Terror of the Tongs [1961]

Icons of Adventure is a terrific quartet of picaresque features from Britain's Hammer studios, best known for such unique horror films as The Curse of Frankenstein and the 1958 Dracula, both starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Lee was also the star of three of the films in the Icons set, two of those colorful pirate adventures. The 1962 The Pirates of Blood River finds Lee playing a deceptively docile buccaneer, one-eyed Captain LaRoche, who convinces a fugitive from a penal colony to help him locate a Huguenot colony on a large island. The runaway prisoner (Kerwin Matthews) is actually the son of a colony founder, sentenced to hard labor for challenging the establishment's tight grip on personal freedom. When the hero discovers that LaRoche simply intends to overwhelm the colony and use it as a new base of operation, he leads the fight to protect the authorities who previously threw him into hell. The more elegant and engaging The Devil-Ship Pirates (1964) is a 16th century tale of a Spanish pirate, Captain Robeles (Lee), who convinces a small village on the British coast that Spain has won its Spanish Armada battle against England. Pretending to be an official, occupying force instead of a bunch of swashbucklers, Robeles rules the village with an iron fist while being hectored by a real Spanish naval officer who doesn't agree with his methods. Lee turns up again as the imperious leader of a cutthroat tong--a secretive, organized criminal society--in the exotic 1961 Terror of the Tongs. Geoffrey Toone plays the captain of a British passenger ship whose daughter is murdered by the Red Dragon Tong during the latter's attempt to find incriminating papers smuggled (against her knowledge) within her possessions. As the captain seeks vengeance, he gets close to the dangerous heart of the tong, which exacts punishment over anyone who does not cooperate by hacking off his or her fingers. The fourth feature in Icons of Adventure is very different from the others and doesn't involve Lee. The Stranglers of Bombay (1960) stars Guy Rolfe as Captain Harry Lewis, a career soldier helping to protect the interests of exporters the British East India Company. Stationed in India for years, Lewis has conducted a thorough study of a rash of disappearances and anticipates a military assignment to solve the long-running mystery. When the job goes to an outsider who knows nothing about India, Lewis works independently and discovers a religious cult called the Stranglers, who waylay travelers and steal their possessions. A tense thriller involving crazed rituals of bloodletting, torture, wild-eyed sacraments and poisonous snakes, The Stranglers of Bombay looks like an influence on Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. --Tom Keogh

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