The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935) Poster

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10/10
Tale of Friendship & Adventure on the Khyber Pass
Ron Oliver4 April 2000
British India - the Northwest Frontier. Three comrades-in-arms, officers of the elite Lancers Corps, are part of the great Army machine that protects the Raj from warring princes & rebellious tribes. Of immediate concern is the black-hearted ruler conspiring to obtain two million rounds of ammunition. If he succeeds, war is inevitable. Meanwhile, the stern old Lancers colonel has difficulties in dealing with his energetic young officers, one of whom is his own alienated son. During the trials that lie ahead they will exhibit courage, camaraderie & competition, all qualities that make up THE LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER.

Not just a great adventure epic, this film deals with the tough questions raised by bonds fraternal & familial. What does it mean to be loyal to one's friends? What affection should a father exhibit for his son? What does one do when duty & friendship collide? Beyond all that, the movie is simply fun...

Gary Cooper, here playing a Canadian-Scots, is excellent as the veteran lieutenant, but Franchot Tone matches him in every way as the feisty new subaltern. Together they make a great pair of movie companions - their 'snake charming' scene is priceless. Richard Cromwell, as the military school graduate, is also very good. The fine supporting cast includes Douglass Dumbrille, Akim Tamiroff, Lumsden Hare, Nobel Johnson, J. Carroll Naish, Monte Blue, Mischa Auer & especially wonderful old Sir C. Aubrey Smith, as the major of the regiment.

Comment should be made of Sir Guy Standing, tremendous here as the Regimental Colonel. Sir Guy was a distinguished stage actor from London, who, like many other British theatrical performers, came to Hollywood to make a living in the movie business. At Paramount Studios he quickly established himself as a very fine character actor and from 1933 to 1937 he appeared in 18 films. Tragically, all came to an end in 1937, when he died in the Hollywood Hills, the victim of a rattlesnake bite.
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10/10
Forgotten Classic
Ramses_Emerson24 February 2006
You are unlikely to have heard of "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer." It has long been overshadowed by it's more popular contemporaries "Beau Geste" and "Gunga Din", though it is, in my humble opinion, a finer film then either of them. But I'm getting ahead of myself, let's start at the beginning.

"The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" is the story of a regiment of British soldiers in Imperial India. It's an adventure film first and foremost, but it is also an intimate drama about the life of a soldier in an age of Victorian honor, chivalry, and stiff upper lip stoicism. The characters are all interesting and complex and the dialogue is witty and literate.

The film holds up very well for a movie made in 1935, largely due to the lack of any melodramatic romantic subplots, which have permanently marred other adventure films of the period. This is a man's film about men in desperate situations, it's about being willing to die for your country or your friends at a moments notice. It's about a concept that most people consider outdated, honor. How many films have you seen recently about honor, loyalty, and true courage? Probably not many. The action scenes are exhilarating, and the film really does a wonderful job of establishing it's Indian setting.

The performances are all first rate, Gary Cooper stars as Lt. McGregor. I've always imagined Cooper as the quiet, serious, everyman characters he played later in his career. Here he gets to try his hand at comedy and complexity and gives arguably the most layered performance of his career. Franchot Tone is also perfectly cast, he won on Oscar the same year for his performance in Mutiny on the Bounty, but his performance in this film is equally deserving of acclaim. Tone was one of the best actors of the 1930's, though he never really hit it big as a leading man. He's wonderful here, his character exudes charm and wit, and he and Cooper bounce off each other wonderfully. Richard Cromwell is a little over the top, but he makes sense for the character. British stage actor Guy Standing plays Colonel Stone as being emotionless on the outside, and yet torn apart on the inside, having to make the impossible choice between loyalty to one's family and loyalty to one's country. It's a great performance for which he should have received an Oscar nomination. As for C. Aubrey Smith, he is wonderful as usual, the quintessential British officer, often imitated but never equaled, there is no one like the man himself. Douglas Dumbrille also gives a fine performance as the evil Muhammad Khan.

"The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" is a great film, that has been unfairly denied the classic status it so deserves. For years the only way to see it was on Turner Classic Movies, but recently it was released as one of the five films on the $25 "Gary Cooper Collection". Don't miss it.

