The Lives of a Bengal Lancer


1h 49m 1935
The Lives of a Bengal Lancer

Brief Synopsis

Three British soldiers in India fight invaders when not fighting each other.

Film Details

Also Known As
More Lives of a Bengal Lancer
Genre
Drama
Adventure
Historical
War
Release Date
Jan 18, 1935
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 4 Jan 1935
Production Company
Paramount Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Paramount Productions, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Chatsworth, California, United States; Fort Kohat, Peshawar, India; Independence Town, California, United States; Khyber Pass,India; Lone Pine, California, United States; Malibu, California, United States; Sierra Mountains--Death Valley, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Lives of a Bengal Lancer by Francis Yeats-Brown (New York, 1936).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 49m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Noiseless Recording)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9,801ft (11 reels)

Synopsis

In colonial India, Colonel Stone and the 41st Bengal Lancers fight Indian rebels in the hills. Included in the 41st regiment is Lieutenant Alan McGregor, a Scotch-Canadian upstart who has come to India for some excitement. Major Hamilton, an old friend of Stone, sends for Stone's naïve son Donald, who is just out of Sandhurst military school, so he can learn from his father before the colonel retires. Years before, Donald's parents separated when his American mother realized Stone would always be married to the army, and Donald quickly learns that his father wants only a professional relationship with him. With Donald is Lieutenant Forsythe, whom McGregor nicknames "Fort." While McGregor and Fort lead a group to the border, McGregor receives a message from Lieutenant Barrett, who is dressed in Indian garb, that rebel Mohammed Kahn is preparing an attack against the colonel. Kahn has stirred up border tribes by offering them ammunition. Back at the colonel's office, Chief of Intelligence for Army Headquarters Major General Sir Thomas Woodley advises Stone to leave at dawn for Gopal for a day of pig sticking. They believe that Othman Ali Bahadoor, the Emir of Gopal, a supposed British ally, has ordered ammunition from the British but is giving it to Khan. In Gopal, Stone receives the emir's gracious welcome and is introduced to Khan. Meanwhile, Donald dances with Tania Volkanskaya, Khan's "woman." When Khan swears on the Koran that his land is at Stone's disposal, Stone asks him to postpone his departure because he knows Khan's men are waiting in the hills to steal the ammunition that is en route for Gopal. The next day the regiment hunts wild pigs with sticks on horseback. Although Stone warns the men against going after a wounded pig, Donald does so, and the colonel proves his love for his son by trying to rescue him. Khan then finds Donald with Tania and abducts him. While McGregor and Fort look for Donald, they see Barrett's tortured corpse dropped from a horse, and McGregor shoots the Afridi rider. McGregor then threatens the rider into telling him Donald's whereabouts. When Stone refuses to change his strategy to save his son, McGregor insists on going alone and is arrested for insubordination with Fort as his guard. Although Hamilton defends Stone, saying men like the colonel have made British India what it is, McGregor and Fort leave for Khan's stronghold at Mogala disguised as merchants. Tania recognizes them right away, and Khan imprisons and tortures them to make them tell him the route of the ammunition. Although McGregor and Fort withstand the pain of bamboo slivers lit beneath their finger nails, Donald acquiesces and, out of vengeance for his father, reveals the route. Khan then successfully intercepts the ammunition and prepares for combat against Stone, whose own materiel is a mere percentage of Khan's. McGregor finally defends the colonel against Donald's traitorous act, and Fort reads a poem about his love of England. As Stone's army approaches Mogala, Fort steals bullets from the guards and blows open the prison wall, then he and McGregor set fire to Khan's ammunition. McGregor, fatally wounded, asks Fort not to tell the colonel his son betrayed him. In a moment of extreme courage, Donald stabs Khan single-handedly and the British win. Fort and Donald receive honors, and McGregor is awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously, while the British national anthem plays.

Film Details

Also Known As
More Lives of a Bengal Lancer
Genre
Drama
Adventure
Historical
War
Release Date
Jan 18, 1935
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 4 Jan 1935
Production Company
Paramount Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Paramount Productions, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Chatsworth, California, United States; Fort Kohat, Peshawar, India; Independence Town, California, United States; Khyber Pass,India; Lone Pine, California, United States; Malibu, California, United States; Sierra Mountains--Death Valley, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Lives of a Bengal Lancer by Francis Yeats-Brown (New York, 1936).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 49m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Noiseless Recording)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9,801ft (11 reels)

Award Wins

Best Assistant Director

1935

Award Nominations

Best Art Direction

1935

Best Director

1935
Henry Hathaway

Best Editing

1935
Ellsworth Hoagland

Best Picture

1935

Best Screenplay

1935

Best Sound

1935

Articles

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer


Genre movies have a way of dying out for several years, then returning when you've all but forgotten about them. Westerns, gangster pictures, sci-fi adventures, haunted house movies - you name it. It seems unlikely, however, that we'll ever see the return of British Imperialist action adventures.

