Archive | June 2013

Kerala – Fruits of the Sea




I have good reason to like seafood. From childhood on, a delicacy from the sea would often find its way onto my dining table with occasional reminder from Mom of the true nutritional value of the fish and how it helps to grow strong and wise. I do not dislike other kind of food (except anything that crawls or with feathers) nor do I love all sorts of seafood. Actually, if I wish to be selective, I could do so since my home State of Kerala in the South-western tip of India bounded by the Western Ghats on the east and the Arabian Sea on the west, and a coastal line that stretches more than 360 miles long, has an abundant wealth of seafood.


Besides the lakes, ponds and paddy fields (where fingerlings are occasionally released), we have 41 west-flowing rivers here in addition to three east-flowing one and a continuous chain of lagoons and backwaters running parallel to the sea-coast. Then there are about 275 varieties of fish in India of which 175 species are reportedly in the coastal and inland waters of Kerala.



Far into the ancient times, the shores of Kerala saw the arrival of visitors and traders from afar. The sea grew into a decisive factor in the history of Kerala in the wake of the discovery of the monsoon trade wind around the first century A.D when a proper route cutting right across the Arabian Sea was established which enabled the marines to adopt the direct sailing from Aden in Yemen to Muziris in Kerala.


While a profusion of spices (1) went out in vessels like ‘dhows’; new religions, alien cultures and rulers breezed in. Looking back over the history of this State I note that, the people having come to terms with foreign influence were also remarkably tolerant of other people’s customs and ideas. And all along, this land strived to retain its natural beauty and resources.



Indian climate may broadly be described as tropical monsoonal climate. The southwest monsoon season of Kerala begins in early June and it coincides with the spawning season of majority of the fishes of the land, particularly shrimp.


To conserve the marine resources, more specifically, to prevent destruction of fish eggs and young fish from large-scale harvesting by fishing vessels, several studies had recommended that seasonal restriction is essential. Hence, fishing with trawlers or mechanised fishing boats is stopped during the breeding period, an annual feature since 1988 which blanketed 12 nautical miles of the sea from the Kerala coast.


Even though the ban would contribute to make the price of fish to soar, in an era of depleted oceans and endangered fisheries, the restriction on trawling is an appropriate and a responsible approach, especially when we read this together with reports that under pressure from deforestation, mining and the building of dams of the Western Ghats, an estimated 30 species have been lost over the past 60 years. In view of the welfare of marine resources and the numerous fishermen depending on the connected industry, the Government and state owned enterprises have set up ever-improving activities. Besides, the Church is also playing a good role for the welfare of the fishermen and their families.


At midnight of June 14 of this year, the annual ban on trawling came into effect which would give a bit of peace to some of those marine species swimming in the vicinity of Kerala. This 47 days break (until July 31) entitles the fishes to breed and groom and have a wonderful peaceful monsoon vacation in cooler waters when the ‘gentler’ Kerala is lashed with heavy rain and isolated thunderstorms.


As the monsoon drenches the highland, floods the midland and drowns the lowland of Kerala, soaking the thick forests, inundate agricultural fields and luxuriant growth of trees dominated by the coconut groves; the raging sea does its annual business to wreak havoc on the coastal life and encroach onto the sandy soiled shores and grab bits of land from the coastal belt.


With approximately 5,400 mechanised fishing boats registered in the State (2) now on compulsory holiday, thousands of fishermen, including some of those working in harbours and peeling sheds who lack material and educational advancement, face a period that is unlikely the best days of their lives.


Although such an annual period is foreseen; some fishermen make use of this period to sort out domestic matters and attend to maintenance of fishing units, while those with dilapidated finances seek temporary jobs elsewhere, all the while, ticking off the days for the ban to end to once again see their silhouettes reflecting off the water, to toil in their boats in the territorial waters – early in the morning, under the scorching sun, sometimes into the middle of the night while their women and children anxiously awaited their return with aches and pain in their heart and mind. Health is a gift those men took for granted – the energy they need for the tasks comes at the right time. It’s a unique personal connection that fishing creates between man and nature.


For these men, some trips are good, some not. And so, life at the sea is a buzz of many occasions, more smiles, less bitter or vice versa: the thrill of a good catch; the exhilaration when you hit Chakara (3); the extreme oppression of the weather and the strains of the job; the comradeship: its joy and pains; their mastery in the colloquial language laced with Portuguese and Jewish terminologies; their knowledge in the salient features of different kinds of fish and the taste of its roes; the happiness of seeing an occasional rainbow or a comet; of interrupted sleep on board, the constant alertness for warning signals of danger……


Good timber does not grow in ease –

The stronger the wind, the tougher the trees


Apart from observing from close quarters in harbours of Cochin, Vizhinjam, and Panaji, as well as from books and visual media, I have never set foot inside a fishing trawler. My cruise on board M/V Bharat Seema to the Lakshadweep Islands (India) and back was an awesome experience, especially to lie on the deck during the night and look up at the intense full moon glaring from the dark sky as the ship rolled from side to side shifting the wide horizon up and down. By far, I have seen the hustle and bustle of many beaches and markets of India including the Lakshadweep Islands, Thailand (Pattaya), Yemen (Hodeidah, Al Mokha and Aden), Italy(Venice), Portugal (Lisbon), Turkey (Istanbul) and few in England.


