Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

His beloved Nats being off last evening, ol’ Robbo dipped into his stack of Netflix releases and pulled up a movie he’s never seen before, a 1959 Brit film titled Northwest Frontier.  And he was very pleasantly surprised by it.

The story is set in 1905 in northwestern colonial India.  [Ed. – Go figure.] Moslem rebels seek to strengthen their insurgence and dishearten Hindu resistance by murdering the local prince and his five year old son.  The rebels storm the palace, kill the prince and burn the place to the ground, but the boy is spirited away at the last instant by his governess and a British army captain and escort.  The rebels pursue this party to the closest British administrative post and lay siege.  The Brits realize the critical importance of getting the boy to safety, but the only way to get him down to the lowlands is via a dilapidated old railway engine and a single carriage.  The party that eventually bursts out of the besieged city aboard this train includes the boy, his governess, the Brit captain, the colonial administrator’s wife and his elderly aide-de-camp,  a slightly hysterical arms merchant, a cynical newspaper man, a couple of guards and an affable engineer wallah.  The bulk of the movie concerns the chase across hostile territory, complicated by the fact that one of the party aboard the train is both a Moslem and involved in (or at least sympathetic to) the plot to kill the princeling.   (I won’t give away any spoilers, but I can safely tell you it’s not the colonial administrator’s wife.)

As I say, the movie was quite enjoyable.  For one thing, it was simply a solid action film in the frontier tradition:  The hordes constantly coming down from the skyline and sabotaging the tracks could just as easily have been Apaches, Dervishes or Visigoths (assuming the Visigoths were able to time-travel and arm themselves with Lee-Enfield rifles, that is), and John Wayne could have been captaining the train rigged out in a cavalry uniform.  For another, I think it was meant to be something of a dig at Pakistan, which in 1959 had recently thrown off the last of Britain’s influence and quickly gone from Islamic republic to military dictatorship.  While many rhetorical questions were asked by various characters about Empire and Freedom and other Capitalized Words, the overall suggestion (graphically illustrated when the party come across a Hindu refugee train that had been ambushed) was that the rebels were a lot of bloody minded bastards who’d cut everyone’s throat if the Brits so much as blinked.  (One certainly couldn’t make a film like this in what’s left of modern G.B.  Indeed, I expect the publick showing of Northwest Frontier nowadays would constitute some kind of hate-crime in that wretched shell of a nation.)

But my favorite bit in the movie was when somebody or other tried to bait the Brit captain into opining on the terrible odds he was facing in trying to spirit away the princeling.  The captain simply shrugged and quoted the end of that most moving stanza from Kipling’s “The Young British Soldier“:

When first under fire an’ you’re wishful to duck,
Don’t look nor take ‘eed at the man that is struck,
Be thankful you’re livin’, and trust to your luck
         And march to your front like a soldier.

I’ve not much of an ear for poetry, but even I can appreciate the gold here.  That closer always gives me chills.

As to the cast, the Brit captain was played by a fellah named Kenneth More, of whom I know nothing but apparently was something of a heart-throb back in the day.  He actually struck me as the least interesting of the lot.  The governess was played by Lauren Bacall of all people, who I usually don’t care for (too flinty) but was somewhat more sympathetic here.  The cynical newspaper man was Herbert Lom, who I only wish I hadn’t first seen as Inspector Dreyfus in the Pink Panther movies because I always think he’s about to start twitching and giggling.   And the aide-de-camp was played by dear old Wilfrid Hyde-White, one of the most delightful old buffers I know of in film.

So there you have it.  Not the greatest film in the world but certainly Netflix-worthy, especially if you’re Kipling-minded.  [Ed. – I wouldn’t know, I’ve never kipled.  Ba-BUMP-dah!]

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