The 41st Bengal Lancers are stationed on the Northwest Frontier of British India, guarding against Afridi invaders led by wily Mohammed Khan. Experienced (though insubordinate) Lieut. McGregor is joined by two new arrivals, haughty Forsythe and callow Donald Stone...son of the commanding colonel. We follow the three through varied adventures and hardships. Will they uphold the honor of the regiment? Will Stone and the Colonel come to terms with their difficult relationship?Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
According to a January 1932 "New York Times" article, Ernest B. Schoedsack returned from India after three months' shooting on this film. He, his wife, brother, a cameraman and several assistants spent six weeks on the northwest frontier where, with the aid of British military authorities, he was able to send "thousands of feet of film back with a fine assortment of interesting stills." Although Schoedsack most likely directed the shooting of footage in India, the "Variety review" for the film credits him with photography. During Schoedsack's sojourn in India, there was a lull in the tribal wars among the Moslem Pathans (nowadays called the Pashtuns, who come mainly from Afghanistan), a group of tribes that includes the Afridis, who are portrayed in the film. In the article, Schoedsack describes the Afridis as the "most warlike of the tribes . . . big, powerfully built men." See more »
When McGregor shaves, the way Forsythe holds the snake charmer pipe changes between shots. See more »
Lieutenant Alan McGregor:
He's in there all right, no doubt about that. And doing rather well, too.
Clicquot. I saw the label. Iced. If that's the way Mohammed Khan tortures his victims, I'd like to change places with him for ten minutes.
Lieutenant Alan McGregor:
That guard's got a key all right. If we can last till night, hit the guard over the head, get the kid out, and try and steal some horses -
jump them over the 40 foot wall, and then that mad dash for the border!
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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