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The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (film)

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Title: The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (film)  
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Subject: Louis D. Lighton, Henry Hathaway, Odeon, Kingstanding, Charles Stevens (actor), China Girl (1942 film)
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The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (film)

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Henry Hathaway
Produced by Louis D. Lighton
Written by William Slavens McNutt
Grover Jones
Waldemar Young
John L. Balderston
Achmed Abdullah
Starring Gary Cooper
Franchot Tone
Richard Cromwell
Guy Standing
Music by Herman Hand
John Leipold
Milan Roder
Heinz Roemheld
Cinematography Charles Lang
Edited by Ellsworth Hoagland
Paramount Pictures
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • January 11, 1935 (1935-01-11) (United States)
  • March 24, 1935 (1935-03-24) (Skandinavia)
Running time 109 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $49 million (today's equivalent of $1,5 million in the 1930s)
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmovie 4/5 stars[1]
Rotten Tomatoes 8/10 stars[2]
Turner Classic Movies 4/4 stars[3]
New York Times 4.5/5 stars[4]
Netflix 3.5/4 stars[5]

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (promoted as The Sons of England in Scandinavia) is a 1935 American adventure-romantic-comedy film loosely adapted from the 1930 book of the same name by British-Indian author Francis Yeats-Brown. The film is a Paramount picture directed by Henry Hathaway and written by Grover Jones, William Slavens McNutt, Waldemar Young, John L. Balderston and Achmed Abdullah.

The plot of the movie tells the story of a group of British cavalrymen and high-ranking officers desperately trying to defend their stronghold and headquarters at Bengal against the rebellious natives in British Raj. It stars Gary Cooper, Franchot Tone, Richard Cromwell, and Douglass Dumbrille.

Production and planning of the film began in 1931 and Paramount expected the film to be released that same year. However, due to a film stock crisis, the project was delayed. The motion picture was released in American cinemas in January 1936 under its original name and March in Scandinavian countries under a promotional name.

The film's release was met with highly positive reviews and box office results. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning Assistant Director, with other nominations including Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture. It has been described as "one of the greatest adventure films of all time".


On the northwest frontier of India during the British Raj, Scottish-Canadian Lieutenant Alan McGregor (Gary Cooper), in charge of newcomers, welcomes two replacements to the 41st Bengal Lancers, Lieutenant Forsythe (Franchot Tone) and Lieutenant Donald Stone (Richard Cromwell), the son of the unit's commander, Colonel Tom Stone (Guy Standing). Lieutenant Stone has volunteered to serve on the Indian front solely in the belief that his father specifically sent for him, while Lieutenant Forsythe, an experienced cavalrymen, is simply sent off as a replacement for a recently dead officer. After the formal introduction, Lieutenant Stone realizes his father never actually sent for him, a discovery that breaks his heart. In attempt to show impartiality, the colonel treats his son very coldly, which is misinterpreted and causes even more frustration and resentment in the young man.

Lieutenant Barrett (Colin Tapley) has been disguised as a native rebel in order to spy on Mohammed Khan (Douglass Dumbrille), and reports that Khan has been preparing an uprising against the British occupiers and is planning to intercept and steal a future military transport of two million rounds of ammunition. When Khan discovers the British regiment knows of his plan, he orders his very beautiful slave to seduce and then kidnap Lieutenant Stone, in order to try to extract vital information about the ammunition caravan from him. When the colonel refuses to attempt his rescue, McGregor and Forsythe, appalled by the "lack of humanness" the colonel has for his own flesh and blood, leave the camp at night without orders. While disguised as common natives trying to sell blankets, they are recognized by the beautiful slave, who have met the two men before, and the two are caught as well. During a seemingly friendly interrogation, Mohammed Khan says, "we have ways of making men talk" (a line which is frequently misquoted) and has his prisoners tortured by ripping of their nails and burning the skin underneath. While McGregor and Forsythe, despite the agonizing pain, refuse to speak, Stone cracks and reveals what he knows. As a result, the ammunition is captured.

From their cell, the captives sees the outmatched Bengal Lancers deploy to assault Khan's fortress. They manage to escape and ultimately destroy the ammunition tower, and Stone redeems himself by killing Khan. This forces the rebels to surrender. However, McGregor, who was mainly responsible for the destruction of the tower, is tragically killed in the assault. To recognize their battlefield bravery and military effort, the colonel writes to Victoria Cross, with McGregor's horse receiving his medal for him.


