North West Frontier (a.k.a., Flame over India) (1959)
Director: J. Lee Thompson.
Starring: Kenneth More (Capt. Scott), Lauren Bacall (Catherine Wyatt), Herbert Lom (Van Layden), Wilfrid Hyde-White (Bridie), I.S. Johar (Gupta), Ursula Jeans (Lady Windham), Eugene Deckers (Peters), Ian Hunter (Sir John Wyndham), Jack Gwillim (Brig. Ames), Govind Raja Ross (Prince Kishan).
1905, fighting between Muslims and Hindus & trying to safe an important young Hindu Prince
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
1905. India. Rebel fanatics gather in the hills. They want to kill a six year old boy, a prince. His father, the Maharaja, has asked the British to take the young fellow to the garrison town of Haserabad from where he will go on to Delhi.
Soon after Captain Scott rides out with the prince, a large group of Muslim rebels attack the palace. They kill the Maharaja. Captain Scott sees the palace burning. They reach a British protected settlement and railway station. The last train to leave is pulling out of the station. The train is full and people ride on the roofs and on the sides of the train cars.
The rebels come to attack the British troops and the people. The British prepare for a fight. The people in the outlying areas are trying to get in to the town fortress through the gates. There are just too many of them to handle. After awhile Captain Scott gives the order to let no more in through the gates. Captain Scott meets the various people at headquarters. There is Mrs. Windham, wife of the commander Sir John, and Catherine Wyatt, a widow whose husband was a doctor. He is the one who saved the life of the young Prince Kishan as a baby.
General Charles Ames comes in to say that the last train has gone. He tells the people that they will be safe here. But Mrs. Wyatt vociferously disagrees. She tells the officers that this is no ordinary tribal uprising. The Princes usually fight against each other, but now they are fighting on the same side. Princes Rasjad, Hussein, and Rhaheem are united now. (Spelling of the Prince's names may be wrong.) A little later she tells the officers that they have to forgive her for speaking her mind. She says she thinks that's what a mind is for.
The rebel attack begins. The cannons fire upon the wave of invaders. The rebels put ladders up against the far outer fortress walls. They capture the outer railway gate. Sir John says that they have to get the Prince out of here. The matter is urgent. He calls for Captain Scott. Sir John says that the little Hindu Prince is their only chance of restoring order in the province. When Scott arrives, Sir John asks him if he can get to Kalipur. It is 300 miles away. An arms-dealer named Mr. Peters complains about the distance.
But they have a secret weapon. There is an old steam engine that still works even if they say it is only good for shuntings. Gupta is the very friendly engineer and quite a colorful character. Captain Scott asks him how fast the engine can go. Gupta says between 40 and 50 m.p.h. The press hounds Sir John about what he is going to do.
Captain Scott plans to get up enough steam to bust through the rebel-held outer gates. He has put a ramming device on the front of the engine. There will a number of passengers going: Mrs. Wyatt, the Prince, Mrs. Windham, Bridie, Peters and a controversial journalist named Van Layden. Scott tells everyone in the coach car to get down on the floor, please. As the engine gathers speed it comes under fire from the rebels. The engine breaks through the gates. Rebels on horseback give chase. But an Indian soldier mans a machine gun on the back platform and kills a lot of the pursuers. Scott gives out Enfield rifles to the men and to Mrs. Wyatt.
Reaching the next railway station, Scott sees the refugee train. It looks like the Muslim rebels have killed everyone on the train. There are bodies outside and inside the train. It is quite the grisly sight. Scott tells the others on the train that the refugees are all dead. But Mrs. Wyatt can't believe they all are dead. Someone must have survived. She decides to take a look for herself. Scott tells another man: "Let her find out for herself."
Mrs. Wyatt returns to the train carrying a baby. She explains to the others that the baby was hidden under his mother's body. She used her body to shelter him. Scott snaps that she doesn't have to makes excuses for him, he was wrong to say that all were dead. Van Layden makes the cynical remark: "One life saved and thousands lost."
Heading up an upgrade is tough on the engine. They stop and take off the ramming device. Now the train rolls along nicely. Mrs. Wyatt brings Scott a cup of coffee. He says he has heard that her husband was a great doctor and she must have been very courageous to accompany him. But Mrs. Wyatt says she was not noble. She hated the squalor. And she even hated her husband being a doctor. But "one does learn even though it's late in the day."
Mrs. Windham worries about her husband back in the fortress. The other passengers try to reassure her that he will be alright.
A rail on the track has been twisted. It must be replaced. Scott tells the men (in suits) that they will have to help replace a rail. They will take a straight rail from the track behind the train. Six men work on the task. They are all worried that the rebels may have set up an ambush. The whistle malfunctions and goes off on its own. They have to run to silence it. They are afraid that the whistle may have alerted men in the mountains as to their presence. And, sure enough, they do see mirror flashes from mountain to mountain. Soon hundreds of armed men are on their way to the rail line.
The six men finish with the replacement rail, except for the tightening of two bolts. Scott says he will do it. He has the others hide behind the engine for their protection. Gupta pours some oil along the railside. When the rebels attack the oil is lit and a large fire is created with lots of smoke. Under this cover Scott can finish tightening the two bolts. He succeeds and the train heads out. The rebels on horseback give chase but they have to stop when the train goes through a long tunnel. Gupta got hit in a couple of areas and cannot drive the engine. He tells Scott that he will teach him how to manage the engine.
In the passenger coach Mrs. Windham tells Van Layden that his journalism is irresponsible, that it sometimes deliberately incites violence. The Prince remarks that Captain Scott likes Mrs. Wyatt.
