Zarak is a 1957 British-American CinemaScope adventure film based on the 1949 book The Story of Zarak Khan by A.J. Bevan.
It was directed by Terence Young with assistance from John Gilling and Yakima Canutt. Set in the Northwest Frontier (though filmed in Morocco), the film stars Victor Mature, Michael Wilding, Anita Ekberg, and features Patrick McGoohan in a supporting role.
Zarak Khan (Victor Mature) is the son of a chief, who is caught embracing one of his father’s wives Salma (Anita Ekberg). Zarak’s father sentenced both to torture and death but they are saved by an Imam (Finlay Currie). The exiled Zarak becomes a bandit chief and an enemy of the British Empire.
- Victor Mature as Zarak Khan.
- Michael Wilding as Major Michael Ingram.
- Anita Ekberg as Salma.
- Bonar Colleano as Biri (Zarak’s brother).
- Eunice Gayson as Cathy Ingram.
- Finlay Currie as The Mullah.
- Peter Illing as Ahmad.
- Bernard Miles as Hassu the one-eyed.
- Eddie Byrne as Kasim – Zarak’s brother.
- Patrick McGoohan as Moor Larkin.
- Frederick Valk as Haji Khan (Zarak’s father).
- André Morell as Maj. Atherton.
- Harold Goodwin as Sergeant. Higgins.
- Alec Mango as Akbar (merchant).
- Oscar Quitak as Youssuff.
The Real Zarak Khan
The film is based on a 1950 book, written by A.J. Bevan, which contained a foreword by Field Marshal William Slim. According to Bevan, the real Zarak Khan was an Afghan who spent most of his life fighting the British in the northwest frontier in the 1920s and 1930s. Among his crimes was the murder of a holy man. He eventually gave himself up and was sentenced to life imprisonment in the Andaman Islands. However, when the Japanese occupied the islands he stayed in his cell.
Khan was eventually given a suspended sentence and decided to work for the British in Burma. In 1943 he was leading a patrol when its British officer was killed in an ambush. He watched another British patrol be attacked by the Japanese and sent messengers to summon a Gurkha force. To stop the Japanese from escaping with their prisoners before the Gurkhas arrived, he attacked them single-handed, and killed or wounded six soldiers before being overpowered. He refused to be beheaded and insisted on being flayed alive to buy time to enable the Gurkhas to arrive.
Warwick Films bought the film rights in 1953. Producer Irving Allen said he was more interested in the character of Zarak Khan than the events described in the book. He was contemplating changing Khan’s nationality in order to offer the role to Errol Flynn. Eventually Allen decided to make a fictional account set in the 19th century. Regular Warwick writer Richard Maibaum was assigned the job of writing the script.
The movie starred Victor Mature, who had signed a two-picture deal with Warwick. He made the film after making Safari for the company.
Filming started in Morocco on 01 November 1955 with Yakima Canutt in charge of the second unit. Victor Mature joined the production on 19 November.
Ted Moore, who handled some of the Technicolor/CinemaScope photography, later performed similar work on the early James Bond films, and art director John Box and costume designer Phyllis Dalton later won Oscars for their work on Doctor Zhivago. Richard Maibaum, who adapted A.J. Bevan’s novel, went on to adapt such Ian Fleming novels as Dr. No, From Russia, with Love, and Goldfinger. Similarly, the director, Terence Young and co-producer, Albert R. Broccoli went on to create the Bond movies.
Stuntman Bob Simmons, who performed and doubled several stars in the film, noted that Victor Mature refused to ride a horse. When his stunt double Jack Keely was killed in a horse accident on the set, Mature insisted on personally paying for his funeral.
Patrick McGoohan portrays Moor Larkin, an adjutant to Michael Wilding’s character who has a penchant for billiards, as well as offering sensible, albeit ignored, advice. This role was commented on in the British cinema magazine, Picturegoer. The critic Margaret Hinxman made Patrick McGoohan her “Talent Spot”. She assured readers that this new face would be “really something”, given a “half-decent” part. She completely slated the film, however, describing it as “absurd”.
The popular chanteuse Yana sang her hit song Climb Up the Wall in the film.
Studio work was done at Elstree.
The original film poster was criticised by the House of Lords for “bordering on the obscene” and banned in the United Kingdom.
- The action sequences reappeared in John Gilling’s The Bandit of Zhobe (1958) and The Brigand of Kandahar (1965).
- It was remade in India as Zarak Khan (1963) by Harbans, starring Paidi Jairaj and Chitra.
- Victor Mature offered to pay for Jack Keely’s funeral after he was killed in a horse riding stunt making this film.
Production & Filming Details
- Terence Young.
- Irving Allen … executive producer.
- Albert R. Broccoli … executive producer.
- Phil C. Samuel … producer.
- Richard Maibaum.
- William Alwyn.
- Cyril J. Knowles.
- Ted Moore.
- John Wilcox.
- Alan Osbiston.
- Bert Rule.
- Warwick Film Productions.
- Columbia Pictures Corporation (1956) (UK) (theatrical).
- Columbia Pictures (1956) (USA) (theatrical).
- Columbia Film (1957) (Sweden) (theatrical).
- Kamerafilm (1957) (Norway) (theatrical).
- Columbia International Films (1957) (Netherlands) (theatrical).
- Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (2012) (USA) (DVD) (dvdr).
- Release Date: 12 December 1956 (Japan).
- Running Time: 99 minutes.
- Rating: A.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.