The wealth of imagery on some of these beaches is phenomenal. I have savoured the thrill of watching the arrival of fish laden boats to dock; observed the everyday scenes on the beach and the daily lives of the fisher-folks. These are human beings working alongside nature – in harmony with nature.


Having conversant with many in the field of fishing in Cochin itself, some of the stories they told have captured my imagination. The memories they stored away in their mental scrapbook: some spoke of the rhythms of their daily life as fickle and unpredictable as the sea; of their piscatorial gods of protection; the superstitions and their bravery. Once I heard a fisherman cooking up an anecdote of having seen a ‘stunner’ whale (Thimingalam) as big as the Venduruthy Bridge of Cochin (around 635 mtr); one spoke of an omen of misfortune about the crows while another about good aspects of seagulls believed to contain the souls of dead sailors.


There are fishermen who would not stop to count the number of fish they caught for fear that they will not catch no more on that day. A naturally right-handed fisherman, considered it unlucky to cast his line with his left hand. But one thing I read in a publication that I didn’t tell them for reasons you could comprehend is, if a fisherman had an (un-staged) quarrel and fight with his wife before going to sea, he can expect a good catch! What an idea!



In order not to miss the boat when the dark clouds gather under the sun, the seafood export-houses of Kerala do their annual stocking up (especially shrimps, Kerala’s “pink gold” much sought after in U.S.A, Europe and Japan) with the harvest of the sea well in advance to keep up with their regular outflow of exports. However, the dining tables around the State have no reason to panic about the fish factor. To substitute this shortfall due to the ban, Kerala’s good network of backwaters is breeding “nursery” for vast variety of fish, some of which the locals actually prefer more over those caught from the sea.


Exempt from the blanket coverage of the ban, the artisanal and peasant fishermen on canoes (traditional Vallom), with or without small motor, continue with their fishing activities in these backwaters traditionally rich with fish and clams or even venture out into the generally rough sea during the monsoon months to cast their nets at their own risk – while the trawler workers are saved from dangerous exposure to the rough sea due to the ban. In addition, freshwater fish is sourced from Tamil Nadu and from Aqua farms on the eastern coast of Andhra Pradesh.


Fresh and dried fish is a regular item on the dining tables in Kerala. With more than 70 edible varieties of sea beauties (4), Oh boy, this is heaven for a connoisseur of fish.



A preferred variety for many is the Green Chromide (Etroplus suratensis), a species of cichlid fish whose colour is most beautiful during the monsoon (June-September & October-November). A fresh and brackish water fish commonly found in South India and Sri Lanka, it is locally known as Karimeen (Eli-meenu/matak/ersa/erpe/eri menu/kaggalase in Kannada, koral in Bengali, Kundal in Odia), but also bears the name Pearlspot Fish due to the pearl-like white spots on its scales.


Distributed abundantly in large rivers, lakes, lagoons and estuaries throughout Kerala, especially at Alleppey (Alappuzha), this herbivorous fish has the perfect characteristics for fish-farming/Pisciculture (breeding, rearing, and transplantation of fish by artificial means). Karimeen commonly reaches 20 centimetres (7.9 inches) but the maximum length is twice that, a growth it achieves by feeding on filamentous algae, plant material, small worms/prawns and insects. Breeders are fed with conventional artificial feed prepared with rice bran, groundnut oil cake, etc. Even though fishing methods have continuously evolved and the opportunities for innovation have been especially good in recent decades, gillnets, which impose less impact on the environment, remain more prevalent in the local use to catch Karimeen.


Available throughout the year, many restaurants in Kerala cater dishes featuring the oval-shaped Karimeen as their star attraction in addition to other authentic dishes that forms part of Kerala cuisine (5).


One restaurant famous for Kerala cuisine, especially for Karimeen, is the Grand Hotel in Cochin where delicacies of this fish tops their Menu in different flavour and cooking methods (6). While cleaning this fish, after cutting off the gills with kitchen scissors, care has to be taken to not only remove it’s scales but also to remove a film of the skin with a sharp knife which can be done from the tail-end upwards, leaving a gleaming white surface.



It is served on board traditional tourist boats (Kettuvallams) (7) plying the scenic backwaters (a chain of interconnected rivers, lakes, inlets and canals) since its dishes forms part of an average tourist’s Kerala experience. Even Kerala has elevated Karimeen as the official fish of the State and to boost up its production and facilitate larger exports, observed 2010-11 as “The Year of the Karimeen”.


The restaurant of Grand Hotel is often filled with tourists resolute with their wish not to leave without savouring the good taste and flavour of this all-time favourite. This is also a preferred haunt of non-resident Keralites, especially those hailing from the Kuttanad region of Alleppey district who reminisce of their childhood at their houses beside palm-fringed rivers and lagoons where their mothers had displayed their culinary skills with this “upper-middle class” fish on their eating plates when it used to cost far less, unlike today when it is still dodging the cooking pots of the common man due to its overpriced cost.


