Going to the movies these days mostly means moving from your home office to your living room, or wherever you have the TV and disc player set up. While many theatrical releases have been postponed until it will be reasonably safe to go to movie theatres again, the good news is that there’s more than ever that you can watch from the quarantined safety of your home. And with fewer new releases competing for your discretionary time and attention, you can spend some time catching up with some classics, which offer the chance to travel, mentally, back in time to an era very different from our own.
The Rock Hudson collection contains three movies from the tail end of Hollywood’s Golden Age, when film studios worried about the competition from television competed to create larger-than-life color spectacles (in fact, you may conclude that the Technicolor process is the real star of these films), because that was exactly what you couldn’t get from that little box in your living room. Hollywood also offered stars catering to a variety of tastes, with Rock Hudson exemplifying the blandly handsome, uncomplicated heroic type. His limited acting abilities were of no concern to viewers who wanted to bask in his beauty—and for those seeking something different, Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift were also on offer.
Seminole (1953), directed by Budd Boetticher, is basically a Western set in Florida (and partially shot at Everglades National Park), during the Second Seminole War of 1835. Hudson plays Lt. Lance Caldwell, a recent West Point graduate posted to Fort King, which is run by the fanatical Major Degan (Richard Carlson). While Seminole never goes so far as to suggest that maybe the white people should just go back to where they came from, it does contrast the reasonable nature of the Seminole chief Osceola (Anthony Quinn), a childhood friend of Lt. Caldwell who only wants for his people to live in peace, with the unthinking hatred of Major Degan, who wants to force the Seminoles out of Florida so he can seize their land (he’s only following orders, of course). As is typical in movies of this type, there’s one principal female character, Revere Muldoon (Barbara Hale), who runs the local trading post, serves as a love interest to both Lance and Osceola, and appears in a stunning series of gowns whose colors are carefully chosen to contrast with the men’s military uniforms.
The Golden Blade (1953; Hudson is credited with appearing in 6 films in that year alone), directed by Nathan Juran, is an Orientalist fantasy that mixes aspects of the Arthurian legend of “The Sword in the Stone” with stories that draw on at least a westernized version of the spirit of the One Thousand and One Nights, a.k.a. the Arabian Nights. After seeing his father slain in the first few minutes of the film, Harun (Hudson) of Basra goes to Baghdad to seek revenge. There he acquires, by lucky accident, the Sword of Damascus, which can cut steel and protect the owner from injury—but these properties only hold for the true owner. Harun demonstrates he is The One by pulling it out of a rock pillar, after others have failed to do so. He also has time to foil an intended attack on Basra by the Caliph of Baghdad (Edgar Barrier), and to rescue the Caliph’s daughter Khairuzan (Piper Laurie) from a forced marriage to the evil Hadi (Gene Evans). While the film’s portrayal of Arabic cultures is absolutely cringeworthy, the costumes by Jay A. Morley, Jr., and the art direction by Bernard Herzbrun and Eric Orbom, are both positively dazzling.
Bengal Brigade (1954), directed by Laslo Benedek, has Hudson as Captain Jeffrey Claybourne of the British Army, stationed in northern India in 1857. While the Army commanders are British, most of the soldiers are Indians, known as sepoys, and of course the Army itself is far outnumbered by the population of the surrounding countryside. That’s an uncomfortable situation, particularly since both the Army and the locals are aware that 1857 marks the 100th anniversary of British rule in India, and some of the Indians would prefer to not be ruled by a colonial power. A series of skirmishes coalesce into what the Brits like to call the Indian Mutiny; from the Indian point of view, it was the First War of Independence. Claybourne is court-martialed and kicked out of the army after disobeying orders in an attempt to save some sepoys caught in an ambush, and later is offered the chance to lead troops on the other wide. He’s also supplied with two love interests, one British (Arlene Dahl) and one “native” (Ursula Thiess in about a ton’s worth of dark makeup).
If you’re looking for a chance to escape to a simpler time, if you’d like to feast your eyes on some old-school Technicolor filmmaking, or if you’d just like to see Rock Hudson’s handsome face in your living room, The Rock Hudson Collection may be just the thing for you. Don’t come looking for modern attitudes and sensibilities, however—these films are pure 1950s Hollywood product, and need to be understood in that context. In particular, you need a high tolerance for brownface acting, because that is one among the many Hollywood conventions on display in these films. | Sarah Boslaugh
The Rock Hudson Collection is distributed on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. The set consists of three Blu-ray discs in slip cases, contained in a cardboard slip box. Extras include audio commentaries for Seminole (by film critic Nick Pinkerton) and The Golden Blade (by film historian Phillipa Barry), and trailers for the films.