10 out of 10

Also, though most people don't know it, this is the film in which the now famous line "We have ways of making men talk" is first uttered.
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10/10
A Rousing adventure on the Northwest Frontier
d149427 June 2002
In the very place where American and British troops are searching for Bin laden, the untamed Northwest frontier of modern Pakistan, the regiments of the Imperial British Raj ruled three hundred million with a hand full of men like Guy Standing and C. Aubrey Smith, who exemplified the very best of the military tradition. There are moments of this film that even transcend the story of outnumbered British soldiers, as when C. Aubrey Smith tells a hot headed Gary Cooper the meaning of honor and duty to the regiment. He explains that sometimes there may be a higher calling than fatherly love. Excellent portrayals by Gary Cooper and Franchot Tone and precise attention to detail ensure that this movie holds up nearly 70 years after it was made. This film should be required viewing for modern day Hollywood types, actors and directors alike who think they can make an action movie! This is one of the great films, I give it a 10!
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8/10
Rousing And Well Made Indian Frontier Adventure!
sherlock-3421 November 2000
I picked this little beauty up simply because of Gary Cooper and the subject matter. Having loved Gunga Din, this seemed like a good choice. Cooper as Macgregor, the top billed hero of the piece gives a strong, warm and wry performance. The stand-out surprise of the piece though, is that he is up-staged at nearly every turn by Franchot Tone. The banter between the two is great and takes full advantage of the witty and cynical dialogue. Young Richard Cromwell on the other hand makes very little impression until the final scenes of the picture. The British institution that is C. Aubrey Smith, makes a wonderful patriotic speech from under his formidably bristling eyebrows that brings the house down.

The story-line is pretty standard stuff, three heroes in the face of overwhelming odds fight to uphold British dominance on the Indian Frontier. The strength of the film lies in the characterizations of the leads and the incredible settings and action sequences. A good deal of first rate horsemanship is also in evidence as we are treated to a full Lancer charge and scenes of tent pegging and pig sticking. The final battle is a glorious and exciting sequence that modern film makers would learn a great deal from. The script does have its goofy moments in the later torture sequences as we are treated to lines like "We have ways of making men talk" and are shown the old bamboo under the fingernails bit, but even the cliches seem fitting.

If grand adventure with an emphasis on style is your idea of a good time, you'd be hard put to find a better example than this film!
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9/10
Gary Cooper fans should know
rosinbag5 July 2003
For those of you young Gary Cooper fans out there, like myself, check out this great movie. It was filmed in the era of Gunga Din, Robin Hood, and They Died With Their Boots On and more than holds it's own with all of them. The Coop is at his best in this one, though for some reason this film is not touted as among his best. It doesn't receive the fanfare High Noon, Pride of the Yankees, or Sergeant York do, and that is a shame. This is a truly entertaining film for people of all ages---it has laughs, plenty of action, and surprising emotion. Check it out.
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from the other world
Armand29 August 2014
exotic, romantic, useful for discover the old virtues and conventional India, mixture of drama, humor and noble intentions/ gestures, with a legendary cast, it is a great show. maybe , a perfect one. the old scent is its great virtue. than - the story, impeccable in each detail. and the inspired image about duty and honor. it is an useful film. not only for acting or for the heroic scenes but for the grace to do a good job who has the opportunity to seems be remarkable. because each detail, the dialog, the same ingredients for Middle East policy are impressive. a film with taste of event for many viewers. for the status of piece from a precious lost world.
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10/10
The three Bengal musketeers
dbdumonteil30 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I have a warm spot in my heart for three Hathaway movies.Although there are many films made by him I like,I can watch these three again and again and again.One of them is "Niagara" .The two others were made the same year ,and,most amazing thing,they are as different as they can be:"Peter Ibettson" is a romantic fantasy film the influence of which was huge on the French Realisme Poétique of the late thirties/early forties.And there's "lives of a Bengal lancer".

I was about 13 when I saw it for the first time with two of my pals who,having already seen the film ,had warned me:" there's horrible "Chinese" torture in it".At the time ,we thought that Mohammed Khan and his men were the villains and the English were the heroes.It was the first time I had seen Gary Cooper.

I should hate the colonialism,the military spirit now ,and however I don't: I love this film.I love the story,I love the three characters (particularly Franchot Tone),I love all the supporting characters ,I love everything .

The screenplay is so absorbing,the characters are so endearing that the simple idea of blaming the writers for their chocolate box India and their praise of the British Empire does not even come to mind."It looks like the Arabian night's "says young Stone in full regalia in the emir's palace.Would you blame Alexandre Dumas for his "three musketeers" because his rendition of the French seventeenth century and his vision of the Cardinal de Richelieu are approximative and a bit naive.But after all it's true that Richelieu did use female spies;hence the Milady character...

In "lives" our milady is Tania.Played by a gorgeous actress whose career was short-lived,Kathleen Burke ,this lady has only four or five lines to say in one of the most underwritten parts of the whole cinema.So underwritten we do not even know what becomes of her when the film ends .She leaves with "a terrible headache" and that's it.How could the thirties audience accept that?"Lives" is definitely a male movie whereas the contemporary "Peter Ibbetson " is a female one.