During the 1930s, tons of movies were made in which handsome British officers lightheartedly slaughtered whatever group of extras was thrown at them, with the enemy sporting decidedly darker skin tones than the nominal heroes. Still, if you're able to accept these films as escapist yarns that were made in very different times, you're bound to enjoy Henry Hathaway's action-packed The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935), which, along with George Stevens' Gunga Din (1939), is widely considered the best of the Imperialist lot. (John Huston's wonderful The Man Who Would Be King (1975) doesn't really count, because it's about the folly of such a mindset.)

Gary Cooper stars as Lt. Alan McGregor, a veteran Canadian soldier fighting for the British in Northwest India. When two new officers are assigned to his unit, he teaches them the ropes and how to prepare for war. Lt. John Forsythe (Franchot Tone) is a sarcastic, rough-and-tumble sort who's simply looking for excitement among the dunes. Lt. Donald Stone (Richard Cromwell), on the other hand, has a lot more at stake. His father (Guy Standing) is the unit's commanding officer, who is anything but paternal toward his son. Together, the men locate a British spy (Colin Tapley) who's been keeping an eye on a war-minded local Chieftain (Douglas Dumbrille.) Then they receive their ultimate test when Lt. Stone is kidnapped and must be rescued. As expected, wall-to-wall action ensues, with a little bit of torture thrown in for good measure.

Paramount dropped a nice chunk of change on bringing Bengal Lancer to the screen. Hathaway neatly incorporated impressive documentary footage of India that was shot specifically for the picture, then journeyed overseas himself to gather even more shots. Nevertheless, most of the film takes place on expensive sets that were constructed on Paramount's California ranch, with the actors wearing highly detailed costumes. In fact, the sets were so impressive that Cecil B. DeMille resurrected them in 1935 for his gaudy epic, The Crusades.

The attention to detail paid off. George MacDonald Fraser, a former British soldier, notes in his book, The Hollywood History of the World, that "(Bengal Lancer's) domestic atmosphere is more evocative for me than any other film of India. It has none of the magnificent panoramas of the real India and its people to be seen in Gandhi [1982] or The Drum [1938]; but it does have bungalows and tents just like the ones I lived in, and dusty maidens, and long-tailed puggarees and glittering lance heads like those of the lancers where we drilled."

Cooper had been around a while by the time The Lives of a Bengal Lancer was made, but Hathaway saw something in the handsome young actor that he knew could be transformed into first-class star material. He always wanted him for the lead role, and stood his ground whenever other actors were suggested. Sure enough, the movie went through the roof at the box office, and Cooper quickly became GARY COOPER, in extra-large letters above the title for the rest of his career.

This, by the way, is one of only two pictures in which Cooper wears a mustache, with the other being Peter Ibbetson (1935.) Hathaway also forces him to don a turban, but there's no denying his megawatt charisma. Cooper couldn't pull off a British accent for the role, so his character was turned into a Canadian. He doesn't seem particularly Canadian either, but why quibble?

Producer: Louis D. Lighton
Director: Henry Hathaway
Screenplay: Waldemar Young, John L. Balderston, Achmed Abdullah, Grover Jones, William Slavens McNutt (based on a novel by Maj. Francis Yeats-Brown)
Cinematographer: Charles Lang, Ernest B. Schoedsack
Editor: Ellsworth Hoagland
Music: Milan Roder
Art Designer: Hans Dreier, Roland Anderson
Costume Designer: Travis Banton
Choreography: LeRoy Prinz
Principal Cast: Gary Cooper (Lt. Alan McGregor), Franchot Tone (Lt. John Forsythe), Richard Cromwell (Lt. Donald Stone), Guy Standing (Col. Stone), C. Aubrey Smith (Maj. Hamilton), Monte Blue (Hamzulia Khan), Kathleen Burke (Tania Volkanskaya), Colin Tapley (Lt. Barrett), Douglas Dumbrille (Mohammed Khan), Akim Tamiroff (Emir).
BW-109m.

