English army officer Captain Scott ( the marvelous Kenneth More ) is given last-minute orders to this effect and is left to use his own resources to bring the boy out in safety. Being a loyal soldier, Scott is willing to lay his life on the line before letting any harm come to the young prince and gets a few chances to prove his loyalty to the crown. Most of the English population of the area fled prior to the uprising and only the Governor ( Wilfred Hyde-White ), his wife ( Ursula Jeans ), the prince's American governess ( Lauren Bacall ), a Dutch/Indian news reporter ( Herbert Lom ) and a French gun dealer ( I.S. Johar ) remain, all of whom ask for Captain Scott's assistance in their flight for safety.
Leaving by horse cannot be considered because of the numerous snipers hiding in the hills, and most of the trains have already left days ago ( filled to the brim and flowing over with Indians ), so unfortunately the only means of train transportation left at his disposal is a decrepit old steam locomotive - Victoria, the Empress of India. Gupta, the engineer of the locomotive has great faith in "his fine lady", and assures the Captain that Victoria will be suitable for the mission.
"Alright, Victoria is old, I confess that. But she has experience, sahib. And when she has experience, what can go wrong?!"
What can go wrong indeed! Our cast of characters venture forth on a 300-mile journey through rebel-held territory in the rickety old engine and to add to the danger, they find that an enemy agent is among them - one who is bent on purposely endangering the prince!!
What appealed to me most about this film the first time I saw it was its fine cast ( who can pass up a good Kenneth More film? ), its imperialism era setting and the wonderful plot. When the picture was released in the UK, More received top billing for his performance as the Captain. However, for the US release, he got bumped down to second billing in place of Lauren Bacall.
At first, Bacall appears to be out of place as the governess, but her performance grows on you as the film progresses. She is excellent as usual and perfectly suited as the head-strong American woman who likes to speak her mind, and who slowly falls in love with the storybook correct Captain Scott.
North West Frontier is a highly under-rated adventure film and this may be due to it rarely being aired on television. If it had a broader audience it would surely become a favorite with many. Its duel titles does not help matters ( the alternately spelled Northwest Frontier becomes a third title in the mess ).
For those with that inner spirit of adventure, come aboard the Empress of India on a daring ( and dangerous ) journey through the Northwest Frontier and you can be sure you'll not to be disappointed! It's a Boys Own adventure come to glorious life in film.
This post is our contribution to The British Empire in Film Blogathon being hosted by Phantom Empires and The Stalking Moon. Be sure to check out their sites for a jolly good list of imperial posts!