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The Lives of a Bengal Lancer

(1935 b 109')

En: 8 Ed: 7

Based on the novel by Major Francis Yates-Brown, three British officers in India disagree with their colonel about how to keep guns out of the hands of a Muslim rebel.

The British believe they are protecting 300 million people in India. Major Hamilton (C. Aubrey Smith) wants to catch Muhammad Khan. An officer says the colonel ordered them not to return fire and is killed. Lt. MacGregor (Gary Cooper) orders his men into battle and is later reprimanded. The son of Colonel Stone (Guy Standing) has been assigned to the Bengal Lancers right out of military college. MacGregor meets replacements Lt. Forsythe (Franchot Tone) and Lt. Donald Stone (Richard Cromwell), shouting at Indians and assigning them rooms next to his. Col. Stone threatens a Muslim with hanging. MacGregor sends Lt. Stone to his father so they can talk. The colonel tells his son a social relationship is impossible, and he tells MacGregor there is no room for sentimentality in the army. Lt. Stone cares for horses, and Forsythe defeats MacGregor in a lancing bet. Forsythe plays music to irritate MacGregor and attracts a cobra, which MacGregor shoots.

The colonel sends MacGregor out "hunting" with Forsythe and riflemen. Lt. Stone complains to his father he wasn't chosen. MacGregor gets information from the spy Barrett that Muhammad Khan wants to supply men with machine guns and two million rounds of ammunition. General Woodley orders the regiment to Gopal, whose Emir asked for the ammunition. MacGregor and Forsythe both go find Lt. Stone when he is out on a binge. The officers attend the Emir's banquet, and Col. Stone gets Muhammad Khan (Douglass Dumbrille) to stay for the "pig-sticking." The attractive Tania (Kathleen Burke) gives Lt. Stone a note that she wants to see him. Lt. Stone sticks a lance in a pig and goes after it. The colonel tries to help him and is attacked by the pig. Col. Stone orders Lt. Stone to leave the field for disobeying.

Muhammad Khan captured Lt. Stone with Tania and sends Barrett to the camp dead. MacGregor uses pig flesh to make a captured Muslim talk. Col. Stone refuses to let MacGregor go after Lt. Stone and puts him in Forsythe's custody. Hamilton argues with MacGregor about the colonel's duty. MacGregor and Forsythe, disguised as merchants, go to Mogala. Muhammad Khan sends for them and dines with them, asking about the convoy. He tortures MacGregor with slivers under his finger nails and burning sticks and then Forsythe. They hear Lt. Stone scream, and then he joins them in a jail. Days later they see the weapons arrive, and Lt. Stone admits he told them. Col. Stone and Hamilton arrive with the regiment to get the weapons before they are distributed. Forsythe causes a disruption to get bullets, and they use the powder to blow open the door. MacGregor escapes and gets to a machine gun, shooting men in the fort. Forsythe overpowers a guard and gets a pistol. MacGregor blows up the tower of ammunition as the lancers attack. Then Lt. Stone kills Muhammad Khan with a knife, ending the battle. In the final scene Hamilton and Col. Stone give medals to Forsythe, Lt. Stone, and the late MacGregor.

This action film applauded for its camaraderie among the colonial officers inadvertently exposes the violence and oppression of paternalistic British colonialism in India. Sadly, all the colonel can look forward to in retirement is his son being in his old regiment. What is so heroic about men risking their lives to govern people from another culture and religion?

Copyright © 2000 by Sanderson Beck

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