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Elephant Boy

Elephant Boy(1937)


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The onscreen credits include an acknowledgment of the assistance of His Highness, the Maharajah of Mysore. According to the film's pressbook, the production required fifteen months of location filming in India, as well as two months of supplemental filming of interior sequences at the Denham Studios of London Films. According to New York Times, while attempting to cast the role of Toomai, Robert Flaherty met Captain Ralph Fremlin, a coffee plantation owner and well-known Indian big-game hunter, whom he cast in the role of Petersen. This was the first film for actor Sabu, who was discovered after eight weeks of casting at the teak plantations of India by Osmond Borradaile, chief cameraman of the expedition. Borradaile discovered Sabu in the Mysore palace elephant stables, as the twelve-year-old orphan's father had been one of the Maharajah's mahouts. The young boy's life so closely paralleled the film's story that some of Sabu's actual life experiences were incorporated into the film. The pressbook also notes the following about the filming of the climactic "keddah" sequence, which was the capture of eighty wild elephants into a giant enclosure: it took eight days to drive the elephant herd into the stockade, requiring to assistance of 1,100 natives, thirty-six mahouts on elephants, 200 "beaters" and ten government officials; the stockade itself took fifteen days to build, and was made up of over 10,000 pieces of lumber; and the capture itself was the largest in the history of the Mysore district.
       The following information was derived from modern sources: Because of the success of Flaherty's earlier films, Nanook of the North (1922) and Man of Aran (1934), producer Alexander Korda agreed to finance a similar film set in India, though Korda insisted on some story outline before production began. When Flaherty suggested the story of a young boy and his elephant, Korda advised him to use Kipling's short story "Toomai of the Elephants" as his outline. Flaherty arrived in India in May 1935. After eight months of filming, which included many delays due to the monsoons, Korda became concerned over the runaway cost of the production, as it was already triple the film's original 30,000 pound budget. Monta Bell was sent to India in order to incorporate the "ghost elephant" element of the novel Siamese White into the film, though this element was soon removed. Later, Bell was joined in India by Zoltan Korda, who directed a second camera unit. In January 1936, the "Keddah" sequence was finally filmed. In June 1936, filming in India was completed, with approximately 300,000 feet of footage shot. With no clear story-line, Korda decided to incorporate a story devised by John Collier into the India footage, which was filmed at Denham Studios under the direction of Zoltan Korda. Sabu was brought to England from India for this filming, but Captain Fremlin was replaced in the role of Petersen by Walter Hudd. Modern sources include Scr ed Lajos Biro, Production Assistant Andre de Toth, Production Manager Fred Elles and Teddy Baird, 2nd Unit Cam Bernard Browne, and Prod liaison David B. Cunynghame in the production. The National Board of Review rated Elephant Boy one of the best foreign films of 1937, and Zoltan Korda and Robert Flaherty were chosen best directors at the 1937 Venice Film Festival.