|The Lives of a Bengal Lancer|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Henry Hathaway|
|Produced by||Louis D. Lighton|
|Screenplay by||William Slavens McNutt|
John L. Balderston
Laurence Stallings (offscreen credit)
|Based on||The Lives of a Bengal Lancer|
by Francis Yeats-Brown
|Music by||Herman Hand|
|Edited by||Ellsworth Hoagland|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$49 million (2008 equivalent of $1.5 million in the 1930s)|
The Lives of a Bengal Lancer is a 1935 American epic-adventure-drama film that used the title of the 1930 autobiography of the British former soldier, Francis Yeats-Brown. The film is a Paramount picture. Henry Hathaway directed, and the writers, who created a story that had nothing in common with Yeats-Brown's book other than the setting, included Grover Jones, William Slavens McNutt, Waldemar Young, John L. Balderston and Achmed Abdullah.
The plot is the story of a group of British cavalrymen and high-ranking officers desperately trying to defend their stronghold and headquarters at Bengal against the rebellious natives during the days of the British Raj. It stars Gary Cooper as Lieutenant Alan McGregor, Franchot Tone as Lieutenant John Forsythe, Richard Cromwell as Lieutenant Donald Stone, Guy Standing as Colonel Tom Stone and Douglass Dumbrille as the rebel leader Mohammed Khan, who utters the frequently misquoted line "We have ways to make men talk."
Production and planning of the film began in 1931 and Paramount expected the film to be released that same year. However, due to a film stock crisis in which most of the location footage deteriorated due to the high temperatures, the project was delayed for four years. The motion picture was released in American cinemas in January 1935.
The film's release was met with positive reviews and good box office results. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning Assistant Director, with other nominations including Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture. The film grossed $49 million (2008 equivalent of $1.5 million in the 1930s) at the box office. Historian John Reid has described the film as "one of the greatest adventure films of all time".
On the northwest frontier of India during the British Raj, Scottish Canadian Lieutenant Alan McGregor (Gary Cooper), in charge of newcomers, welcomes two replacements to the 41st Bengal Lancers: Lieutenant John Forsythe (Franchot Tone) and Lieutenant Donald Stone (Richard Cromwell), the son of the unit's commander, Colonel Tom Stone (Guy Standing). Lieutenant Stone, a "cub" (meaning a newly commissioned officer), volunteered to serve on the Indian frontier in the belief that his father specifically sent for him; while Lieutenant Forsythe, an experienced cavalrymen and something of a teasing character, was sent out as a replacement for an officer who was killed in action. After their formal introduction, Lieutenant Stone, during a heated argument with his father, realizes his father did not send for him, a discovery that breaks his heart. Attempting to show impartiality, the colonel treats his son very properly. The Colonel's military behavior and adherence to protocol is misinterpreted by young Stone, who resents such treatment from the father he has not seen since he was a boy.
Lieutenant Barrett, (Colin Tapley) disguised as a native rebel in order to spy on Mohammed Khan (Douglass Dumbrille), reports that Khan is preparing an uprising against the British. He plans to intercept and hijack a military convoy transporting two million rounds of ammunition. When Khan discovers that Colonel Stone knows of his plan, he orders Tania Volkanskaya, a beautiful Russian agent, to seduce and kidnap Lieutenant Stone in an attempt to extract classified information about the ammunition caravan from him. When the colonel refuses to attempt his son's rescue, McGregor and Forsythe, appalled by the "lack of concern" the colonel has for his own son, leave the camp at night without orders. Disguised as native merchants trying to sell blankets, they successfully get inside Mohammed Khan's fortress. However, they are recognized by Tania, who met the two men before at a civil event. McGregor and Forsythe are taken prisoner.
During a seemingly friendly interrogation, Khan says "We have ways of making men talk," and has the prisoners tortured. Their nails are ripped off and the sensitive skin underneath burned with bamboo slivers. When McGregor and Forsythe, despite the agonizing pain, refuse to speak, Stone cracks and reveals what he knows to end their torture. As a result, the ammunition convoy is captured.
After receiving news of the stolen ammunition, Colonel Stone takes the 41st to battle Mohammed Khan. From their cell, the captives see the overmatched Bengal Lancers deploy to assault Khan's fortress. They manage to escape and blow up the ammunition tower, young Stone redeeming himself by killing Khan with a dagger. With their ammunition gone, their leader dead, and their fortress in ruins as a result of the battle, the remaining rebels surrender. However, McGregor, who was principally responsible for the destruction of the ammunition tower, was killed when it exploded.
In recognition of their bravery and valor in battle, Lieutenants Forsythe and Stone are awarded the Distinguished Service Order. McGregor posthumously receives the Victoria Cross, Great Britain's highest award for military valor, with Colonel Stone pinning the medal to the saddle cloth of McGregor's horse as was the custom in the 41st Lancers (according to the film).