Franchot Tone has replaced Cooper as my favorite.He is ,IMHO,the stand-out of a stellar cast .A really fabulous actor,who achieves the incredible feat to be funny even when he is on the verge of tears.His nod to Mac in the dungeon when they are in a real plight in unforgettable;and it's easy to understand why Mac's last words were "poetry".

Forsythe is the most endearing character ,and even his gaffes are sublime.When he meets a babe on the train ,Mac tells him he should know better and that there are spies everywhere."Melodrama Melodrama" he answers;little did he know his pal was right and that would happen later.And the flute which sounds like "Scottish pipe" which turns him into a reluctant snake charmer is the most hilarious scene of the American thirties.

Hathaway's genius is to have maintained a " delicate balance" between comedy and drama.There are at least as many funny scenes as dramatic ones (some are both).Dig this line :"I told you this mardi gras would be a washout!"

The Stone jr/Stone sr relationship has often been described as "devoid of humanity ,of sentimentality,of heart" .It's completely untrue :the old man desperately tries to communicate with his only son ,but he is too shy and too proud to let his feelings flow.Two admirable scenes show this frustration: the "letter" which Mac gives to Donald to take to the colonel,and the night before they learn his rapt,when the old ramrod cannot open his heart to his son's two mates who act as his "military " fathers and more .

If Mac sacrifices his life ,it's not only for defeating Khan.He mainly wants to hide Donald Stone's weakness "who has betrayed his country" as Khan points out in the dungeon.The last scene bears this out.To the accents of "God Save the King" Stone's tears begin to fall...and you feel like crying as they decorate the hero's horse.
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7/10
Pretty good film of the British Raj
smatysia3 October 2000
Pretty good film. Surprisingly complex characters and plot elements for such an old film. Good action sequences and direction. The only criticism I can think of that I had on viewing this movie isn't even really fair, that the cobra didn't look real. I guess their computer graphics lab wasn't quite up to snuff! If you like old films, this one is worth a look.
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Weakling Screws Coop
GManfred12 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
This movie could be called a forerunner to "Gunga Din". British Colonial Army in India, 3 buddies, and two have to go to rescue one. 'Gunga Din' did it better, though, and there is an undercurrent of animosity and less chemistry among the three here.

The action is uneven, coming at the beginning and at the end of the picture, and in between it is a character study. Luckily for director Hathaway he had some excellent acting talent on hand and you are not conscious of the lack of action. C.Aubrey Smith, Sir Guy Standing, Douglas Dumbrille and Akim Tamiroff are present, in addition to the 3 principals, Cooper, Franchot Tone And Richard Cromwell. Standing is especially good as the Company Commander. He gives a sensitive, nuanced performance worthy of a British stage actor, which he was before coming to Hollywood.

I don't often insert spoilers in my reviews but I just had to make mention of one of my all-time villainous movie characters, the wimpy, feckless Lt. Stone, played by Richard Cromwell. It is he who gets Gary Cooper killed towards the end of the picture and which has earned him my everlasting animosity. Why couldn't they just leave him prisoner? Why couldn't they get a different actor? Truly, there never was such a weakling as Cromwell.

As you can see, I take my action heroes seriously. Maybe that's what makes motion pictures so entertaining - if done well, they seem real. "Lives Of A Bengal Lancer" easily earns a 7.
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8/10
Rousingly pleasing.
Spikeopath19 September 2008
It's the Northwest Frontier of India and we are in the company of the 41st Bengal Lancers. Led by Colonel Tom Stone , they are having mounting troubles with rebel leader Mohammed Khan. Lieutenant Alan McGregor is a tough experienced soldier who is never afraid to speak his mind or disobey orders, Stone is the complete opposite, he's a military man thru and thru. When two new recruits arrive as replacements, one of them being Colonel Stone's son, the Lancers must stop the rebels from stealing ammunition from the Emir of Gopal, all parties must put aside their problems to help the war effort.