  • Gary Cooper as "Lieutenant Alan McGregor", a highly experienced officer in his mid thirties, who has spent a long time with the regiment. McGregor is portrayed as a charming, open character who befriends most officers, but is repeatedly refused promotion and a say in military matters because of disregard for his superiors.[4]
  • Franchot Tone as "Lieutenant Forsythe", an educated cavalryman in his mid twenties from the Military Academy of Sandford. Forsythe is presented as the "funny guy" of the main characters, and becomes notable for his Sandford-style in military exercise, something that earns him countless compliments from his superiors.[4]
  • Richard Cromwell as "Lieutenant Donald Stone", a recent graduate and very young officer. As the son of a colonel with a famous name, he is treated respectfully, but becomes frustrated and morose because of personal issues with his father.[4]
  • Guy Standing as "Colonel Tom Stone", a long-serving colonel who left his home in England for the Indian front, and explains to his son in the movie, "the service always comes first ... something your mother never understood." He is considered to be a diehard "by-the-book" colonel who suppresses his feelings and never does anything without orders.[4]
  • C. Aubrey Smith as "Major Hamilton", an old, but very experienced major who serves as Colonel Stone's right-hand man and Lieutenant Stone's second father and friend. He, along with his chief, planned and coordinated the big assault on the Muhammad Khan's fortress.[4]
  • Kathleen Burke as "Tania Volkanskaya", a beautiful and seductive young woman who is Khan's slave. She is used as Khan's secret ace, who seduces young men and tricks them into capture when needed.[4]
  • Douglass Dumbrille as "Mohammed Khan", a known and wealthy prince of region, but also the secret rebel leader who fights for Bengal independence against the British. He is portrayed as the movie's villain and is responsible for the death and torture of many people.[4]
  • Colin Tapley as "Lieutenant Barrett", the good friend of Lieutenant McGregor who has been ordered to infiltrate Khan's group of bandits and delivers vital information about the rebels' location and movement.[4]
  • Lumsden Hare as "Major General Woodley", the man in over-all command of the whole regiment. He is disliked by most of the regiment's officers, especially McGregor, because his orders usually involve training exercises with pigs. He thought of, and approved, the attack on Khan's stronghold.[4]


Film stock

Paramount had planned to produce the film in 1931 and sent cinematographers Ernest B. Schoedsack and Rex Wimpy to India to film location shots such as a tiger hunt.[6] However, much of the film stock deteriorated in boiling heat, so when the movie was eventually made, much of the production took place in the hills surrounding Los Angeles, where Paiute Native Americans were used as extras.[6]


Among the filming locations were [6]


French theatrical release poster

Box office

The film was released in American cinemas in January 1936 under its original name and in March in Scandinavian countries under the promotional name The Sons of England.[4][7] It was a big success at the box office and kicked off a cycle of Imperial adventure tales, including The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), Another Dawn (1937), Gunga Din (1939), The Four Feathers (1939), and The Real Glory (1939).[8] It claimed a universal gross of $49 million (today's equivalent of $1,5 million in the 1930s).[8]


Canadian journalist Laura Elston wrote in an article for Canada Magazine that the film did, "more glory to the British traditions than the British would dare to do for themselves."[8] Frederick Herron of the Motion Picture Association of America wrote in response to the movie's success, "Hollywood is doing a very good work in selling the British Empire to the world."[8]

Historian John Reid wrote in his book Award-Winning Films of the 1930s that the film is considered, "one of the greatest adventure films of all time", and highly praised Hathaway's work by saying, "the movie really made his reputation."[9]

German dictator Adolf Hitler told British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax in 1937 that one of his favorite films was The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, which he had seen three times.[10] "I like this film because it depicted a handful of Britons holding a continent in thrall. That is how a superior race must behave and the film is a compulsory viewing for the SS."[10][11]

Besides Hitler's personal enthusiasm, the film also became popular in Nazi Germany.[12] The Nazis is believed to have liked the rule-Britannia, pro-imperialist adventure movie because it embraced the "leader principle" which mirrored the "Führer principle".[12] In his book The Collaboration, Ben Urwand wrote about the movie's impact in Germany.

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer had drawn in massive crowds, but it had not emphasized the present need for fascism—it had harkened back to an earlier era. The next Hollywood movie that delivered a National Socialist message would be both popular and contemporary, and as a result, it would set a new standard for future German production. The film was called "Our Daily Bread".[12]
—Ben Urwand

Home media

The Paramount picture was distributed to home media on VHS on 1 March 1992,[13] and on DVD on 31 May 2005.[2] It has been release in many languages and multi-film collections.[14]


The film was nominated for the following Academy Awards, winning in one category:[15]
Award Nominee Result
Best Art Direction Hans Dreier
Roland Anderson
Best Assistant Director Clem Beauchamp
Paul Wing
Best Directing Henry Hathaway Nominated
Best Film Editing Ellsworth Hoagland Nominated
Best Outstanding Production Louis D. Lighton Nominated
Best Sound Recording Franklin B. Hansen Nominated
Adapted Screenplay William Slavens McNutt
Grover Jones
Waldemar Young
John L. Balderston
Achmed Abdullah

See also


  1. ^ "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer". Allmovie. Retrieved 13 September 2014.
  2. ^ a b "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 13 September 2014.
  3. ^ "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 13 September 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer". New York Times. Retrieved 13 September 2014.
  5. ^ "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer". Netflix. Retrieved 13 September 2014.
  6. ^ a b c d Richards 1973, p. 120-123.
  7. ^ "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 15 September 2014.
  8. ^ a b c d Welky 2008, p. 88-89.
  9. ^ Reid 2004, p. 118-119.
  10. ^ a b Kirkpatrick 1959, p. 97.
  11. ^ "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer". Cliomuse. Retrieved 15 September 2014.
  12. ^ a b c "How Could Harvard Have Published Ben Urwand's "The Collaboration"?". The New Yorker. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  13. ^ "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (VHS)". Amazon. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  14. ^ "The Oscars 30' Collection - 5 DVD Set". Amazon. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  15. ^ "Academy Awards of 1936 - Nominees and Winners". Oscars. Retrieved 8 August 2011.


External links

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