Tradition and religion have played an important role in Kerala cuisine. Although it has a specialized local character of its own, Portuguese and British rule is evident in the cuisine of minorities like the Christians. In the heart of all this are the spices and every family has their own specialism in its mixture that is passed on from mother to daughter over the years.



Fish is a creative cook’s dream. Properly prepared, any palate will perk up at the taste of fresh fish. No doubt about it. Most of us have a favourite fish or seafood that is cooked in a certain way. From poaching to steaming to boiling to broiling to smoking to sautéing to grilling to frying, the ways for preparing fish are many.


With great seafood dishes ranging from appetizers, to soups to salads to pasta to burgers to curry to Sushi, cooking seafood right does require skills – especially when we consider the delicious, nutritious and healthy aspects of the meals.


Recently I came to know that the great opera tenor (late) Luciano Pavarotti shared a common interest with me. Like me, he loved to cook as well as eat. I learned of it the hard way when I was hitting singles during the last years of my stay in Yemen where fish is abundant but narrow on variety and availability of the right ingredients.


39Later, the wonderful wealth of cooking techniques so graciously shared to us by some of the brilliant chefs we befriended during our outings enabled me to cook up some impressive dishes whenever I get into the kitchen where life sometimes makes up its mind. But it was Carina who taught me the secret of making a good court-bouillon which I find a fantastic base for lobster. Cooking and enjoying seafood can be quite fun with all the variety and the related ingredients we have here. As long as the fun lasts, we are glad we can make the most of the fish we buy. Until next time. Ciao, Jo

(1)    Spices like pepper (Piper nigrum L/Kurumulaku), cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum Maton/Elam), cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum/karuvapatta/Elavangam), ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe/Inchi), nutmeg (Myristica fragrans/Jathikka), clove (Syzygium aromaticum/Grambu/Karayambu), turmeric (Curcuma longa L/Manjal), etc.

(2)    Registered boats: Data according to a local newspaper.


(3)    Chakara: When the temperature of the atmosphere increase, schools of poovalan shrimps living in the bottom of the sea rise up to the surface to enjoy the fresh water and coldness from the new rain. Another common explanation is that, the easterly approach of the south-west monsoon wind conjure up a current running perpendicular to the ebbs and tides forcing the subsurface water to come up with the fish swimming in the bottom. ‘Chakara’ is a rare phenomenon seen only in the coastal waters of Kerala between Kannur and Quilon during the southwest monsoon period. On June 24, 2013, a ‘Chakara’ of Poovalan Shrimps (Metapenaeus Dobson) appeared off the coast of Cochin. Another ‘Chemmen (Shrimps) Chakara’ occurred at Chavakkad, Trichur five days earlier to that when fleet of shrimps appeared a couple of kilometres off the coast.

(4)    There are crustaceans like shrimps, lobsters, crabs; sharks and rays (Elasmobranchii); King fish/Seer fish/Indo-Pacific king mackerel (Scomberomorus guttatus/naimeen/ayakoora/varimeen), Indian Mackerel (Rastrelliger kanagurta/ayala), Indian oil Sardine (Sardinella longiceps/mathi/naichaala), Pomfret Silver/Black (Pampus argenteus/niger/aavoli), Striped Mullet (Mugil cephalus/Thirutha), Malabar blood Snapper (Lutjanus malabaricus/chempalli), Mozambique tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus/tilapia), Tuna (tunnus albacares/euthynnus affinis/choora) and I don’t forget Dussumier’s ponyfish (Leiognathus dussumieri/mullen), et al.


(5)    For details on Kerala cuisine:

(6)     Karimeen Molly, Karimeen Pollichathu, Karimeen Vevichathu, Karimeen Mappas, Karimeen Varutharachathu, Karimeen Fry, etc.

(7)    Kettuvallams were traditionally used as grain barges. The present motorised houseboats are made of planks of jack-wood joined together with coir and coated with a caustic black resin prepared from boiled cashew kernels. It has covered accommodation facility with kitchen, built up using bamboo mats, sticks, wood of areca nut tree and coir for roofing and wooden planks with coir mats for flooring.

(8)    Painting: “The King of Cochin riding on an Elephant, attended by his Nairs” by Portuguese traveller Jan Huygen van Linschote (1562-1611)  – Source: Public Domain image in Wikimedia Commons

(9)    Painting: “Overwinningh van de Stadt Cotchin op de Kust van Mallabaer – Victory over Kochi on the coast of Malabar” by Coenraet Decker (1650 circa-1685)  – Source: Public Domain image in


This article is dedicated to the memory of my late paternal grandparents, Anna and Joseph, great connoisseurs of seafood.