Henry Hathaway's adaptation of Francis Yeats-Brown's novel is one of the best war films of the 30s, wonderfully scripted by Grover Jones, it's laced with army humour and tells a great story of friendships and family ties. The Indian heavy atmosphere is gorgeous, something Hathaway clearly excelled at portraying, with Charles Lang & Ernest Schoedsack's photography beautifully realising this period in history. For sure the imperialistic nature of the piece is prominent, but it is never overdone, with the rebel Indians painted more as a resourceful enemy than in other notable pictures of the time. The action sequences are adroitly handled and the acting {particularly from Gary Cooper as McGregor} is on the money, whilst the ending hits hard and quite frankly stirs the blood. The Lives Of A Bengal Lancer is a golden picture from a golden age, an adventure yarn to watch each and every year. 8/10
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7/10
Adolph Hitler's Favourite Movie But Then He Wasn't Scotch
Theo Robertson11 July 2013
Long before I saw this I knew a small trivia fact and that is it's reported to have been Adolph Hitler's favourite movie . It's not contradictory . The Indian sub-continent is the birth place of the swastika and is proudly displayed everywhere , well almost everywhere because I don't recall seeing any of them in Manali which is the Mecca for the Israeli stoner . Interesting too that the Nazis were very much pro Muslim and had during the war two Waffen SS divisions one of which the 13th Waffen SS division was composed of Bosnian Muslims and the other the 14th Waffen SS division being composed of Albanians . The Nazis got round the small matter of these Muslims being Slavs by categorizing them as Persians hence qualified as Indo-Ayrans

Apparently Hitler was fascinated by the fact a small island like Britain could govern and rule a large country like India with a population of over 300 million inhabitants . This is easily explained . India is a large country with massive diversity . What you do is divide and rule , just convince the people in one state are British and the people in the next state are a bunch of trouble makers saying nasty things about the royal family and need sorting out . If the people in the next state are of a different religion well that makes the task much easier . Hitler had future designs on ruling the Soviet Union along similar lines but went around it the wrong way by committing genocide against the entire Soviet population . If he only convinced people in conquered territories that they were German and the people up the road were nasty communists intent on causing nuisance then he might have won the war . He should have listened to the dialogue in the opening scene when McGregor is warned " You're far too impulsive "

Being a Hollywood movie not too much is given to facts . It's not factual that cobras are attracted to music because they have no ears and the hyponotic effect of a snake charmer on a cobra is down to body language . Neither is it correct that a Muslim falling in battle is guaranteed " forty eight maidens in paradise " The number is supposedly seventy two but the real figure is actually zero . There is also no such race as " Scotch " which is an alcoholic beverage and the correct term is Scottish which will be of no interest to anyone outside of Scotland

But Hollywood don't do documentaries . Hollywood does spectacle , action and derring do and this movie has it in abundance . This is Boys Own adventure printed on celluloid and fueled an appetite for historical adventure and being from the golden era of Hollywood it's rather more enjoyable than the long winded CGI driven stuff like we got with TITANIC and PEARL HARBOR . It does seem contrived that two of the main characters have North American accents since one is supposed to be Scotch Canadian and the other was brought up in America . It also contains the line " The Scotch are a queer race " so I guess it also influenced Pat Robertson as well as Hitler
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Entirely enjoyable
MeYesMe17 October 1999
I wasn't sure what I was getting into when I popped this film into the VCR. I knew little about it -- just that it starred Gary Cooper (not a favorite of mine) and followed a British regiment stationed in India (Oh no! Just like "Gunga Din" -- overrated, over-acted, over-not-nearly-soon-enough movie I fidgeted through just a few months ago).

What a pleasant surprise. The dialog was quite clever, the relationships complex, and the battle scenes rousing. You know, I bet even "Gunga Din" fans would like it!
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7/10
Patrolling the Northwest Frontier
bkoganbing14 September 2006
It's hard to remember sometimes when you get caught up in watching a film like Lives of a Benger Lancer that in fact the British were the occupiers and the bandits were in fact fighting against who they considered invaders.

The British didn't take over India in a classical war of armed conquest. During the 17th and 18th centuries they were among a whole series of European powers who were looking for trading rights and who gradually made deals with several of the local rulers like the ones you see portrayed in this film. A guy named Robert Clive finally defeated the French and the British were the only ones left on the subcontinent except for two Portugese enclaves on the Indian west coast.

Great Britain ruled very little of India directly. They only could run it with a LOT of collaboration which they had. They were seen as occupiers however, even by those who collaborated.

Having said that the British Army over its period in India established a great military tradition. In fact their army in India was viewed as almost a wholly separate entity.

The Lives of the Bengal Lancers is part of that tradition. True to Hollywood in order to have Americans star in a British location we make them Canadians. Well, Gary Cooper was from Montana and that's close enough to Canada. Franchot Tone with his clipped and professionally stage trained speech patterns I guess Paramount figured could pass for British. And Richard Cromwell was given an American mother.

Cooper is a frontier officer who is sent to meet two new arrivals, Tone from another regiment and Cromwell straight from Sandhurst. Cromwell is the son of the post commander a real spit and polish type played by Sir Guy Standing. Their clash is what sets off the events of this film.

