|Reviewer: Jeremy |
Review Date: April 1, 2010
Released by: Nu Metro Home Entertainment
Release date: 12/3/2008
MSRP: R59 (about $8)
Region 2, PAL
In January 2009 I spent two weeks in the city of Durban, South Africa, visiting a good friend and filling myself with the sights and sounds of a remarkable, though still very troubled, nation. Flying back to America in early February I found myself with a ten-hour layover at the airport in Johannesburg and, eager to get rid of the last of my local currency, I wandered into an airport DVD shop near my terminal. Most of the movies that this small shop carried were American, and thus readily available in Region 1 (including an unexpected local release of Friday the 13th Part 3
) and of little interest to me at that moment. Finally, after some searching the shelves, I discovered a number of old South African movies in generic-looking packaging, distributed by a company called Nu Metro Home Entertainment. With only about a hundred rand (at the time worth about $10) left in change, I chose a movie called Dr. Kalie
. Thirty-six hours later I found myself back home in California. It was two o’clock in the afternoon and I was so thoroughly jet lagged that sleep was impossible. So, drowsy and with my mind only half able to focus, I put the film in my DVD player and watched for ninety-five minutes as this surprising tale unfolded in front of me.
The storyline of Dr. Kalie
is really three storylines, each tied together by the mysterious title character (Siegfried Mynhardt
), a drifter who travels around South Africa with his companion, a cute little dog named Rexy. The first storyline shows Kalie and Rexy arriving in a quaint little seaside town aboard a double-decker bus, a bus which itself has been transported there on a train. As it turns out, the bus has been purchased by a little boy named Bokkie (Willie DeGroot
), whose grandmother (Wena Naudé
) is barely eking out a living and who has to take care of Bokkie and his younger sister. Bokkie bought the bus with plans to turn it into a mobile restaurant and make some money so his poor grandmother can buy a brand new kitchen, complete with modern appliances. Unfortunately a local businesswoman is unhappy with the prospect of having this upstart competing with her establishment and is scheming to put a stop to his plans. Can Kalie help poor young Bokkie realize his dream, or will his grandmother be stuck with her pre-industrial age kitchen for the rest of her life?
We then follow the action to a large city, as Rexy stows away on a moving truck full of furniture and becomes separated from Kalie. The truck drives to a nearby city where we meet Peter Vame (Brian O'Shaughnessy
), a middle-aged stockbroker who has just moved into a new penthouse decorated by Tiny Hutchkins (Reinet Maasdorp
), a beautiful young woman who makes a living as an interior designer. The two are instantly smitten with each other upon meeting, and they make small talk about the presence of Rexy, who, unbeknownst to them, arrives at the apartment in a piece of furniture the movers bring in. Tiny thinks that the dog belongs to Peter, and Peter thinks that the dog belongs to Tiny, and when Tiny leaves without taking the dog Peter sends his butler to bring it to her apartment. Thinking that the dog is a present from Peter, she immediately sets out on a romantic quest to win him over. The misunderstandings compound from there, leading to an amusing comedy of errors as the two almost-lovers try and sort the arrangement out.
The third and final storyline involves Kalie’s own history, as he tracks Rexy down to Peter’s apartment, where the two have a conversation. Kalie reveals that he has a son about Peter’s age, a son who he hasn’t seen in over twenty years. He shows Peter a four year-old newspaper clipping saying that his son has been appointed CEO of a candy company. Peter tells Kalie that the company in question is in deep financial trouble and may go out of business. Kalie travels to another city in search of his son Hannes (François Van Heyningen
), where he meets a precocious and imaginative young girl named Santie (Sandra Weiss
) who spends her time fishing off wharves at the port. Kalie makes contact with Hannes, who doesn’t realize that the dirty old stranger seeking work as a gardener from him is his own father, and he is completely preoccupied with his work problems. Somehow Kalie must help his son save his job and finally put closure on the events of the past that drove them apart so many years before.
South Africa is a multi-lingual nation in a way that no country in the global north is, with eleven official languages and another eight semi-official tongues. Even amongst the white population there is no ethnic homogeneity, with a large number of white citizens speaking English as their first language and an even larger number speaking Afrikaans (a Dutch dialect). I mention this because it is important with regards to Dr. Kalie
, and is also relevant to why I chose the film at the DVD shop at the Johannesburg airport, instead of the five or six other old South African movies there that were also released by Nu Metro. The cover art for the DVD, which was mostly in Afrikaans, said that it had “Afrikaans & ENGLISH” audio which, from my perspective seemed to mean that the disc had an Afrikaans language track and a separate English language track. Imagine then my surprise when I realized that the movie was playing in Afrikaans, and that I couldn’t select any alternate soundtracks from the menu or with the audio button on my remote control. Fast-forwarding, I suddenly realized that characters were now speaking English. Then, fast-forwarding more, characters were speaking in Afrikaans again. Then it dawned on me that the DVD only had one audio track because the movie itself was, by design, a bilingual experience. Even the opening credits are a mix of the two languages. I was chagrined to discover that there were also no subtitles on the disc.