(Photos: © Manningtree Archive)

Backwater-Campaign-Kerala 1

Backwater-Campaign-Kerala 2

Backwater-Campaign-Kerala 3The three images shown above: Photo courtesy: Kerala Tourism


StarChoice 19: Dark of the Sun


(Aka: The Mercenaries, Último tren a Katanga, Il buio oltre il sole, Le dernier train du Katanga, De Laatste Trein uit Katanga, Sista tåget från Katanga – Colour, 1967)

a2On July 20, 1973, Chinese/American actor Bruce Lee died in the apartment of Taiwanese actress Betty Ting-Pei in Hong Kong. Six days later, Lee’s martial arts film “Enter the Dragon” directed by American producer/director Robert Clouse (1928-1997) was released in Hong Kong, and the world was swept by Bruce Lee craze. But three years earlier, Clouse directed a film, an adaptation of author John D. MacDonald’s novel of the same title “Darker than Amber” (1970) which was the only Travis McGee novel adapted to the silver screen then.  I was one of the luckiest to have seen that cult film on big screen in Cochin, with most of the graphically violent (for its time) fight scenes between Travis and villain Terry (William Smith) intact although the DVD print I would own later suffered from missing moments which adhere to the reports that many cuts of that film exists. Most importantly, it was the film that introduced me to Australian actor Rod Taylor who portrayed the protagonist Travis McGee.

a3During my days in Yemen in the 1990s, TNT (Turner Network Television) was a great source for me to enjoy some of the movies of Taylor such as “The Time Machine” (1960), “Seven Seas to Calais” (1962), “The Liquidator” (1965), “Trader Horn” (1973) and Telly Savalas starrer TV movie “Hellinger’s Law” (1981). Unbeknown to me at that time, our subsequent travels would enrich the Manningtree Archive with DVDs of Taylor’s movies, viz., ‘The Virgin Queen” (1955), “Raintree County” (1957), “Separate Tables” (1958), “Colossus and the Amazon Queen” (1960), “The Birds” (1963), “A Gathering of Eagles” (1963), and “The Glass Bottom Boat” (1966) besides “The Time Machine”, “Darker than Amber”  and “Dark of the Sun”, a brutal tale of violence, greed, chicanery and lust amid the diamonds. I loved them all.


Produced by American producer/director George Englund and stylishly directed by Jack Cardiff, “Dark of the Sun” is adopted for the screen by Oscar-nominated Screenwriter Ranald MacDougal (1915-73 – for some reason credited as Quentin Werty) and Adrien Spies (1920-98) (with an uncredited materials by Cardiff) from the second published novel “The Dark of the Sun” (1965) by author Wilbur Smith, an established novelist popular in the reading circles.


Wilbur “Addison” Smith, born on January 9, 1933 in North Rhodesia (now Zambia), was educated at Michaelhouse and Rhodes University. A full-time writer since 1964 after the publication of “When The Lion Feeds”, most of his meticulously researched novels, usually set in Africa, fall into three series: The Courtney, The Ballantyne and The Egyptian. Smith’s books are not literary masterpieces, but they offer interesting reading – an appropriate criteria for many of his books to occupy a good length of space in a bookshelf in our house.


1950s and 60s saw a lot of political intrigue and action in Africa when most African countries achieved independence. Like using a lucky rabbit foot to rub for bringing luck, the conflicts in Africa were expressly used as an appealing topical background in lieu of coup d’état of Central and South American countries of the sixties (Ecuador, Argentina, Guatemala, Honduras, Bolivia, Brazil, Panama, Peru…..) to create box-office Hollywood action films. Such films accentuated mercenaries as the adventurous heroes fighting against local black liberationists. This phenomenon would extend to the eighties when we are shown actors such as Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Roger Moore portraying roles of mercenaries in “The Wild Geese” (1978) and become good guys.


The fictionalized events depicted in the movie “Dark of the Sun” (DOTS) is set during the Congolese Civil War (1960-66), to say, precisely during the Simba Rebellion of 1964 while in the novel these events are set during the Baluba Rebellion of 1960.

Although as late as 1959 the Belgians were still asserting their intention to continue governing the Congo, by January 1960 this policy was changed due to international pressure and they conceded full political independence. Thus, on June 30, 1960, Belgian Congo became known as “République du Congo“. Shortly, hordes of Europeans fled the country as certain provinces engaged in secessionist struggles against the new government. Although this opened a way for Congolese to replace the European military and administrative officers, the country was unprepared and devoid of any Congolese university graduates with serious administrative experience. Besides, none of the political parties or movement was stable enough to organise and prepare itself for power.


When the newly-independent administration collapsed due to strains and owing that the administration’s leader Patrice Emery Lumumba was eventually kidnapped and murdered on January 17, 1961, years of chaos waited ahead. In this context, extensive violence of the gravest nature was reported during the Simba Rebellion fought by the rebel fighters who were mostly tribesmen from the provinces of Kivu and Orientale. Being the antagonists in “DOTS”, they were archetypally called Simbas (Swahili word for “lions”) for sporting the spirit of lions and entertaining faith in their immunity to bullets during battle.


