Wednesday, April 10, 2002


I'm sort of a fan of this subgenre of film, about stiff-upper-lip British Army soldiers fighting uprisings in India with courage, wit, and sacrifice (not to mention a phallocentric Colonialist viewpoint!). I love GUNGA DIN and BEAU GESTE; I'm not a big fan of THE FOUR FEATHERS. These are the last two of the great 30's movies in that category and both are certainly worth watching.

In LIGHT BRIGADE, Errol Flynn plays a major in the army and Patric Knowles is his brother (that family had good genes!). Both men are in love with Olivia de Havilland. She has been "promised," so to speak, to Flynn but in his absence, she and Knowles have grown cozy. Unlike the romance elements in DIN and GESTE, this feels organic to the story rather than thrown in haphazardly to the mix. Indian villain Surat Kahn (well played by C. Henry Gordon, an actor not well known to me) has had his government susidy cut off by the British, so he cozies up to the Russians and Kahn and his men fight against the British in the Crimean War (which I admit I nothing about). Before the conflict breaks out, Flynn saves Gordon's life when a tiger attacks him. Later, when Flynn and his men are forced to surrender, Gordon allows Flynn to escape during a massacre in which many women and children are killed. Naturally, Flynn seeks revenge and gets his chance on the Russian front. The foolhardy climactic charge (based on an actual historical incident) is well photographed, although it looks like some horses got seriously banged up or worse during the staging of the attack. David Niven is quite good as a fellow soldier and Nigel Bruce & Spring Byington are good light comic relief as a officer and his wife.

BENGAL LANCER is all about male bonding, of all kinds: between friends, between soldiers, between father and son, between soldier and officer. Gary Cooper is a gruff but good-hearted lieutenant who takes under his wing a newly arrived soldier (Richard Cromwell) who happens to be the son of the commanding officer (Guy Standing). Cromwell isn't toughened up yet and Standing resents his presence. Occasional stabs at reconciliation fail. Franchot Tone plays a fellow lieutenant who gives Cooper a hard time about his "mothering" instinct, but they develop a respectful friendship and ultimately both risk their lives when Cromwell is tricked into captivity by the wicked Indian warlord (another well-played villian, this time by Douglass Dumbrille). There is torture (bamboo under the fingernails, I think, though the scene is rather oblique), betrayal, sacrifice, and redemption before the fadeout. Though not quite as fun or thrilling as DIN or BRIGADE, this has a more substantive plot than some of the other movies of the kind, and the acting is uniformally strong (except for Cromwell who never seems worth sacrificing for).

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