Reviews and notes
This project originated in discussion with the documentary film-maker Robert Flaherty and Alexander Korda in early 1935. Korda had first met Flaherty in Hollywood at the end of the twenties and considered him one of the masters of cinema. By 1935 Flaherty was in great need of money, and since in Britain the word's 'profit' and 'money' were then inextricably linked with the name Korda, he decided to go to Korda with his idea for making a film about 'a boy and an elephant'. Korda was most receptive to Flaherty's ideas and to the thought of adding Flaherty's prestigious name to the London Films banner. Each man secretly believed that he was going to derive the greater benefit from their association... It was Korda who had first suggested Kipling's Indian story Toomai of the Elephants
as a possible framework for the story.
Once back in England, Flaherty had almost no control over the last stages of production on ELEPHANT BOY
... British writer John Collier was brought in to construct a simple story which could be filmed at Denham and then interwoven with the Flaherty material. Zoltan Korda (Alexander's brother) directed these story sequences in six weeks...
In spite of the erratic course which the production had followed, ELEPHANT BOY
was far more successful than anyone connected with it would possibly have imagined. It turned out to be a solid entertainment film, (Korda's contribution) centred around a romantically observed and touching relationship between a boy, Sabu (Toomai) and his elephant Kala Nag (Flaherty's legacy). The fictional plot did take great licence with Flaherty's documentary facts ... but its main virtue was its simplicity ... Only Sabu's unnecessary prologue and the dreadful 'model elephant' and 'rubber feet' special effects of the Elephant Dance sequences do a direct disservice to the integrity of the Flaherty footage...
For one year Flaherty was able to film in India at Korda's expense, and some of his footage became the core of a popular commercial film. We may regret that ELEPHANT BOY
is not 100% Flaherty, but in the final analysis 50% of Flaherty is better than 100% of many other directors...
The ironic epilogue to the two-year saga of ELEPHANT BOY
came later in 1937, when the film received the 'best direction' award at the Venice Film Festival.
-Karol Kulik, Alexander Korda.
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