Synopsis:Dark of the Sun” opens with the arrival of a military aircraft carrying a hardboiled mercenary Captain Bruce Curry (Rod Taylor) and his partner Sergeant Ruffo (Jim Brown) at the main airport of the République démocratique du Congo where large crowds of people, having finished their departure formalities, were awaiting evacuation transport out of the country knotted in the Simba Rebellion.


Curry was brought in by the Congolese political heavy, the incumbent President Mwamini Ubi to undertake a dangerous mission to rescue a community of besieged Europeans (exactly 74 multinational persons) cut off for a month at an isolated diamond-mining town called Port Reprieve at the heart of the sub-Saharan Africa, before they are attacked by Simba rebels. A hard and very experienced man who knew that people like him were issued with their service contract only on their arrival, Curry is the right person to put together a force that is strong enough to journey through 300 miles of rebel territory and bring these people.


But according to Mr. Delage of the Belgium mining people, a collaborator of President Ubi and someone who remained inside the mainstream of palace power and politics, the mission is linked to the urgent need of Ubi to retrieve a cache of uncut diamonds worth fifty million dollars which is in the custody of Delage’s manager Superintendent Bussier in Port Reprieve. Normally it was in the vault of Banque Centrale in Port Reprieve where they kept the diamonds from all the mines in the northern part of the country.


The machinations of Delage involved a plot to finance the local government of Ubi to acquire much needed guns, planes and medical supplies, if only Curry could bring them the diamonds in exactly three days. Curry is also required to pick up a man and a woman of the mining company from half way up to Port Reprieve. Although the remuneration offered was 125,000 francs (according to the movie, about US$25,000/), President Ubi readily accepted Curry’s demand for US$50,000/- provided that Curry make the deadline.


In addition to Sgt Ruffo, a native of Congo, Curry enlisted the services of his alcoholic friend Dr. Wreid (Kenneth More) for the three-day mission bribing him with twelve bottles of Pinch (The Dimple Pinch) Finest Blended Scotch Whisky and US$100/- a day. At the 1st Battalion Quarters of L’armee Congolaise, he recruited Lieutenant Surrier who knows the country but Taylor had to grudgingly consent to include Nazi sympathiser Captain Henlein also due to his expertise in military affairs.


In addition to having secured necessary equipment, weapons and ammunition, five 50-calibre machine guns were strategically positioned on their mode of transport – a steam train no: 54 marked with “CHEMIN DE FER DU CONGO” on both sides of a rail-carriage. Spacing guard posts in the front, rear, middle and both sides, twenty of the best soldiers of the Striker Blue Force with combat experience were housed in each of the two flat cars with sandbags all around the edge.


After the mission was set into motion through the strife-torn UN-held territory, the initial physical assault to their moving train came in the form of a series of attacks by a fighter aircraft of United Nations peacekeeping Forces despite the fact that, on the strength that the train is on a mission of mercy, Curry carried a pass from the UN Headquarters to let his train go unmolested to Port Reprieve and back.


After overcoming the aerial attack with the train’s engine intact, the mercenaries could only secure the rescue of Claire (Yvette Mimieux) from the premises of the sugarcane plantation, since her husband was murdered by the Simbas and the mutilated remains of the members of their staff littered all over their burning property. Flustered by the brutality of the Simbas’ attack that resulted in the tragedy, Curry was at the receiving end of Claire’s blame for being late in rescuing them.


For now, Henlein started to brew up trouble at Masapa Junction by killing two native children as he suspected them to be rebel spies. Later, when Curry interrupted Henlein’s romantic advances towards beautiful Claire, he was forced into a vicious duel with Henlein that would fortunately end short of extreme disaster only by the timely interruption of Ruffo. The life of Curry was gradually turning into a  living nightmare – even before General Moses and his vicious rebels who infested Congo turned up on screen ……..


Jack Cardiff (1914-2009) had worked in Congo earlier during the making of “The African Queen” (1951) when the unit had suffered from the heat, insects and disease. But to overcome the problems of political and logistical nature in filming “DOTS” on location in the Congo which in fact Cardiff had personally scouted, the movie was finally filmed in Jamaica (though the end credits stipulateMade on location”) with interiors at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer British Studios Ltd, Borehamwood in England. Jamaica not only offered a suitable landscape but also the essential steam train for the mercenary expedition which forms a vital part of the story.  But then, director Jack Cardiff always had a penchant for seeking far off locations for his films.


a21Cardiff (nicknamed “Jack O’Lantern” for his mastery in “lighting”) had established a much deserved reputation as a superb colour cinematographer before he became known as a director of routine films, even then he undertook cinematographic assignments for movies. One of the first to use the Technicolor film camera, he became one of the photographers of actress Marilyn Monroe counted on to make her look beautiful.

