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Old 04-01-2010, 08:10 AM
Closet SCREAM fan
 
Scored: 6
Views: 6,481
Dr. Kalie (R2 PAL)




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
Progressive Scan
Full-frame 1.33:1
1968


inline ImageIn 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 Story

inline ImageThe 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?

inline ImageWe 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.

inline ImageThe 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.

inline ImageSouth 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.

inline ImageWatching 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.

inline ImageAlthough 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.

inline ImageIn 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.

Dr. Kalie 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.

inline ImageI’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.

inline ImageBut 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.

Image Quality

inline ImageNu 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.

Sound

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.

Supplemental Material

No extras of any kind are included on this release.

Final Thoughts

inline ImageWould 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.

Rating


.
Movie – B+

Image Quality – C

Sound – C+

Supplements – N/A




Technical Info.
  • Running Time – 1 hour 35 minutes
  • Color
  • Rated PG (South African rating system)
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • Afrikaans/English 2.0 Mono

Supplements
  • None

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Old 04-01-2010, 08:11 AM
Closet SCREAM fan
The following review was written by Trevor Moses, of the South African National Film, Video and Sound Archives. Mr. Moses is a historian of South African cinema and was a personal friend of the late Ivan Hall. He graciously helped answer my questions about Dr. Kalie and agreed to write an additional article for us to help correct the lack of online scholarship relating to the film.

inline ImageDr. Kalie was produced in an era which most South African film historians including myself refer to as the golden age of cinema in what is one of the oldest film industries in the world, now 114 years young, and is also the oldest film industry in Africa, no matter what the Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene would have you believe. Charlize Theron is also not the first South African to win an Oscar - that honour belongs to the Cape Town born cinematographer Ted Moore BSC, the eminent photographer who lensed such little known films as Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, the first South African western genre film The Hellions and won for his work on Fred Zinnemann’s A Man For All Seasons. The main problem with South African cinema is that many of the films made in its’ golden era never saw release overseas because of South Africa’s supposedly unique apartheid laws and its’ subsequent isolation because of said laws. Happily, many of these films from the golden age are becoming available on DVD for the first time ever, most many years after they were first released on the local cinema circuit.

inline ImageThis golden era which lasted from approximately 1963 to the early 1970’s produced many films which are now known to be classics of their time and many of them, such as Die Kandidaat (The Candidate), Katrina and the eerie Jannie Totsiens (Johnny Farewell) from 1968, 1969 and 1970 respectively, challenged the government of the day outright. The fact that all three were directed by an Afrikaans filmmaker of note named Jans Rautenbach caused the government and especially the fearsome Publications Control Board (i.e. the censors) to have sleepless nights over the fact that one of their own was challenging the apartheid laws indirectly through the medium of film. That forms the reason for my controversial opinion that South African filmmakers made better films under the thumb of apartheid than they do now because if a message film was required, the message had to be sneaked in. For example, Rautenbach’s controversial, frightening and funny Jannie Totsiens dared to imply that the SA situation circa 1970 was akin to that of a lunatic asylum with the head of the institution being as mad as the people he cares for.

inline ImageThe late Ivan Hall made his first film as director in 1966 with the musical war melodrama The Kruger Millions which was released in 1967 - and yes, songs are sung throughout the film by its’ singing star Gé Korsten, right up until the point where British troops are put to flight by a thundering herd of elephants and a Boer heroine throws herself over the mouth of an-about-to-go-off cannon to prevent any further hostilities between the warring sides. Dr. Kalie was Ivan Hall’s second film as director and his first story credit, which screenwriters Calvyn van Niekerk and Pieter Schreuder turned into a shooting script. The focus of this film which has three major plot devices is on “Dr.” Kalie Muller, a scarred World War II veteran who, due to horrific personal circumstances after his return home years after the war ended, becomes a wandering hobo who inadvertently causes revolutions in the lives of people he meets throughout his travels in search of redemption and his long lost son.

inline ImageWith an extraordinarily eerie beginning photographed by Manie Botha and Louis DeWitt and set to a haunting theme sung by Cornelia and written by David Marks, the opening scenes filmed in Mossel Bay depict Kalie arriving in that town, sitting in a old double decker bus which is being transported in a goods train and feeding his dog Rexy. One of the town’s children bought the bus with money saved so that he could help his grandmother open a street café on said bus but the owner of the town’s café has a major problem with competition. She eventually ends up buying the bus at an auction organized by Kalie, the upshot of which leaves the boy R1000 to the good and leaves the snotty shopkeeper with a runaway bus which nearly destroys the town - this is a comedic highlight. The runaway bus plunges off a cliff and crashlands in the ocean, much to the delight of everyone, especially the OAP in the town who sees everything as the devil. (“Red! It’s the colour of Satan!” and when the bus’ towline snaps “Satan is loose!”). The old man seeing everything as the work of Satan is a sly dig at the Afrikaner Nationalist inspired paranoia of the day in which everything - television, naked breasts in magazines, expletives in films and women wearing mini-skirts included - was seen as being of the devil himself. Just for those that do not know, television was banned in South Africa up until 1975.

