Released in 1962 and based on a novel by Jan de Hertog, The Spinal Road stars Rock Hudson as Anton Drager, an egotistical young doctor in the 1930’s, who maneuvers his way to leprosy-ridden Indonesia to work under famed doctor Brits Jansen (Burl Ives). He must fulfill his contract: five years of service in return for a government-financed education—during which he will confront cunning natives. Along the way, Anton is determined to make this worth his while.  His goal is to get Jansen to share his notes so he can put them into a journal to be published, thus making him famous. However, Anton’s goal may cost him his sanity.

Having endured a cruel upbringing with a father who was a Christian pastor, Drager wants nothing to do with religion and doesn’t believe in God. Made at a time when Rock Hudson was at the height of his career due to his romantic comedies with Doris Day, The Spinal Road represents one of the best dramatic performances of his career. Not his usual affable, nice guy character, Hudson embodies the egotistical side of Anton Drager, while maintaining some measure of sympathy.

One of the great character actors of his time, Burl Ives excels as doctor Brits Jansen, a larger-than-life character who transitions from cynicism to wonder, intelligence to buffoonery with perfect modulation. Gena Rowlands turns up as Anton’s girl from back home, who valiantly stays on in Indonesia after the two marry. Phillip Abbott as a fellow doctor who has assumed an air of white supremacy to better fit in.

His total opposite, Willem Wattereus (Geoffrey Keen) is a member of the Salvation Army and who run the leper colony. In the films most touching scene, he, Drager and Jansen are at the bedside of Wattereus’s wife who is clearly at the end stage of the disease. While not always clear, The Spiral Road tries to convey a message regarding the importance of Christianity and faith. Despite some narrative flaws, strong performance by Rock Hudson and the rest, make the film well worth watching.

Special Features and Technical Specifications:

  • 1080p High-Definition Presentation of a 4K Scan from the Original Camera Negative by Universal Studios
  • Audio Commentary by Film Historians Daniel Kremer and David Del Valle (2023)
  • Film Historian Kim Newman on Rock Hudson (2023)

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