Cardiff’s artistry has put in a great deal of splendid colour photography to many movies including Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger’s “The Red Shoes” (1948), John Huston’s “The African Queen”, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s “Barefoot Contessa” (1954), Richard Fleischer’s “The Vikings” (1958), etc. He won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Cinematography (Colour) for the visually breath-taking “Black Narcissus” (1947 – Dir: Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger) the lighting and colour palette of which was inspired by the works of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) while it is widely known that the spectacular Himalayan scenery you see in the movie was flawlessly created with matte paintings and filmed at Pinewood Studios. His memoir “Magic Hour: A Life in Movies” provides a record of how colour cinematography was developed in Britain. Cardiff would later work behind the camera for “The Dogs of War” (1980), another mercenary movie that is set in the fictional African country of Zangara.


Fascinated by Cardiff’s imaginative and picturesque colour photography on Errol Flynn starrer “Master of Ballantrae” and also “Crossed Swords” (Il Maestro di Don Giovanni) which included beautiful colour photography of the exteriors filmed in the picturesque hilly village of Lauro in the province of Avellino, Campania, Italy, Flynn made Cardiff  the director and Supervisor of Photography of “William Tell” (1953), a co-production by Flynn and his colleague Barry Mahon in conjunction with Italian producers which, if released, would have beaten “The Robe” (1953) to become the first feature film to be released in CinemaScope. However, the project was eventually abandoned due to contractual default by backers after completion of about 30 minutes of edited Pathé colour footage. Following the release of “Intent to Kill” (1958), his directorial debut, Cardiff helmed direction of two more films before directing D.H Lawrence’s “Sons and Lovers” (1960) which earned him an Academy Award nomination as Best Director and a Golden Globe.


Released in the UK as “The Mercenaries”, “DOTS” conjured up a lot of criticism during its original release for its graphic scenes of violence although Cardiff later opinionated that, in accordance with his research, the violence shown in the movie is already toned down by him in comparison to the actual violence that happened during the period. Although such violence seems almost restrained alongside today’s movies and despite the fact that the violence and tumult of this movie allows the viewer to contemplate on the imperfections of colonial rule and atrocities of the Simbas for self-government, Cardiff has effectively handled the script which offers flashes of poignant moments of friendship, affection and compassion.


DOTS” benefits from an excellent cast, led by Rod (Rodney Sturt) Taylor. Born in Sydney, Australia in 1930, Taylor came to United States in 1954. Upon earning a contract with MGM, his first leading role was in director George Pal’s “The Time Machine” (1960) when he met his co-star Yvette Mimieux. Taylor’s initial meeting with Cardiff was unexpected – occasioned when director John Ford fell ill and was substituted by Cardiff to direct “Young Cassidy” (1965), in which Taylor played the title role of the Irish playwright Seán O’Casey (1880-1964) – a role that was originally offered to Sean Connery. Having become good friends, the same year they re-united in Cardiff’s James Bond-spinoff “The Liquidator” for which Taylor received top billing above co-stars Trevor Howard and Jill St. John. “DOTS” would be their final film together.


Tough, hardened men, physically fit, mercenaries joined up for challenging assignments for a variety of personal and political motives. Taylor’s Capt. Bruce Curry is an intriguing personality – a veteran mercenary with the right background and temperament and clear motivations that flourished in a democratised version of a soldier of fortune.


Some has opinionated that the character of Curry is based on Indian born Thomas Michael (Mad Mike) Hoare, a mercenary “Major” with expertise in African military activities, especially his involvement in leading two separate mercenary groups during the Congo Crisis, in which one of his groups were to fight in the Simba Rebellion.


Anyhow, Curry is someone who still retained traditional values. Although he embodied duty, determination, restraint and responsibility, Curry’s ultimate aim is money and that clearly reflects in the film. The real purpose of Curry’s assignment was to retrieve the diamonds. Without the existence of diamonds, President Ubi’s intention to send the mission to rescue the refugees would not have become a possibility.


Although the film does not touch upon the final delivery of the diamonds to Ubi, we can safely assume that the diamonds were finally handed over to Ubi to empower his government with essentials. However, the ending of the film, reportedly devised by Taylor himself, earned disappointment of some critics for the opinion that, even though Curry honours his friendship to Rufus by turning himself in to Corporal Kataki for court-martial, such an act was not called for since he was only part of a proxy army, hired to be brave and brutal, and authorised to “do whatever is necessary” for the success of the mission.


Having been an amateur boxing champion prior to his venture into acting presented Taylor with the vigour and physicality to do his own action scenes in some of his nerve wrecking action films. When “DOTS” was filmed, Taylor, with natural hand-eye coordination, was in excellent shape for the terrific action scenes of the rugged, hard-boiled Curry which he did all by himself with exemplary flair, earning rave reviews from his fans as a role tailor-made for him. In fact, the audience loved Taylor for being capable to portray roles which demanded virility and dynamism while, at the same time, loaded with enough feminine sensitivity to touch the heartstrings of women. This was the potent mixture that soared Taylor’s popularity in the 1960s.


The thrilling action sequences showing Curry charging his Land Cruiser through the sun-baked terrain of the rocky mountain and river could be used as the ultimate footage for an ad of a four-wheel drive. It was reported that during his jump from a building into a jeep, he sprained his foot. Similar incidents occurred in another three occasions.