inline ImageAfter his dog climbs into a removal van and lands up in another city, Kalie goes in pursuit of his friend and fellow traveller - little knowing that his dog will lead him back to his past there. The second part of this portmanteau film starts here as we meet two playboys and the women in their lives - to call their love lives chaotic is to put it mildly and the unfortunate Kalie finds himself in the middle of all of this mess. Despite the chaos in his life, one of the playboys inadvertently points Kalie in the direction of one Hannes Muller, whom the viewer is led to believe is Kalie’s long lost son. After rescuing Rexy from the playboy’s neurotic girlfriend (and setting up a reunion and engagement between the two), Kalie attempts to find his son and redeem himself.

inline ImageOnce finding Hannes and a little girl named Santie who appears to spend most of her time at the docks fishing, Kalie pleads for work as a gardener and, much to his surprise is taken on and given accommodation in Hannes’ house. The third part of the film starts here - the actual start of the film as Kalie gradually starts to redeem himself for what he had done twenty years previously. He inspires Hannes to upgrade his company’s line of chocolates into something more special which makes the old guard angry and the board fires Hannes, until the company stock goes soaring as a result of the new taste of the chocolates, so Hannes is re-hired and promoted.

inline ImageAll is seemingly going well until Rexy is bitten by a cobra and dies - Kalie then leaves what has become his home because of this trauma but is brought back where he talks to Santie and the members of the board in a meeting. Using his life as a fairytale, Kalie explains to Santie what he once was and what happened to him. He describes himself as a king, his wife as his queen and his son as a prince, all the while looking at Hannes. He tells Santie that war broke out and the king went off to war, where he was grievously wounded and cared for by a peasant girl, who herself is later shot by the enemy. Kalie cares for her but she dies of her wounds, leaving Kalie to come back to South Africa where he finds that his house is empty, his wife has died and his son has gone.

inline ImageHannes realizes in a split second that this old man is his long lost father who, through pain and anguish, has left the world behind in order to try and atone for his sins, or what he perceives to be sins. While Kalie does not say or acknowledge that Hannes is his son, the looks that pass between them say as much. Through his assistance of others and general helpfulness, Kalie has redeemed himself, if not in the eyes of everyone (to whom he is just a hobo), then certainly in the eyes of his prince. Santie also gets her wish - golden bells to welcome worshipers at her small church. On entering the church dressed in a smart suit, Kalie sees a vision of himself as he once was - sitting on a coiled rope with Rexy in his arms. Borrowing Santie’s fairy wand, he waves it at the vision of himself, which vanishes.

Last edited by Jeremy; 04-01-2010 at 08:24 AM..
 
 
Old 04-02-2010, 05:04 AM
HackMaster
Sounds interesting.I'm ashamed to admit I haven't seen all that many African films.They seldom screened at our arthouse cinemas.DVD looks like my best shot to catch up on some of their offbeat pics.
 
 
Old 04-02-2010, 06:08 PM
Moderator
This started out as an April Fools joke, but Jeremy you certainly went above and beyond. The scholarship behind this unknown little film is a lot more than even a dedicated African cinema site could possibly ask for. Great job, and definitely a film to add to the cue...if I can find it!
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Old 04-09-2010, 10:16 AM
Screamy Bopper
Thanks for the wonderful review, Jeremy and I'm glad that South African films are finally getting out there. That makes my job of film preservation worthwhile after 20 years of doing it.

Incidentally, I can clear up the Louis DeWitt issue for you. I spoke to Koos Roets ACS who was a friend of his and the Louis DeWitt that worked on the USA films you mentioned is not the one that worked on 'Dr Kalie'. Unfortunately, Louis DeWitt was killed in a traffic accident in the 1970's.

May I suggest Jans Rautenbach's "Jannie Totsiens" for your next review?
 
 
Old 04-10-2010, 06:17 PM
Closet SCREAM fan
Hey Trevor - Thank you for the kudos! That's a real pity about DeWitt, he must have been quite young. Dr. Kalie is such a gorgeous looking movie, I'm sure he could have become quite accomplished had he lived. I'll correct the IMDb entry for them.

Incidentally, next week I plan on ordering a batch South African movies from Kalahari. I didn't realize Jannie Totsiens had become available until I looked just now, but that's a definite, as is Die Kandidaate. I will probably pick up a couple others like Ses Soldate and maybe Lord Oom Piet as well.
 
 
Old 04-14-2010, 08:23 AM
Screamy Bopper
The other movies that I can recommend are:

Katrina
Jannie Totsiens (I have a translated script of this)
Nukie (which will be released in May)
Lord Oom Piet (very funny)
Wild Season
 
 
Old 04-18-2010, 01:44 AM
Johnny Hallyday forever
This looks very interesting indeed.
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