'Maya' (1966)

by Michael Barrett

2 November 2012

cover art


Director: John Berry
Cast: Jay North, Clint Walker

USDVD release date: 16 Oct 2012

Terry (Jay North of TV’s Dennis the Menace, giving a rather shrill performance) is an impetuous boy who shows up to live with his father (Clint Walker of TV’s Cheyenne, mostly glowering), a big game hunter in India. The dad has gone to pot after nearly being killed by a tiger, and the disappointed boy hooks up with an Indian boy his age, Raji (Sajid Khan, who first appeared in his adoptive father’s Oscar-nominated Hindi milestone Mother India). Fortunately, Raji speaks perfect English, as does every illiterate villager they run across.

The boys embark on a quest to deliver a sacred white baby elephant named Primo to some distant place; Maya is Primo’s non-albino mama. While the boys and pachyderms make their perilous journey, they are pursued by Walker in search of redemption. Classic Indian comedian/filmmaker I.S. Johar appears as a one-eyed beggar who wants to steal Primo; his character and several others are dubbed by ubiquitous voice actor Paul Frees, or I’m a Dutchman. Non-Indian viewers probably won’t suspect that Johar is really the most distinguised actor in the cast; his wife Sonia Sahni also appears in an ambiguous role as the father’s lovely “housekeeper”.
Scripted by celebrated Los Angeles novelist John Fante, this bears none of the hallmarks of his books, and indeed he was adapting from other sources. To put it nicely, the story is never concerned with credibility. The most surprising element to modern viewers will be North’s rear nude scene; if remade today, they’d probably leave that out.

This kids’ adventure movie was shot entirely in India by producers Frank & Maurice King and director John Berry, so the location photography is the film’s real star. The Technicolor on this Warner Archive on-demand print is notably faded, so the scenery doesn’t have the vivid impact it should. This film became the basis for a TV series of the same name (1967-68) in which the boys went in search of Terry’s father. Perhaps this short-lived series will one day be issued, as well.



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