Northwest Frontier (UK, 1959)

Recalcitrant female will be brought to heel

Recalcitrant female will be brought to heel

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this attempt by Rank to break into the American market (known there as Flame Over India), although the action sequences are relatively tame there is some crackling dialogue, particular from Lauren Bacall (above). Frank Nugent, who wrote the screenplay for The Searchers, is one of the writers and this ‘India in the days of Empire’ set film can certainly be considered a western; the plot’s not a million miles away from that of Stagecoach (1939). Captain Scott (Kenneth More) has to bring a Maharajah prince to safety of face the wrath of Moslems (the term used in the film).

Although, unsurprisingly, the film validates the civilising power of the British Empire, post-Suez Britain knew its place, even if it wouldn’t admit, which might be why the journalist (Herbert Lom) is given many anti-Empire lines. From a 21st century perspective these arguments seem eminently sensible, and no doubt where present as an anti-imperialist discourse at the time the film was made; however, the journalist turns out to be a murderous Moslem thus the film discredits his views.

More’s Scott is of the entirely unflappable variety that is more laughable than admirable now. Indeed, to an extent, the film mocks him, and the British. Bacall’s character notes that the British don’t do anything until they have a cup of tea and by then it’s too late. Bacall, and such lines, no doubt, was part of the film’s intended appeal to the American market; I wonder how the British understood the sentiment at the time. Bacall also speaks her mind: she apologises for doing so but says ‘That’s what I think it’s for.’ Another way the British are (slightly) criticised is through the reference, in the introductory voice over, albeit indirectly, to the fact that Partition was responsible for causing violence. An arms dealer, also on the ‘stagecoach’ (actually a train), comes in for much criticism and is last seen being asked, by an army general, for his new weapons.

Whilst there’s lots of ‘gung ho’ ‘boy’s own’ stuff, room is given for the aftermath of a massacre: there are consequences to the adventure. The British film industry can no longer afford to make such action pictures, apart from Bond; definitely a case of things were different in the old days.

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