Paramount originally planned to produce the film in 1931 and sent cinematographers Ernest B. Schoedsack and Rex Wimpy to India to film location shots such as a tiger hunt. However, much of the film stock deteriorated in the hot sun while on location, so when the film was eventually made, much of the production took place in the hills surrounding Los Angeles, where Paiute Native Americans were used as extras.
Among the filming locations were Lone Pine, Calif., Buffalo Flats in Malibu, Calif., the Paramount Ranch in Agoura, Calif., and the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif. For the climactic half-hour battle sequence at the end of the film, an elaborate set was built in the Iverson Gorge, part of the Iverson Movie Ranch, to depict Mogala, the mountain stronghold of Mohammed Khan.
The film was released in American cinemas in January 1935. It was a big success at the box office and kicked off a cycle of Imperial adventure tales, including The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), Another Dawn (1937), Gunga Din (1939), The Four Feathers (1939), and The Real Glory (1939). The film grossed $49 million worldwide (2008 equivalent of $1.5 million in the 1930s). It was the second most popular film at the British box office in 1935-36. The film was released on the eleventh of January of 1935 and by the end of the year was the eleventh highest grossing film of 1935 nationally. However, it was the highest grossing film in the western states of Nebraska, Montana, Idaho and Utah and was the second highest grossing film in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee.Mutiny on the Bounty came in first place nationally as well as in the aforementioned twelve states. The film was so successful that it led to Gary Cooper being booked to star in a number of films of similar plots that were also set in "exotic" locales, including Beau Geste, The Real Glory, North West Mounted Police and Distant Drums.
Laura Elston from the magazine Canada wrote that The Lives of a Bengal Lancer did "more glory to the British traditions than the British would dare to do for themselves." In response to the film success, Frederick Herron of the Motion Picture Association of America wrote "Hollywood is doing a very good work in selling the British Empire to the world." Historian John Reid noted in his book Award-Winning Films of the 1930s that the film is considered "one of the greatest adventure films of all time" and highly praised Hathaway's work by saying "the film really made his reputation." It also received a praised review in Boys' Life magazine, starting off the review with the words "You will be immensely pleased with The Lives of a Bengal lancer" and went on to compare the style and class of the three main characters to that of The Three Musketeers. The film holds an overall approval rating of 100% on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 9 reviews, with a rating average of 8 out of 10.
Critic Otis Gerguson said he was "taken by the show, imperialism and all." Andre Sennwald of The New York Times said the film "glorified the British Empire better than any film produced in Britain for that purpose." Sennwald added that Paramount's "Kiplingesque" movie "ought to prove a blessing to Downing Street." The film proved so popular in the United States that it spurred a series of imperial films that continued throughout the decade and into the next decade. Frank S. Nugent, also of The New York Times, wrote that "England need have no fears for its empire so long as Hollywood insists upon being the Kipling of the Pacific." Nugent commented that movies such as The Lives of a Bengal Lancer and The Charge of the Light Brigade were far more pro-British than actual British filmmakers would ever dare to be, he said that "In its veneration of British colonial policy, in its respect for the omniscience and high moral purpose of His, or Her, Majesty's diplomatic repsentatives and in its adulation of the courage, the virtue and the manly beauty of English soldiery abroad, Hollywood yields to no one--not even to the British filmmakers themselves."
In Fascist Italy, Mussolini's motion picture bureau had the movie banned, as well as several other British-themed American movies including Lloyd's of London and The Charge of the Light Brigade, on the grounds that they were "propaganda". This was seen as an irony in Hollywood, due to the fact that the movies were made to be deliberately apolitical, and were intended to be purely fun escapism.
According to Ivone Kirkpatrick, who met Adolf Hitler at Berchtesgaden in 1937, one of Hitler's favorite films was The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, which he had watched three times. He liked the film because "it depicted a handful of Britons holding a continent in thrall. That was how a superior race must behave and the film was a compulsory viewing for the S.S." Also, his valet recalled that Hitler enjoyed the film. It was one of the eleven US movies that, from 1933 to 1937, were considered "artistically valuable" by the Nazi authorities.
The film The Lives of a Bengal Lancer shares nothing with the source book, except the setting.  Reid noted in Award-Winning Films of the 1930s that "none of the characters in the book appear in the screenplay, not even Yeats-Brown himself. The plot of the film is also entirely different."
The Paramount picture was distributed to home media on VHS on March 1, 1992 and on DVD on May 31, 2005. It has since been released in multiple languages and is included in several multi-film collections.
|Best Picture||Louis D. Lighton||Nominated|
|Best Art Direction||Hans Dreier
|Best Assistant Director||Clem Beauchamp
|Best Directing||Henry Hathaway||Nominated|
|Best Film Editing||Ellsworth Hoagland||Nominated|
|Best Sound Recording||Franklin B. Hansen||Nominated|
|Best Adapted Screenplay||William Slavens McNutt
John L. Balderston