Watching a film this way can be a strange reality to accept, but it’s clear that Dr. Kalie
was meant to be broadly appealing to both of the major white ethnic groups in its home country, and was probably not designed with international export in mind. There was no contradiction to that, as in South Africa then, as now, most native English speakers can speak Afrikaans and vice-versa. The movie is neatly divided into thirds, both thematically and linguistically. The first story is told in Afrikaans, with a small smattering of English. The second story is told entirely in English, and the third story in Afrikaans with a small bit of English. The first time I tried to watch the movie my sleep-deprived mind processed the Afrikaans segments without really processing them, giving me mostly a vague idea of what was going on. It wasn’t until I watched it a second time, fully rested and aided by an Afrikaans dictionary and an English plot summary I downloaded from the licensor’s website, that I could really make sense out of it.
Although my initial impression of Dr. Kalie
was that it was a mostly irreverent and silly comedy - there was a fair amount of slapstick humor, especially during the second act - the understanding that I gained from multiple viewings revealed that it was more sophisticated than I had initially given it credit for. The film was directed by a man named Ivan Hall, who gained a certain amount of international recognition in the late 70’s and early 80’s when he directed a handful of cult films that became worldwide hits, including the controversial Funeral for an Assassin
and the martial arts thrillers Kill or Be Killed
and Kill and Kill Again
with James Ryan. Dr. Kalie
was only Hall’s second movie as a director, and it has the playful energy of a young filmmaker who is just realizing that he has all these different tools at his disposal. From its almost epic scope to its unconventional narrative structure and its experimentation with different visual styles (it includes an honest-to-goodness animated sequence, as well as a flashback that is told with a series of stark black and white photographs), Hall really pulls out all the stops. Considering the huge mishmash of elements that he assembles it is almost astonishing to realize how well they all work together.
In large part what holds them in place is Siegfried Mynhardt as Kalie. Though the script gives him little screen time and even less dialogue during the first two acts, Mynhardt reveals himself to be one of those rare performers who is so captivating that he always holds the screen, and does so perhaps even more strongly when he is not speaking. With his wonderfully expressive face and crystal blue eyes, Kalie sometimes seems less like a human and more like a supernatural being, almost like a ghost haunting these characters. That is a particularly apt comparison for Kalie’s attempts to re-establish a relationship with his son, for to Hannes his father is literally coming back from the dead. As we learn, the outbreak of World War II found Kalie leaving his happy home life to join the South African Army and fight the Italians in Abyssinia. Injured on the battlefield and left behind, he was nursed back to health by a beautiful young girl. Later she was killed by enemy troops, and when Kalie finally returned to South Africa he discovered his wife had died and his son was gone. It was this shock and the feelings of guilt that had turned him into a homeless drifter. The revelations about Kalie’s past come forth near the very end of the film, and it is a beautiful scene for the way that it simultaneously tells the same story three different ways. Kalie explains the story to Santie, with Hannes listening, in the form of a fairy tale, where he was a king who left his queen and prince to go off to war. Santie takes the story at face value, while Hannes understands it as the metaphor that it is and we, the audience, understand it just as Kalie experienced it, for his tale is overlaid with a series of haunting black and white images showing exactly what happened to him.
has no internationally known stars in it to make it marketable outside South Africa, nor does it have a director with the same international reputation as a Bergman or a Kurosawa. This is a pity, because right now I doubt the world will ever see a release of it that can appeal to more than a handful of bilingual people outside of South Africa. But it is a stylish, well-made film with some genuinely moving and tender moments, and I’m very glad I took a risk on it at the Johannesburg airport.
