Man-Eater of Kumaon (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stuart Galbraith IV
  • Review Date: Apr 04, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
  • Bookmark and Share
Man-Eater of Kumaon (Blu-ray Review)


Byron Haskin

Release Date(s)

1948 (February 13, 2024)


Universal-International (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
  • Film/Program Grade: C-
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: B-

Man-Eater of Kumaon (Blu-ray)

Buy it Here!


A title like Man-Eater of Kumaon (1948) begs the question: Why did Kino license this? Produced independently for release through Universal-International (by Shaff Productions, their only film), this is a cheap but pretentious existential jungle movie with little to recommend it. It’s unusual in a couple of ways, but its unusualness adds nothing, it only makes it a little different from other cheap, less ambitious films of this type.

The film’s story is loosely suggested by incidents in hunter-naturalist Brit Jim Corbett’s 1944 bestseller, Man-Eaters of Kumaon, a collection of ten stories of Corbett’s adventures in 1900-1930 India. In the film, in the jungles of Kumaon in Northern India, American doctor John Collins (Wendell Corey), billed in the credits simply as “The Hunter,” having abandoned his practice after separating from his wife and child, is hunting Bengal tigers. He shoots one but only injures its paw, and as the script exhaustively points out, an injured tiger is even more dangerous than an uninjured one, for injured tigers are apt to become man-eaters.

Weeks later, after recovering from malaria, Collins finds a starving boy, Panwah (James Moss), whose entire family was killed by the hunter’s injured tiger. At the village of Champawat, headman Ganga Ram (Morris Carnovsky) agrees to let his pregnant daughter-in-law, Lali (Joanne Page), care for the boy. However, both she and the boy are later attached by the tiger, and while both survive, Lali loses her unborn baby. As Lali’s husband, Narain (Sabu), must as heir-apparent bear a child of his own, Ganga Ram sadly orders the couple to separate. Witnessing all this tragedy, Collins becomes determined to finally kill the tiger stalking him like Death.

While big studios occasionally made elaborate jungle adventure films, the vast majority made throughout the 1940s and early ‘50s were cheap B-movies made by Columbia Pictures, Monogram, and other lower-rent film companies. They were quick and easy movies to make; the only requirements were a stock footage library of animal footage and location shots, a thick jungle soundstage set, and convenient location exteriors such as the Los Angeles Arboretum and Bronson Canyon. Most such films were shot in 15 days or less.

Man-Eater of Kumaon mostly resembles those cheap little films. Veteran director Byron Haskin had a talent for exotic action pictures, and he adds a little more visual interest than usual for this overworked, even perfunctory genre, but it’s not enough. Third-billed Wendell Corey, in one of his first features, proves he’s anything but leading man material; his steely, saucer-shaped eyes and waxy features inadvertently help project the character as a man with a kind of death wish, but he hardly commands the screen. Joanne Page, who as Joy Page played her signature role as the newly-married Bulgarian refugee in Casablanca (1942), was an unusual beauty and more effective as the tragic Lali. The stepdaughter of Jack L. Warner and wife of William T. Orr, WB TV executive, she made few films, and in most of those played Hispanics, Eastern Europeans, or American Indians.

Sabu’s career was winding down in step with the decline of such pictures. It’s mildly interesting to see him play a less childish and excitable, more reserved and adult character. On the other hand, for a film populated with Indian characters, he’s the only authentic one. Carnovsky, Moss, and others in the cast are simply not believable in a film that seems to be striving for a more authentic atmosphere.

The existential aspects of the talky script, by four writers, no less, really goes nowhere. Instead, Collins comes off as wishy-washy and irresponsible instead of courageous and admirable, or even interesting. The character undergoes no measurable change over the course of the story and has no appeal at all. Even Corey admitted later the tiger gave a better performance than he did.

In the end, Man-Eater seems to have been conceived as a big-budget film based on a bestselling, famous book—original plans were to shoot it in India—but that producer Monty Shaff could only get the same level of backing as dozens of other cheap jungle films.

Though originally released by Universal-International, rights eventually ended up at Paramount, which provided Kino a 2019 remastering. Though the film exhibits bits of minor damage here and there, mostly the black-and-white, 1.37:1 standard frame image is impressive, especially for a cheap genre film like this one. The DTS-HD Master Audio (2.0 mono) is also good for what it is, and supported by optional English subtitles. Region “A” encoded. The lone extra is an okay audio commentary by David Del Valle and Dan Marino.

Unlike, say, the entertaining RKO-made Tarzan films from this period, or Sabu’s earlier Technicolor extravaganzas made at Universal earlier in the decade, I’m certain I’ll never be watching Man-Eater of Kumaon ever again, though I’m glad my minimal curiosity about it has been satiated. As a movie, though, there’s little to recommend it.

- Stuart Galbraith IV