with a solid HD transfer and an informative commentary track for a special feature here. Highly recommended.

Mychal has been on the Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2018, with reviews numbering close to 300. During this time, he has also been working as an assistant manager at The Cotton Patch – his family’s fabric and quilting supplies business in Keizer, Oregon. When not working at reviewing movies or working at the family business, he enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast, playing video games and watching baseball in addition to his expansive collection of movies on DVD, Blu-ray and UHD, totalling over 3,000 movies.

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Robin9

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Thanks for this review. I don't recall ever having seen this film but it sounds interesting. With that cast and with Hugo Friedhofer and Lee Garmes contributing, I'll buy this disc. I'll certainly keep my eyes open for Jill St. John. I knew she started very young but I didn't know she was in this film.
 

Robert Crawford

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Thank you for your review as my Blu-ray has shipped to me. I think I've seen this movie once beforehand, but it was more than 50 years ago on television.
 
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