Douglass Dumbrille plays a very smooth and deadly villain as bandit leader Mohammed Khan. And C. Aubrey Smith is fine as the fort's second in command.

The later and more comic Gunga Din had a lot of the same plot in it. The final battle between the British lancers and Dumbrille's forces is pretty exciting though the heroics of our three officers today's audience might find a bit much.

Still The Lives of a Bengal Lancer is a good action adventure saga and a fine tribute to the men who served in the lancers.
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8/10
nearly forgotten today
blanche-230 August 2013
Directed by Henry Hathaway, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer from 1935 is an excellent film that today is not as well-known as films like Beau Geste and Gunga Din.

The film stars Gary Cooper, Franchot Tone, Richard Cromwell, Guy Standing, C. Aubrey Smith, and Douglas Dumbrille.

The story takes place in India, in the northwest frontier. The 41st Bengal Lancers have had casualties due to a rebel leader, Mohammed Khan. Replacements for the lost men appear: Lt. Forsythe (Tone) and Donald Stone (Richard Cromwell), the son of the head of the Lancers, Colonel Stone. Lt. Alan McGregor (Cooper) rooms with them, due to the fact that he's usually in trouble. Forsythe loves singing "Mother Macree" and pushing McGregor's buttons; but McGregor bonds with the young Stone. Eventually all three become friends.

When Stone's son is kidnapped by Mohammed Khan, McGregor and Forsythe want to go after him, but Stone forbids it. The two men dress as Indians and go to Khan's base to rescue Stone.

Rousing film with plenty of action, which was one of Hathaway's specialties, with all locations in California but under the hot sun, it could be India. This is the movie where the famous line "We have ways of making you talk" comes from, except that's not the line, it's "We have ways of making men talk" - somehow these famous lines are never exact.

Gary Cooper is excellent -- gorgeous as usual, energetic, and passionate. I just saw him in "Ten North Fredrick" so it was a delight to see him in this, 23 years earlier, so young and strong. Tone, who replaced Henry Wilcoxin is very good, and baby-faced Richard Cromwell is right for his role as a kid who wants to be treated like one of the Lancers and not have any special privileges. Cromwell was married to Angela Lansbury for five minutes or so, and was in and out of films, working ultimately as an artist.

Lots of action and adventure - hard to know why it isn't appreciated today because the characters are strong, with real relationships and good dialogue. I think I know why - Gunga Din is a George Stevens' film, and Beau Geste was directed by William Wellman. Since Hathaway isn't considered a director in that league, I have a feeling this film is often passed over. It's a shame; it deserves rediscovery.
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7/10
Exotic British Colinial India in the tradition of "Gunga Din"...
Neil Doyle8 December 2006
THE LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER can take its place among the best of the Hollywood version of Colonial India during the 1800s where the danger and excitement is derived from tales similar to the more famous GUNGA DIN, where the British Army has its share of conflict with the Indians who think their country is being occupied.

And like GUNGA DIN, it revolves around a threesome of male buddies played by GARY COOPER, FRANCHOT TONE and RICHARD CROMWELL. Cooper is the strongest of the leads, a Lt. McGregor who has been sent to welcome two new soldiers to the military post. One of them (Cromwell) is the naively inexperienced son of the post's commander and prone to go astray without guidance from Cooper and Tone. The relationships are not without friction (usually with humorous episodes thrown in), and, of course, there's the requisite loyalty, courage and danger involved in all of their undertakings.

Much of it feels similar to other stories of courage beyond endurance and scenes of torture where the captive soldiers exhibit the bravery instilled in them by the military. GARY COOPER is at his most Gary Cooper-like persona (stoic and brave) in the role of the heroic McGregor and FRANCHOT TONE does extremely well as his humorous buddy. RICHARD CROMWELL tends to overact in melodramatic '30s style, the only weakness in the cast.

Good support from a cast including DOUGLAS DUMBRILLE, J. CARROL NAISH, NOBLE JOHNSON and AKIM TAMIROFF.

Fans of GUNGA DIN should love this one.
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When invaders were heroes and patriots were bandits
Val8328 August 2003
A great classic movie showing the glamor of an India no more longer existing or, maybe, never existed. But the question is: how could they show officers of the invading army as "heroes", while Indians fighting for their freedom and indipendence are shown as "bandits"? I'm trying to explain this non-sense since the first time I saw to this movie..
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10/10
Highly Entertaining
Sean7 November 2005
Gary Cooper stars as a professional soldier opposite Franchot Tone as the cocky one and Richard Cromwell as the wide eyed new recruit. Cromwell's father happens to be the commanding officer and that puts Cooper and Tone against Cromwell for the time being. Of course, the two main leads are also at odds and that makes for some interesting situations.