You see the dynamo Rod Taylor right there in the middle of the action, as guns blared from different firing locations, bullets whistling over the heads, grenades exploded. No wonder the movie is considered as one of Taylor’s best.  This is justifiable since the American film exhibitors industry bestowed him with a Golden Laurel award as one of the top action stars of 1968 for his performance in this old-fashioned entertainment.


The six-foot four, solidly built Jim Brown (born in 1936 in Georgia) stars as the dignified and hard-bitten mercenary Sgt. Ruffo. The macho counterpart of Curry and one of the positive assets of this film, Ruffo is a Congolese patriot who was educated in America as an exchange student and spoke four languages. Ruffo had uncompromising noble principles – his mind channelled on a bordered road to his goal, focused on the best traditions.


The script has taken liberties to use the interactions between Curry and Ruffo to touch upon the cultural issues and also, flash some light on the priorities and patriotism in the world of the mercenary soldier. It has also traced some of the little-known and sinister corners of activities in the Congo of the period – such as diamond mining, and the secret world of arms dealing. In one sequence, Ruffo tells Curry that he had come out of the trees by invitation and he will kill anybody who tries to send him back up again.  There was a certain finality to the way he said it.


Yet, in another sequence, Ruffo relates to Curry about his tribe’s primitive belief that if you eat the heart and brain of your enemy, his strength and wisdom will be added to your own. In a faultless diagnosis, Ruffo observes that such primitive savage tribal beliefs based on ignorance are no different than Henlein’s primitive savage tribal beliefs.


Brown was the major football player of Cleveland Browns’ from 1957 through 1965 before he switched his attention to acting as his choice of profession. He debuted in “Rio Conchos” (1964) which was followed by “The Dirty Dozen” (1967) in which he displayed his own brand of courage.


Back in the 1960s, Sidney Poitier was, as a reviewer once wrote, “the white establishments very own favourite black superstar”. He was liked and respected and though non-sexual, as a star he had “more charm and genuine acting talent than almost any of his contemporaries, black, white or polka dot…” In contrast, Brown reeked of testosterone. Well-built with imposing physical features, and moving with the undulating grace of a big panther, the sheer splendour of his physical presence filled the screen. The interracial love scene in “100 Rifles” (1969) featuring Brown in bed with Raquel Welch is considered momentous in cinematic history. However, at times, his imposing appearance and charisma conjured up negative skirmish in others. In his memoir “More of Less”, supporting actor Kenneth More CBE (1914-1982) mentioned about the friction between Jim Brown and Rod Taylor during filming “DOTS” which at times showed signs of settlement with fists.


German character actor Peter Carsten (aka. Ginter Ransenthaler, 1928-2012, -“The Quiller Memorandum” (1966), “Zeppelin” (1971)) was at his evil best as Henlein – a hardened career soldier who walked around with devil in his eyes and heart, a Swastika clipped to the front of his shirt. From the initial sequence itself the idea is to convey the impression that Henlein’s arrogant, confrontational muscularity always worked harder to attain hegemony. He is also a man of repressed desires, transgressive pleasures that the circumstances of his place of existence denied.


While Henlein’s sadistic villainy is projected through many sequences: the cold-blooded shooting of the two native children; his vicious fight with Curry wielding a nasty-looking whizzing chainsaw which culminates in Curry forcing his head on the rail-track before the approaching train; and the final duel – all of which are further heightened by his sympathy towards Nazis.


At length, Carsten’s acting (his vocals are partially dubbed by American voice actor Paul Frees (1920-1986)), has conveyed the appropriate menace to his rabble-rouser scenes that would generate necessary revulsion towards Henlein in popular imagination and guide audience’s expectation for his comeuppance which would eventually come in a frighteningly realistic eye-for-an-eye revenge fight.


Kenneth “Gilbert” More (1914-1982) portrays the role of the drunkard medic Dr. Wried in perfect abandon. When Dr. Wried decided to be part of Curry’s mission, he knew that for the next three days or maybe longer there would not be any time for comfort and security other than some time for his bottles until, he chanced upon the opportunity for redemption – to finally sacrifice himself for his chosen profession. “DOTS” apparently offered him just the type of role that More wanted to play during a time his career was slipping, pushing him to become a major TV star with “The Forsyte Saga”.


Pushing fifty during the filming of “DOTS”, More was going through a bad patch in his marital life. In 1968, he left his second wife Mabel Edith Barkby for English actress Angela Douglas, whom he had met in 1962 on the set of “Some People” and married her in March, 1968.


Strikingly beautiful American leading lady Yvette Mimieux’s Claire was a character both admired and derided, desired and vilified. The sole survivor of the massacre at the sugar plantation, Claire, with her thick, sun-gilded blonde hair, her trim figure attired in cotton shirt and tight trousers, lacks much prominence in the movie other than to indulge in some translation work and also to make romantic astrological stars look favourable to Curry, yet, more than ever, the film has used Henlein’s fascination for her as an object of desire to emphasise the decadence of his character.