I’ll close out this review with a little mystery that will be of interest to horror fans. Although certainly not a horror film in any sense of the word, Dr. Kalie
does have a name in its credits that stands out – Louis DeWitt, who, along with a cinematographer named Manie Botha, photographed the film. DeWitt also shot two other South African films made around the same time, Jy is My Liefling
in 1968 and Lied in My Hart
in 1970, the latter of which was also directed by Ivan Hall. He also directed a Shaft
rip-off called Joe Bullet
. If one believes the Internet Movie Database, this is the same Louis DeWitt who was active in American film and television from the early 1950’s to the beginning of the 1960’s. His name may not mean much to film buffs in general, but during this time DeWitt served as a special effects technician on a large number of 1950's horror and science fiction films, many of which fans of that period will instantly recognize. In 1952 he worked on a forgotten sci-fi film called Captive Women
. In 1956 he worked on the dinosaur-on-the-loose thriller Beast of Hollow Mountain
and on The Black Sleep
with Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr. and John Carradine. In 1957 - his busiest year for genre films - it was the great Kronos
, which he also served as a producer on, as well as the forgotten Pharaoh's Curse
, a killer fungus movie called The Unknown Terror
, the supernatural thriller Back from the Dead
, the Roger Corman directed Viking Women and the Sea Serpent
, the humdrum Voodoo Island
with Boris Karloff, the almost equally humdrum Edgar G. Ulmer directed Daughter of Dr. Jekyll
and the Forbidden Planet
follow-up The Invisible Boy
. Then in 1958 he worked on Roger Corman's War of the Satellites
, William Castle's Macabre
and the giant wasp film Monster from Green Hell
. The year 1959 saw him work on The Giant Behemoth
, The Atomic Submarine
and the Lou Costello solo effort The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock
. Then in 1961 he worked on The Phantom Planet
. During this time he also amassed television credits for series like Have Gun – Will Travel
But is the Louis DeWitt of Hollywood the same as the Louis DeWitt of Dr. Kalie
? Trevor Moses, a film historian with the South African National Film, Video and Sound Archives who helped provide me with information about this film, does not believe them to be the same man, and there is no hard evidence saying that they are. Most of the DeWitt credits from the 50’s are in conjunction with two other men, Irving Block and Jack Rabin. The three formed a partnership that provided special photographic effects to television and movie producers, and occasionally generated its own productions. The partnership seems to have broken up after 1961, as the three men share no further credits together. Jack Rabin continued to occasionally work in films until the early 1980’s, while Irving Block seems to have stopped working after 1963. The IMDb lists no more DeWitt credits until Dr. Kalie
and Jy is My Liefling
. The frustrating thing is that I can find no biographical information for him. With Block and Rabin we at least know when they were born and when they died. With DeWitt we don’t even have that. It’s quite possible that the IMDb made a mistake and there were actually two Louis DeWitts, but it’s also possible that the DeWitt of Hollywood was himself a South African, somebody who emigrated to America and then decided to return to his home country after the partnership with Rabin and Block dissolved. The fact that he has no credits after 1961 is a little mysterious. Considering the number of credits he amassed during the 1950’s, it seems inconceivable that he would have been unable to continue working on his own had he wanted to, especially in television, which was requiring increasingly sophisticated production methods as it moved from a live to a pre-recorded medium. It would seem that the DeWitt of Hollywood must have intentionally chosen to either leave the business, or at least leave California.
Nu Metro Home Entertainment presents Dr. Kalie
in a full-frame 1.33:1 presentation (which my sources say should be the correct aspect ratio), and the results are somewhat disappointing. This progressive scan PAL transfer features gorgeous, deep colors, and many exterior shots, particularly those during the first segment of the film, look breathtaking in the way they capture the lush greenery of the South African countryside. The same can be said for the psychedelic hues that saturate much of the second segment, and the seaport exteriors where some of the action in the third segment takes place, even though all three segments suffer from overly reddish flesh tones.
However, there are two downsides to this transfer. The first is that it is very soft looking, with lots of video noise and compression artifacts. The second is that the film elements themselves are in somewhat rough shape, with lots of specks, scratches and vertical lines present throughout the film. These two flaws mar what is an otherwise beautiful looking presentation.
As mentioned previously, the only audio option on this disc is the film’s original Afrikaans and English soundtrack, presented in Dolby 2.0 Mono, and the quality is acceptable for a foreign film made over forty years ago. Dialogue is crisply reproduced, and music and sound effects are reproduced with surprisingly strong fidelity. However, there is a thin layer of background hissing and popping that permeates most of the movie, although it is generally only noticeable in quieter dialogue scenes.
No extras of any kind are included on this release.
Would I recommend Dr. Kalie
? The answer is a cautious yes. In its present state of release it will appeal mostly to those who speak both English and Afrikaans (or Dutch), but that does not mean that someone with a command of only one of those languages cannot find enjoyment in it. For a film made by a director who was only just embarking on his career, Dr. Kalie
is wonderfully put together and remains in my mind for a long time after each viewing. The quality of this DVD is not ideal, and the film could have used a better sound and picture restoration, but with its low price (even without the favorable exchange rate this disc is cheap by the standards of South African DVDs) it can certainly be an attractive import.
Movie – B+
Image Quality – C
Sound – C+
Supplements – N/A
- Running Time – 1 hour 35 minutes
- Rated PG (South African rating system)
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- Afrikaans/English 2.0 Mono