Elephant Boy (1937)

elephant boy poster 1937 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 9/10

Nice images, great elephants, Sabu

Rather short, more documentary style than narrative

Movie Info

Movie Name: Elephant Boy

Studio: London Films

Genre(s): Action/Adventure/Drama

Release Date(s): April 5, 1937

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

elephant boy toomai sabu dastagir

Welcome to Hollywood, Sabu! (and a career of stereotypes!)

A young boy named Toomai (Sabu Dastagir) dreams of becoming a great hunter in India. Convincing his father (W. E. Holloway) and a hunter named Petersen (Walter Hudd) to take him on a great elephant hunt, Toomai finds himself being mocked by the other hunters. When told he can never become a hunter if he doesn’t see the elephants dance, Toomai wonders if he can ever achieve his dream.  Disaster strikes the party, and Toomai finds himself alone in the jungle with only his father’s elephant Kala Nag as a companion.

Directed by documentary filmmaker Robert J. Flaherty and Zoltan Korda, Elephant Boy was critically acclaimed and introduced popular Indian actor Sabu Dastagir. The movie is based on the short story “Toomai of the Elephants” from Rudyard Kipling originally published in St. Nicholas Magazine (December 1893) which was later printed in 1894’s The Jungle Books.  The film was released by the Criterion Collection under their Eclipse imprint as part of the Sabu! collection (Eclipse Series #30).

elephant boy baby scene

Eight babies were crushed getting this shot, but it was worth it…

The movie’s story is pretty simple. It is shot very much like a documentary at points which makes sense considering Flaherty’s background. The first part of the movie has a lot of scenes involving the life of a mahout (elephant herder). A great scene which couldn’t be done today, has Toomai carefully directing his father’s elephant Kala Nag to step over a baby. The second half of the story really brings in the plot with Toomai trying to prove himself to Petersen.

Sabu shows a nice screen premiere at Toomai and it is obvious why Zoltan went back to him for The Drum and The Jungle Book. Stylistically, he’s not the best actor, but it was a different style of acting at the time it was shot. The lines feel very delivered, but there still is a fresh youthfulness with him. He also really appears to be enjoying himself.

elephant boy toomai kala nag sabu dastagir

This is the worst type of bender…waking up next to an elephant

Kala Nag is almost another character in the film. The relationship between Sabu and Kala Nag is nice and the shots are real. Sabu was the son of an actual mahout so his experience with elephants was genuine. The intelligence of the elephants really comes through in the film and it makes you really want to see what it was like to see the creatures in their natural habitat.

Elephant Boy is a fun (and short) movie that is in the public domain so readily available online. If you are a fan of classic film and what some consider the golden period, you should check out Elephant Boy. It is a nice trip to the past of the British Empire and how it interacted with its people…for better or worse. The Kipling story was also used for a short lived Elephant Boy TV series in 1973.

Related Links:

The Drum (1938)

The Jungle Book (1942)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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