Thunder in the East (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: Jun 03, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Thunder in the East (Blu-ray Review)


Charles Vidor

Release Date(s)

1952 (May 14, 2024)


Paramount Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
  • Film/Program Grade: C+
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: B

Thunder in the East (Blu-ray)

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Thunder in the East, set in 1947 shortly after India received its independence, focuses on a group of British citizens living in India and an American gun runner who get caught up in political upheaval.

Steve Gibbs (Alan Ladd, Shane) flies a small plane filled with armaments into the province of Ghandahar, which is currently in danger of attack by guerrillas, to sell them to the provincial minister, Singh (Charles Boyer, Gaslight). Singh, however, insists upon trying to reach a peaceful resolution with the guerrilla leader, Newah Khan (Philip Bourneuf, The Molly Maguires). Singh refuses to meet with Gibbs and confiscates the weapons.

Gibbs secures a room at a luxury hotel where the British residents of the area tend to gather. There he meets Joan Willoughby (Deborah Kerr, From Here to Eternity) and her clergyman grandfather (Cecil Kellaway, Harvey). Joan does Gibbs the favor of arranging a meeting for him with Singh’s superior, the maharajah, but to no avail. The maharajah defers to the prime minister and immediately leaves the country for the winter.

Most of the British refuse to acknowledge the imminent danger they face—until they learn that those who did try to leave were killed. Gibbs offers to fly Joan and the others to safety, for a hefty price. They disdain Gibbs’ offer as blackmail and Joan turns against him. They assemble at Singh’s palace in hopes that the minister will unlock his vault and relinquish the weapons as the guerrillas approach.

The script, by Jo Swerling, is a collection of cliches and familiar plot devices and is hardly helped by the major miscasting of Boyer. The role of Singh is considerable, and every time Boyer is on screen, he distracts with his heavy brownface make-up and French-accented Gandhi-style platitudes about peace and civility. For the last third of the film, Singh mostly hangs around brooding. His idealism comes off as denial.

Ladd sort of waltzes through his role, trying to be a cool Bogart type of anti-hero, but he’s burdened by a weak script and Gibbs’ sketchy by-the-book character development. Deborah Kerr, in an otherwise thankless role, infuses her character with wistful charm. Joan is as much an idealist as Singh, living in a fantasy world where good triumphs over evil. She’s also literally blind, a heavy-handed metaphor for her obliviousness to the Indians’ seething resentment. In accordance with Hollywood’s “must include” screenwriting essential, Joan and Gibbs have a nearly instant romantic attraction. Her compatriots are stereotypical stoic Brits convinced of their superiority and apparently delusional when it comes to assessing their peril.

John Williams (Dial M for Murder), a character actor used often by Alfred Hitchcock, plays stiff-upper-lip General Sir Henry Harrison to the hilt, with a take-charge attitude toward his fellow expats and palpable condescension toward the locals. We believe he’s convinced of British superiority in all things and that putting up a good fight with inadequate arms is more important than keeping his people from being slaughtered.

Director Charles Vidor does little to enliven this torpid picture that calls out for more action and less talk. Though Ladd was a star when Thunder in the East was made, it appears to have been shot on a small budget. Vidor does create suspense when the guerrillas attempt to break down a heavy palace door. The director cuts back and forth between the door gradually giving way and the faces of the defenders inside. This scene suggests an exciting climax, but it never occurs and the film ends so abruptly, it’s laughable.

Thunder in the East was shot by directors of photography Lee Garmes and John F. Seitz (uncredited) on 35 mm black & white film with spherical lenses and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The Blu-ray features a 2022 HD master from a 4K scan of film elements. Contrast and clarity are very good and details, such as decor in the palace, Gibbs’ airplane, and costumes, are well delineated. There are occasional visible dirt specks, but they’re minor and infrequent and do not detract from enjoyment. The only special effect is a miniature plane used in one key scene. Cinematography is straightforward and mundane, with little effort to make sluggish scenes more visually lively.

The soundtrack is English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. English SDH subtitles are an option. Dialogue is clear and distinct. Hugo Friedhofer’s score is not distinctive and does little to pep up the film’s turgid pace. Sound effects include the plane’s engines, gunfire, and an explosion. To modern eyes, the film’s “India” is clearly studio sets and back lots.

Bonus materials on the Region A Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics include the following:

  • Audio Commentary by Lee Gambin and Elissa Rose
  • Trailer (2:20)
  • Lucky Jordan Trailer (1:35)
  • China Trailer (2:09)
  • Calcutta Trailer (2:20)
  • O.S.S. Trailer (2:06)
  • The Chalk Garden Trailer (2:49)
  • A Woman’s Vengeance Trailer (2:30)
  • Back Street (1941) Trailer (3:11)

Audio Commentary – The late author Lee Gambin and costume historian Elissa Rose share this commentary. Gambin provides an overview of Charles Vidor’s career, discussing his direction of The Lodger, The Bishop’s Wife, Hans Christian Andersen, and Gilda, among other pictures. Vidor was a fixture of 30s ands 40s films, worked a lot with Rita Hayworth, directed Doris Day in Love Me or Leave Me, and usually embedded some form of social messaging in his movies. Vidor is referred to as a “journeyman” director. Thunder in the East has a libertine sensibility. The film taps into the theme of the white savior. The make-up is by Wally Westmore, a fixture at Paramount for many years. He did Fredric March’s make-up for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932). At the time, white actors often played ethnic roles, so Charles Boyer’s brownface make-up as Singh was not unusual for the period. Deborah Kerr was excellent at playing innocence though she had an “earthy” sense of humor. She was not afraid to confront taboos in her films and would often insist that key elements of the drama be included despite the rigorous censorship of the 1950s and early 1960s. Kerr’s versatility as an actor is discussed and several of her roles are examined. Elissa Rose talks about the costumes worn in the film in terms of how they reflect personalities and how authentic they are to period. Nat King Cole recorded the song Ruby and the Pearl for Thunder in the East, but the song was never used in the film. The film is pretty dense but the last part becomes more intimate, with increased close-ups. The finale features a conflict within a greater war. The ending leaves uncertainty. Do the defenders survive? Are the guerrillas defeated? Thunder in the East is “a different kind of war film” because it lacks the brotherhood of an army regiment or a navy crew. It did not receive an enthusiastic reception, but Gambin calls it “an engaging, smart film that has a lot to say.”

Thunder in the East was filmed in 1949 but shelved by Paramount until its release three years later. It’s easy to see why the studio didn’t have a lot of faith in the project. The subject matter had possibilities but the execution was inept. It starts off well but gets sillier as it progresses. Despite a touch of Casablanca—a cynical hero falling in love with an idealistic woman—Thunder in the East is second-tier filmmaking with a sense of self-righteousness.

- Dennis Seuling