Henry Hathaway gave us his best work with Gary Cooper and this is their best collaboration. It's also Franchot Tone's best film and that's saying a lot when you look at his resume. He may be fairly unknown with today's audience, but the star of Five Graves to Cairo, Dangerous, and Mutiny on the Bounty is one of the best actors of the golden age of Hollywood.

Nothing beats Gary Cooper though, and this is his film. He's the main lead and he's the one you'll probably identify with the most. His noble character is something that we see all the time from him, but this is the role that started it all and that's why he plays it so well.

This very good adventure story will keep you on the edge of your seat during most of the film. It's especially harrowing in the climactic fight scene. I definitely recommend it to any fan of Gary Cooper and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
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7/10
Entertaining Politically Incorrect Adventure
Claudio Carvalho26 January 2008
In the Northwest Frontier of India, the 41st Bengal Lancers leaded by the harsh Colonel Tom Stone (Sir Guy Standing) are having trouble with the rebellious leader Mohammed Khan (Douglas Dumbrille). After two casualties, the experienced but insubordinate Lieutenant Alan McGregor (Gary Cooper) receives as replacement, the arrogant and cocky Lieutenant Forsythe (Franchot Tone) and the immature and naive son of Colonel Stone, Lieutenant Donald Stone (Richard Cromwell). With the intention to prove that he will not have any privilege in the troop, the reception of Colonel Stone to his son is absolutely cold, but he becomes the protégé of McGregor. When Lieutenant Stone is kidnapped by Mohammed Khan, McGregor and Forsythe disobey the direct order of their commander, disguise as Indian peddlers and go to Khan's fortress to attempt to rescue their friend.

"The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" is a great dramatic adventure that won two Oscars and was nominated in six other categories, including Best Picture and Best Director. The acting is top-notch, with delightful witty and cynical dialogs. However, like in "Gunga Din" of "The Birth of a Nation", the story is dated and politically incorrect. The British invaders are the "good guys", while those that are fighting for the freedom of their country are the "bad guys". Therefore, is spite of being a terrific and entertaining movie, its message is morally equivocated and nasty. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "Lanceiros da Índia" ("India Lancers")
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10/10
One of the very Best!
JohnHowardReid23 October 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Copyright 24 January 1935 by Paramount Productions, Inc. Presented by Adolph Zukor. New York opening at the Paramount, 11 January 1935 (ran 3 weeks). Sydney opening at the Prince Edward, 16 February 1935 (ran a staggering 8 weeks, the theater's biggest success since 1931 — and continuing so until a 10-week season of French Without Tears in 1940). 11 reels. 109 minutes.

SYNOPSIS: Two new officers of the 41st Regiment of Bengal Lancers arrive in north-west India and are placed under the wing of an old hand. (There's a mixed metaphor for you – from the movie's Press Sheet).

NOTES: Academy Award, Clem Beauchamp and Paul Wing, Assistant Directors (defeating Eric Stacey for Les Miserables, and Joseph Newman for David Copperfield).

Also nominated for Best Picture (Mutiny on the Bounty), Directing (John Ford for The Informer), Screenplay (The Informer), Art Direction (The Dark Angel), Film Editing (A Midsummer Night's Dream), and Sound Recording (Naughty Marietta).

Second only to David Copperfield in The Film Daily 1935 poll of U.S. film critics. A New York Times "Ten Best". Number 7 on the National Board of Review list.

COMMENT: Hathaway had previously directed Cooper and Shirley Temple in Now and Forever, but Lives of a Bengal Lancer was the movie that really made his reputation. Of course he had a great script to begin with, a marvelous cast, and some superb technicians. One of the most exciting adventures ever filmed, the gripping, witty script perfectly captures the India of Kipling and the British raj (much more so than movies like Gandhi and Heat and Dust).

The dialogue with its smart wise-cracking lines, and the characters so memorably and indelibly drawn, are given perfect life by an absolutely first-rate cast. Cooper never had a better role, serving as an effective stooge for Tone and a remarkable catalyst for the rest of the players, particularly Smith and Cromwell. Tone has the best of the witty lines, delivering them with such delightful ease and polished suavity as to win over even those skeptics to whom adventure films are hardly flavor-of-the-month.