by Paul Tatara
The Lives Of A Bengal Lancer

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer

Genre movies have a way of dying out for several years, then returning when you've all but forgotten about them. Westerns, gangster pictures, sci-fi adventures, haunted house movies - you name it. It seems unlikely, however, that we'll ever see the return of British Imperialist action adventures. During the 1930s, tons of movies were made in which handsome British officers lightheartedly slaughtered whatever group of extras was thrown at them, with the enemy sporting decidedly darker skin tones than the nominal heroes. Still, if you're able to accept these films as escapist yarns that were made in very different times, you're bound to enjoy Henry Hathaway's action-packed The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935), which, along with George Stevens' Gunga Din (1939), is widely considered the best of the Imperialist lot. (John Huston's wonderful The Man Who Would Be King (1975) doesn't really count, because it's about the folly of such a mindset.) Gary Cooper stars as Lt. Alan McGregor, a veteran Canadian soldier fighting for the British in Northwest India. When two new officers are assigned to his unit, he teaches them the ropes and how to prepare for war. Lt. John Forsythe (Franchot Tone) is a sarcastic, rough-and-tumble sort who's simply looking for excitement among the dunes. Lt. Donald Stone (Richard Cromwell), on the other hand, has a lot more at stake. His father (Guy Standing) is the unit's commanding officer, who is anything but paternal toward his son. Together, the men locate a British spy (Colin Tapley) who's been keeping an eye on a war-minded local Chieftain (Douglas Dumbrille.) Then they receive their ultimate test when Lt. Stone is kidnapped and must be rescued. As expected, wall-to-wall action ensues, with a little bit of torture thrown in for good measure. Paramount dropped a nice chunk of change on bringing Bengal Lancer to the screen. Hathaway neatly incorporated impressive documentary footage of India that was shot specifically for the picture, then journeyed overseas himself to gather even more shots. Nevertheless, most of the film takes place on expensive sets that were constructed on Paramount's California ranch, with the actors wearing highly detailed costumes. In fact, the sets were so impressive that Cecil B. DeMille resurrected them in 1935 for his gaudy epic, The Crusades. The attention to detail paid off. George MacDonald Fraser, a former British soldier, notes in his book, The Hollywood History of the World, that "(Bengal Lancer's) domestic atmosphere is more evocative for me than any other film of India. It has none of the magnificent panoramas of the real India and its people to be seen in Gandhi [1982] or The Drum [1938]; but it does have bungalows and tents just like the ones I lived in, and dusty maidens, and long-tailed puggarees and glittering lance heads like those of the lancers where we drilled." Cooper had been around a while by the time The Lives of a Bengal Lancer was made, but Hathaway saw something in the handsome young actor that he knew could be transformed into first-class star material. He always wanted him for the lead role, and stood his ground whenever other actors were suggested. Sure enough, the movie went through the roof at the box office, and Cooper quickly became GARY COOPER, in extra-large letters above the title for the rest of his career. This, by the way, is one of only two pictures in which Cooper wears a mustache, with the other being Peter Ibbetson (1935.) Hathaway also forces him to don a turban, but there's no denying his megawatt charisma. Cooper couldn't pull off a British accent for the role, so his character was turned into a Canadian. He doesn't seem particularly Canadian either, but why quibble? Producer: Louis D. Lighton Director: Henry Hathaway Screenplay: Waldemar Young, John L. Balderston, Achmed Abdullah, Grover Jones, William Slavens McNutt (based on a novel by Maj. Francis Yeats-Brown) Cinematographer: Charles Lang, Ernest B. Schoedsack Editor: Ellsworth Hoagland Music: Milan Roder Art Designer: Hans Dreier, Roland Anderson Costume Designer: Travis Banton Choreography: LeRoy Prinz Principal Cast: Gary Cooper (Lt. Alan McGregor), Franchot Tone (Lt. John Forsythe), Richard Cromwell (Lt. Donald Stone), Guy Standing (Col. Stone), C. Aubrey Smith (Maj. Hamilton), Monte Blue (Hamzulia Khan), Kathleen Burke (Tania Volkanskaya), Colin Tapley (Lt. Barrett), Douglas Dumbrille (Mohammed Khan), Akim Tamiroff (Emir). BW-109m. by Paul Tatara

Quotes

Trivia

Reported to be Adolf Hitler's favorite film.

Henry Wilcoxon was initially cast as Lieutenant Forsythe but was dissatisfied with the role and was replaced by Franchot Tone. The official reason was that he had a scheduling conflict with the movie Crusades, The (1935). Four days of retakes with Franchot Tone were required.

Paramount hired hundreds Piute Indians from nearby reservations, Hindu fruit and olive pickers from Napa Valley, California, and Imperial Valley, California, to play the Afridi tribesmen in the battle sequences.