The train reaches the Jamshara station. The machine-gunner fires inside as they pass the station building. This scares Scott and he and an Indian gunner jump out to check out the station. It was a false alarm. No one is at the station. They stop the train to gather wood for the pump house in order to get the pump started so it will pump out water for their engine. The Prince goes into the pump house and pokes a stick into the wheels of a spinning wheel. Van Layden comes in looking very sinister. He encourages the boy to play with the stick and urges him ever closer to the spinning spokes. Scott arrives in time to tell them to stop it. He tells Van Layden that his actions were senseless.
The Gunner manages the running of the engine while Scott takes a break. Van Layden won't take any of the liquor that the other men offer him. Peters suddenly asks him if he is a Muslim. Van Layden says he is a Muslim. But what does that matter, he asks. He attacks Peters saying that the man sold the arms the rebels now carry.
Scott pays a visit to Mrs. Wyatt who is now nursing Gupta. They talk together for awhile. It is very obvious that she does not care for soldiers. She says soldier have no mind of their own. All they do is just follow orders. Scott is a little taken aback by her attitude.
Van Layden tells the other men that he is a "half-breed" from Indonesia. They tell him there is nothing wrong with being Muslim or being born of parents of different racial heritages. But Van Layden says he finds it degrading that most half-breeds are always thinking about what they are or are not. He knows who he is.
At night Van Layden eyes the sleeping Prince. And Mrs. Windham keeps her eye on Van Layden.
The next day they reach a very long railway bridge. Scott checks it out and finds that one section of the support for a track has been blown away. He thinks that he can drive the train over the rail bridging the gap. But first he has everyone get off the train except for Gupta. He has them walk over the single rail suspended over a huge gorge. Everyone gets across except for the Prince and Van Layden. Scott stands on one side of the gap and Van Layden on the other. Scott reaches out with his arms and he tells Van Layden, who is holding the boy, to stretch out his arms and give him the child. But Van Layden deliberately does not hold out his arms. Scott finally grabs the child just as he starts to fall into the gorge. When Van Layden gets on the other side of the gap, Scott tells him that he deliberately held the boy short of his grasp. Van Layden goes on the attack against Scott, but Scott persists with his claim. And he goes farther. He has the huge Indian gunner place Van Layden under a sort of house arrest.
Now Scott and Gupta move the train forward to get to the other side of the gap. The rails start to bow under the weight. But with more power the engine is able to go up the rail and get onto firm ground. Everyone is thrilled to see them succeed. Scott goes to Mrs. Wyatt. She looks so pensive that he asks her if she is not taking her anti-soldier attitude a little too far. But he misunderstands her for she gives him a kiss. She says: "You really had me scared." He now feels close enough to her that he can call her Catherine and she can call him Wiliby.
The guard watching Van Layden is so preoccupied with cleaning the machine gun that it borders on negligence of duty. Bridie comes to give Van Layden some water and a book to read. But as he opens the door to the holding room he finds Van Layden with the machine gun pointed right at him. He says: "So it is true, Mr. Van Layden" The man with the machine gun demands that Catherine call for the boy. She refuses. Mrs. Windham says the man is mad. Van Layden takes exception to this and explains that he is an Indian and he fights for a country that will be all Muslim. Unnoticed by Van Layden, Gupta tries to sneak out while Catherine moves next to Mrs. Windham to block Van Layden's view. But Van Layden sees Gupta and yells for him to stop. Gupta stops. He explains to the others that he stopped because the man would have machine gunned down Mrs. Wyatt and Mrs. Windham.
Van Layden explains that this one boy is a symbol; he's an outworn tradition that stands between his country and freedom. Thousands of lives will be saved by killing this one boy. Scott sees flashing mirrors in the mountain. He and the Prince start to open the door to the passenger coach. But the women see his shadow, scream a warning and jump to the side. Van Layden opens fire. Scott risks his life by opening the door and crawling on the floor toward Van Layden. He yells to Van Layden that he cannot lower his machine gun (which is on a stand) enough to hit him. Van Layden stops and makes a run for it. He climbs on the roof of the passenger car. Scott chases after him. They fight on the roof. Van Layden is able to grab Scott's pistol. As he prepares to kill Scott, Catherine fires her rifle and Van Layden drops and falls off the train roof. He lands hard and soon dies while on the ground. Scott and Catherine hug each other. Mr. Bridie (wounded slightly in the hand) relaxes and says: "Now I suppose all our troubles are over."
Not hardly. Rebels on horseback race for the train. Bridie sees them and shouts out a warning. Scott mans the machine gun. Bridie feeds the belt through the machine. Some of the rebels manage to throw fire torches onto the heap of coal. Peters and Gupta work to throw the torches off the train. They all escape their pursuers when they enter another long tunnel. Catherine finds Scott on the floor and immediately checks him out. A bullet grazed his forehead. She nurses him and he enjoys the attention. She kisses him.
The train passes a British machine gun emplacement on top of an overhead bridge. The officer in charge has a message sent on ahead to Kalipur about the coming of the train.
When they arrive safety at the railway station, Mrs. Windham is relieved to learn that her husband Sir John is alright. Reinforcements arrived to save the day. After the Prince dons princely clothes he thanks Scott for saving him. He adds: "I hope I don't have to fight you." Scott is shocked at the very idea and says of course not. But the Prince says that his father told him that he must fight the British to make them go away. Scott doesn't say anything to this. The Prince leaves with a guardian.
On the train the baby cries. Scott says to Catherine: "Well, better try to find a home for young India." Together they walk away from the railway station.
A pleasant enough movie, but it does not contain that much history. About the only thing historical they focus on is the Muslim-Hindu conflict in India. And there is a horrible example of the ethnic-religious hatred and violence in the movie. It's more of a chase movie/action flick than anything else.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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