Sir Guy Standing also contributes a beautifully rounded characterization. He is one of the empire breed, floundering in personal relationships, yet parrying the villainous Douglas Dumbrille with diplomatic skill. Mr. Dumbrille makes with the menacing sneer with his usual oleaginous charm, while Kathleen Burke purrs seductively as his accomplice in a small but memorably villainous role. And we cannot leave the players without singling out Akim Tamiroff for his deliciously wheezy portrait of a friendly Emir.

Directed with such flair as to make the whole exotic action and background thoroughly believable, superbly photographed (even if the masterfully lit studio material tends to show up the cruder 2nd unit and location footage), with eye-catching sets and a rousing music score, Lives of a Bengal Lancer is one of the greatest adventure movies of all time.

Using an astonishingly literate script which spoofs the romanticism of Kilpingesque narrative clichés while retaining the essence of Kipling's imperial philosophy (doubtless carried over from the autobiographical original novel), director Henry Hathaway certainly creates a solid impression of authenticity. . But Hathaway's talent is not the only one to admire in this remarkable film: The photography of Charles Lang, stunning in its deep focus shots of cavalry winding through rocky defile, breathtaking in its group shots where a skillful deployment of light and shadow give the illusion of a third dimension.

I must also commend the distinguished playing of Sir Guy Standing as Colonel Stone, — note especially those scenes in which he changes from a ramrod martinet to a stammering father, note the brief, despairing glance of his eyes; — or note their twinkle when he deals suave diplomacy under the guise of a harmless old buffer of the pukka sahib school.

C. Aubrey Smith is also a stand-out as Major Hamilton, whose resonant voice so beautifully expounds the glories of empire; and I must also commend the disarmingly relaxed, easy performance of Franchot Tone. Douglas Dumbrille as Ahmed Khan has some effective dialogue exchanges — I love the scene where he haggles over the price of rugs with Cooper and Tone, who are disguised as Indian merchants. Suddenly his face breaks into a sarcastic smile: "Come, come, gentlemen!" he says. "Is this becoming officers of the King's 41st Lancers?"
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8/10
They Had Ways of Making Men Talk
wes-connors29 April 2010
In British-controlled India, restless natives make life difficult for the 41st regiment of Bengal Lancers. Arriving for adventure, Scotch-Canadian colonist Gary Cooper (as Alan "Mac" McGregor) survives an attack by Indian rebels, and is pegged to quash the resistance. To assist, Mr. Cooper is assigned two recruits - snake-charming transferee Franchot Tone (as John "Fort" Forsythe) and military school graduate Richard Cromwell (as Donald Stone). Despite differences, the three gentlemanly soldiers bond quickly.

The plot focuses quickly on Mr. Cromwell, who is the emotionally estranged son of commanding Colonel Guy Standing (as Tom Stone). Cooper advises, "The old man has ice water in his veins." Cromwell's abduction causes disagreement among the men. Cooper and Mr. Tone want to rescue their young pal, but his own father thinks of the military disadvantages first. "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" is an obviously dated, but first class production, with director Henry Hathaway and his cast in universally fine form.

******** The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1/11/35) Henry Hathaway ~ Gary Cooper, Richard Cromwell, Franchot Tone, Guy Standing
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8/10
"You're my prisoner you know, I couldn't let you out of my sight."
classicsoncall17 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The epic scope of the film is particularly impressive considering it's release in 1935, and without the complexity of today's computer generated effects. Director Henry Hathaway relocates his experiences with the American Wild West to the more exotic locales of northwest India above the Khyber Pass. There he focuses on the good natured rivalry between Lieutenant Alan McGregor (Gary Cooper) and two newly assigned junior officers, Forsythe (Franchot Tone) and Stone (Richard Cromwell), members of the 41st Bengal Lancers. The plot is thickened by the authority of Colonel Tom Stone (Guy Standing), father of Mr. Stone from Sandhurst, immediately creating a dynamic tension between familial and military concerns.

There's a bit more to it than that as well, weighing on the Colonel's mind are an impending retirement and the responsibility of his assignment to protect the Indian Emir from a coalition of hostile tribes led by Mohammed Khan (Douglas Dumbrille). His 'service comes first' mentality is repeatedly tested by Cooper's character, who refers to the Colonel as 'old ramrod'; in fact, McGregor is probably one of the most insubordinate officers in film history if you count the number of times he disobeys orders.

The younger Stone is at odds throughout the story as to how to impress his overbearing father. The boar hunt goes badly, and later he falls victim to the Khan's kidnap plot, utilizing the wiles of the sultry Tania (Kathleen Burke). Ultimately he earns his redemption, but at a high price, as the officer trio reunites to destroy Khan's stolen ammunition supply. That he didn't have the courage to resist torture like his comrades is inexorably relived during the presentation of the Distinguished Service Order, when he has all he can do to hold back his welling tears.

