Sunday, November 16, 2014

North West Frontier ( 1959 )

Flame Over India ( released in Britain as North West Frontier ) is a suspenseful epic about smuggling a boy prince out of India's northwestern province to safety in Kalapur after his father, the Rajah, is killed in a massive Islamic uprising. 

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 ).

Filmed in Technicolor on location in India and Spain, the movie plunges into the fray of danger and excitement from the start and although the "enemy" is pretty obvious to discover, Northwest Frontier is filled with many other suspenseful moments throughout its 129 minute run time. 

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! 


  1. A great write-up of a really entertaining film! I'm a big More fan, and well, the subject matter is my sort of thing, wot? Thanks so much for participating in the blogathon!

    Clayton @ Phantom Empires

  2. Thank you, Metzinger Sisters, for covering this gem! Saw this for the first time a few years ago when it came out on Blu-Ray and fell instantly in love with it. Kenneth More is ace as the quietly in command Brit. The rest of the cast is good as well, particularly Lom, who could easily have fallen into caricatured baddie but included some interesting sympathetic traits in his performance. Bacall sometimes grates on me but she's really quite good here (the scene where she enters the train after the massacre and finds the baby is really tense and well-played). I especially adore I.S. Johar as Gupta, the cheerfully philosophical train conductor who babies and nurses his precious locomotive across the dangerous landscape.

    Thanks again for contributing not one, but two great pieces to the blogathon!

  3. I haven't seen this for a VERY long time but I think it's well cast and manages to avoid caricatures - unlike many of it's kind. Funny that Bacall was bumped up the list for the US release; poor More.