This is the film where Douglass Dumbrille says "We have ways of making men talk", although everybody remembers it as "We have ways of making you talk"

Notes

A pre-production title for this film was More Lives of a Bengal Lancer. Paramount purchased the rights to Francis Yeats-Brown's novel before it was published. The Variety review states that only the locale and title of the novel were retained in the film. The opening credits on the viewed print make "grateful acknowledgment" to Lieut. Col. W. E. Wynn, O.B.E: p.s.c., formerly of the Seventh Bengal Lancers, and Capt. Rochfort John, formerly of the Royal Engineers, for technical advice and supervision. According to a January 1932 New York Times article, filmmaker 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, a group of tribes that includes the Afridis, who are characterized in the film. In the article, Schoedsack describes the Afridis as the "most warlike of the tribes...big, powerfully built men." According to Schoedsack, the Bengal Lancers with whom author Yeats-Brown served had merged with the Indian cavalry by 1932 and no longer used the name. Schoedsack shot scenes of villages and the rifle factory of the Afridis.
       A news item in Hollywood Reporter on July 31, 1933 stated that Lawrence Stallings had been offered a job refurbishing the screenplay for this film. A Hollywood Reporter news item on August 4, 1933 states that Waldemar Young and Achmed Abdullah (who are credited on the screen) were working on the script. It is unclear what contribution Stallings made to the final screenplay. According to a modern source, Yeats-Brown and Maxwell Anderson contributed to the script. On October 14, 1933, Film Daily reported that Stephen Roberts would direct the film, although Henry Hathaway replaced him. According to an October 1934 New York Times article, Paramount sent 300 cast and crew members on location to the Sierra Mountain town of Independence, CA, where it recruited one hundred Piute Indians from nearby reservations, Hindu fruit pickers from the Napa Valley, and country ranchers from Inyo. According to a Daily Variety news item on July 12, 1934, five hundred Hindu olive pickers were recruited in the Imperial Valley and around Oxnard, CA, to play Afridi tribesmen and lancers for battle sequences. A New York Times article on June 28, 1936 reported that the Hindu were unable to eat the lunches provided by Paramount because they reportedly ate only curry made by a person of the right caste. Cantonement scenes involving 450 men were shot on the Paramount ranch, fifty miles from the studio, according to the same article. In September 1934, location shooting took place at Lone Pine, CA; and in mid-October in Chatsworth, CA. Retakes were taken in Malibu, CA in early December 1934.
       A Hollywood Reporter news item on July 31, 1933 states that Claudette Colbert and Richard Arlen (as "Lieutenant Stone") were to be in the cast; however, they did not appear in the final film. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item on October 5, 1933, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. had to turn down a role in this film due to his prior commitment to Catherine the Great. Daily Variety news items in July and August 1934 give the following information on casting: Cary Grant, Ronald Coleman and Ray Milland were considered for roles in the film, but were not cast, and Henry Wilcoxon was initially cast as "Lieutenant Forsythe," but after reportedly being dissatisfied with the role, was replaced by Franchot Tone. The official reason, according to Daily Variety, for Wilcoxon's departure was that he had a scheduling conflict with Cecil B. DeMille's production of The Crusades. Four days of retakes with Tone were necessary. (According to a modern source, the sets from this film were retained and used with minor alterations for The Crusades.) According to a script dated September 22, 1934 in the Paramount Script Collection at the AMPAS Library, at that point in the production, Fredric March had been cast as "Lieutenant Post" and Clive Brook as "Major Hamilton." (In the script, March was billed second, after Gary Cooper, suggesting that the character of "Lieutenant Post" became "Lieutenant Forsythe.") Neither March nor Brook were in the final cast.
       According to a Daily Variety news item on March 4, 1935, the film was screened for the king and queen of England on March 2, 1935, and reportedly was one of the few films seen by the couple in many years. According to news items in Hollywood Reporter, the film was a major success in England and Vienna. On March 8, 1935, Daily Variety reported that the picture had been classified by German censors for screening on national holidays, making an exception to a law that banned regular runs of pictures on holidays. A news item in Daily Variety on April 24, 1935 states that the film had been banned by Chinese censors because it "depicts the British downtrodding of Oriental races." According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, despite Chinese censors' fear that the film would have a negative effect on Mohammedans, it was passed for exhibition in late January 1936.
       Clem Beauchamp and Paul Wing received a 1935 Academy Award for Best Assistant Direction. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, Directing, Screenplay, Interior Decoration, Film Editing, and Franklin Hansen was nominated for Sound Recording. The film was voted one of the ten best of 1935 by Film Daily's nationwide poll of critics. In 1936, the Hollywood Foreign Press Society voted to give this film one of its awards.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1935

Released in United States 1935