Any story set in India probably wouldn't be complete without the obligatory dancing cobra scene. Here it's done to somewhat comic effect when the bantering Forsythe finally receives his comeuppance from the older officer McGregor. Of course as with most films, this one doesn't get it scientifically accurate either. Cobras are not enchanted by the music they can't hear, but the swaying motion of the player and his instrument; for his part, Forsythe looked a bit too terrified to sway.

Curiously, Canadian born Douglass Dumbrille has just the right look to be plausible as a foreigner. His character here exudes both charm and malice, and he would go on to portray a varied assemblage of international characters in film. One that immediately comes to mind was a comic turn in the 1950 team-up with "Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion".

As a fan of the classics, I have a preferred taste for black and white films, but every once in a while there's a scene that simply begs for the color treatment. As guests of the Emir, the Lancers are shown in full ceremonial regalia which look quite stunning. Kind of makes you wish for a modern day remake, if only they would stay away from the CGI.
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8/10
Brilliant adventure movie
nnnn450891919 April 2007
This movie was really entertaining.Much in the same mold as "Beau Geste",The Charge of the Light Brigade" and "Gunga Din",the movie is one of the great adventure films well worth catching.Gary Cooper is fun to watch,delivering a performance that fits an action-hero.But he is upstaged by a marvelous performance by Franchot Tone.I've never seen him better.His banter with Cooper gives the movie the great humor and fun.Guy Standing as the old commander is superb.And we have a great villain in Douglas Dumbrille. Although the movie roots for the British oppression in India,the whole story is done tongue-in-cheek and is so entertaining and fun to watch that you forget these outdated colonial sentiments.
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2/10
Predictable, boring & historically inaccurate
shyMommy5 March 2002
Right. A snake is charmed by a musical instrument. There are only Moslems and Englishmen and no Hindus or Jains in India. A troop of Indians stop fighting and start praying when their commander is killed. The son of the very British captain has a distinctly American accent, and so does the Scotch-Canadian. The beautiful girl dances with anyone who walks up to her, even if they don't speak a word first. The British troop, when ambushed, doesn't run for cover or even stop chatting. This story is so full of holes I could barely watch it through to the end. If you're looking for a movie which has stood the test of time, this isn't it. Keep looking. Don't waste your time with "Lives of a Bengal Lancer."
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4/10
Dated adventure flick ... Cooper below par, but Tone lifts it up.
Kara Dahl Russell26 February 2007
LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER is interesting, but very dated. This is Cooper before he really hit his stride, and one downfall of this film is that he talks so much (and a little too hammily). Cooper later came to epitomize the "strong silent type"... his eyes are so expressive that he was always more eloquent in silence.

Because of this, the real standout in this film is Franchot Tone, who sparkles with wit, has a light touch with all the dialogue, and is a real "odd couple" match for Cooper, keeping things brisk, and bringing lots of levels to the table where Cooper keeps it broodingly within.

Richard Cromwell is a strong and interesting presence. He looks slight and light and young, but has a surprising basso voice, and is a perfect fit for this role. The actor playing the General/his father is so clearly old enough to be his grandfather that it makes the plot even more confusing than it is all ready when it comes to their convoluted relationship.

The outdoor sequences are so clearly filmed in Griffith Park area that it is amusing to watch for that... the action sequences would appeal to fans of early westerns, but are a little static, and there is just way too much talk in this film. Not active enough to be an action film, too weak a script to be a drama, it's a historical footnote on the way to more streamlined genres.
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8/10
a lot like gunga din
hairytick16 February 2006
Was there ever a better actor on film than Gary Cooper? In "Lives of a Bengal Lancer" he shows the natural talent, the effortless pretense, that few others could match..... well Sean Penn or Ingrid Bergman maybe. Franchot Tone plays the best friend part to a tee, both infuriating and endearing himself to Cooper's character.... always makes me laugh when he plays "Mother MacCree" on the pipe, needling Coop at first, but then begging for help when a cobra is attracted to the sound.This is where they got the material for flicks like "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." This film was made in Hollywood's golden era, when movies were fantastic adventures to be treasured, not necessarily believed. This is a very grim tale of war and sacrifice, but fun nonetheless. That the imperialists are the good guys is just a sign of the time when it was made. I wonder how bigoted the movies being made today will look to audiences 70 years from now? The sets were, of course, very well done and the photography was superb. During the mid to late thirties the art of the film reached it's zenith.Before then such spectacle was rare, but by 1939 it had become common. A very enjoyable combination of comedy and adventure makes this film one of the true classics.
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