The 5’4” petite blonde Yvette “Carmen” Mimieux started appearing in movies almost straight from the college, debuting with “The Time Machine“. Her further appearances are in “The Light in the Piazza” (1962), “The Neptune Factor” (1973) and “The Black Hole” (1979), etc.


It’s an unwritten fact that in every woman there is beauty – in all of them – one way or the other. For some, it’s so obvious – for others, you have to look for it. But it is there for the discerning eye to see. When I think of starriest screen queens such as Mae West, Katharine Hepburn, Doris Day, Marilyn Monroe, Barbara Stanwyck, Rita Hayworth, Sophia Loren, and Gina Lollobrigida, I note that Mimieux had a wholesome sexuality that made her clean-cut as Sandra Dee though as sensuous as Brigitte Bardot. Something smoulders and sizzles in her and there, in her blue eyes were a trace of pensive sadness – and emotions begin to grow.


In fact, Mimieux was once hailed by the media as America’s answer to Brigitte Bardot. A quote attributed to director George Pal once described the curvaceous Mimieux, winner of many beauty-awards,  as “a cross between a fairy princess and Brigitte Bardot”. Ever conscious of her figure, the movie’s Press Book states that when she was not before the camera filming “DOTS”, to maintain her trim figure, Mimieux spent her free time scuba-diving and skimming the surf of the Caribbean.


Mimieux’s contribution into music is an LP by The Connoisseur Society titled “Flowers of Evil. Charles Baudelaire” (1968) in which she collaborated with the Indian music maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (1922-2009).


The other supporting actors are British character actor Andre Morell (Bussier, the keeper of diamonds), French newcomer Olivier Despax (young Belgian Lieutenant Surrier), Guy Deghy (Delage), Bloke Modisane (Corporal Kataki), West Indian leading man Calvin Lockhart (President Ubi), Alan Gifford (Jansen of Life Magazine), David Bauer (Adams of International News), Murray Kash (Cochrane), John Serret (Father Dominic), Danny Daniels (ruthless Sambas leader General Moses), Monique Lucas (Madame Bussier), Louise Bennett (Mrs. Ubi), Paul Jantzen (Captain Hansen), etc.


Filmed in Panavision in beautiful Metrocolor by British cinematographer Edward “Ted” Scaife (“Khartoum”, “The Dirty Dozen”) (with uncredited camerawork by Jack Cardiff), the film is graced with the enthralling and haunting music score composed and conducted by French pianist and composer Jacques Loussier – a cut above the usual and a strong element of the film. Starting with Spanish film “The Happy Sixties” (1963 – Los felices sesenta), Loussier has composed scores for nearly seventy films which includes “Monique” (1970), TV series “Thierry la Fronde” (1963-66), etc. A licensed pilot, Loussier is also reputed for his jazz improvisation of many of Johann Sebastian Bach’s compositions.


While the costumes, props and pyrotechnics conform to the period, the make-up at times lacks the continuity. The film also suffers from continuity: In the beginning of the movie, you are shown the military aircraft about to touch the airstrip while in the subsequent scene, we see the expatriates looking up at the sky to the sound of the approaching aircraft.


In another sequence, we see a passenger fall off the train while in the next scene the same man fell again through the window into the depth below. Other main members of the crew consists of: Ernest Walter (Film Editor – “Adventures of Quentin Durward”), Elliot Scott (Art Director), Cliff Richardson (Special Effects), Douglas Twiddy (Production Manager), Alan McCabe (Camera Operator), etc.


Right now, the internet is strife with estimations of scenes of love, hardcore violence and gore allegedly missing in the released versions of “DOTS”. These estimations somewhat conforms to the established length of the movie. Besides, certain abrupt transitions in scenes can be noted during the violent scenes at Port Reprieve.


Pictures of Curry and Claire embracing and kissing depicted in the art of promotional Posters and the movie’s Press Book are certainly missing in the DVD of a 2011 Spanish release with a duration of approximately 101 minutes which I have in my collection. But I cannot vouch for my vague remembrance of such scenes in the version I had seen on the TNT Chanel in Yemen some eighteen years ago. I would believe that it would no doubt merit restoration of any missing scenes to the movie’s entirety.


In spite of the above aspects, which not at all dampen an engaging cinematic experience, the conflict between the wills of a tough but dedicated Curry, villainous Henlein and the savage hordes of Simbas of the movie ensure that “Dark of the Sun”, packed with an effective and suspenseful script, appropriate locations, good acting, topped by uncompromising action and hardened violence, befits an entertainment of the rough category. Go one better. Watch it with a stiff drink.


a)   As the end credits states, this film is “Suggested For Matured Audiences”.

b)   The DVD of this movie is available with main dealers such as, TCM Shop, etc.

c)   Read the novel “The Dark of the Sun” by Wilbur A Smith.

d)   Original soundtrack album “Dark of the Sun” is available with main dealers.

e)   This illustrated article is meant for the promotion of this movie. Please refer to “About” for more details.

f)    A glance backward: This review is dedicated to the memory of Jack Cardiff, OBE, finest of the British colour cinematographers.



(Text: © JS/Manningtree Archive)