4 January 2009 | Bunuel1976
THE SPIRAL ROAD (Robert Mulligan, 1962) **
Rock Hudson seemed to want to alternate his trademark comedy and action vehicles with more meaningful pieces; this was one of them, but it's possibly the most wrong-headed he ever embarked upon! Sprawling but heavy-going and overlong, it tells of an atheist doctor's experiences in Java; from the start, the script makes it known that his motivation wasn't really compassion for human suffering, but rather to make a name for himself by chronicling the 20-year long research on leprosy by eminent but tough-as-nails medical authority Burl Ives! As expected, the narrative takes an episodic nature a visit to a leper colony, the unexpected arrival of the hero's fiancée (Gena Rowlands), a fellow doctor driven to madness and Hudson's own brush with the dangerous witch doctor (Reggie Nalder!) responsible, Ives' long-running friendly rivalry with a billiard-playing royal native complemented by Russell Harlan's gleaming widescreen photography and Jerry Goldsmith's rather over-the-top exotic score and obviously culminating in Hudson's 'salvation'. While there's a lot of melodrama going on (threatening the couple's relationship and the hero's own professional integrity), the film also features some incongruous injections of comedy (particularly Ives' deliberate slapsticky disruption of a gala dinner) but, frankly, it's at its most unintentionally hilarious when Hudson counters missionary (a completely white-haired Geoffrey Keen!)'s earnest counsel with cynical witticisms and his own unconvincing shaggy appearance when deranged (apparently, this scene even found its way into the opening of the legendary "Monty Python's Flying Circus" [1969-74] TV comedy series!).