Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
In many ways, early 20th Century India resembled the American wild west, where rebel uprisings were common and lawlessness reigned. Throw in the additional elements of British Imperialism and religious fanaticism, and you have the basic premise for the 1959 film North West Frontier aka Flame Over India, set in what is now part of modern day Pakistan.
In the midst of a Muslim tribal uprising in the North West region of India circa 1905, stalwart British Army Officer Captain Scott (Kenneth More) is ordered to transport young Hindu Prince Kishan (Govind Raja Ross) and his Governess, American widow Catherine Wyatt, (Lauren Bacall) to safety aboard a primitive steam powered locomotive, The Empress of China, through the heart of rebel territory.
Additional passengers on the train include the Governor's prim and proper wife, Lady Wyndham, (Ursula Jeans) a mistrusted arms dealer, Peters, (Eugene Deckers) an old school British diplomat, Mr. Birdie, (Wilfred Hyde-White) and a cynical anti-British Dutch newspaper reporter, Van Leyden (Herbert Lom). During the 300 mile trip to Kalapur, the passengers encounter the aftermath of a bloody massacre, severely damaged rails from a botched explosion attempt, and the constant threat of attack from rebel forces. However, the most dangerous threat of all may come from a traitorous passenger onboard the train.
Directed by J. Lee Thompson, (Guns Of Navarone/Cape Fear) this film features a thrilling combination of explosive action and adventure, as well as, the claustrophobic tension of a wild ride through a landscape fraught with constant danger. Screenwriter Patrick Ford, son of legendary director John Ford, also includes some rather interesting and lively commentary on British imperialism and its attempt to bring a precarious brand of "order" to the region, religious conflict, and the perpetuation of the conflict due to arms dealing with the Muslim rebels.
The performances by an excellent cast are all first rate. More and Bacall develop an effective, but restrained chemistry, in a low key romantic subplot. Herbert Lom is also quite effective as the cynical Dutch expatriate. I. J. Johan adds a nice bit of comic relief as the affable locomotive engineer. The film features some spectacular scenery, with Grenada and Spain substituting for India. However, it is quite clear that most of the action scenes were shot in the studio, with the background scenery added in during the editing phase, somewhat detracting from the realism factor.
With all of the fast paced action and adventure, this film seems much shorter than its 129 minute run-time. It is currently available in both DVD under the original title North West Frontier and on a recently released Blu-ray under the title Flame Over India. The Blu-ray transfer is really quite good, although hardly pristine, retaining a good bit of grain from the dated original source material.
Overall, I give this film high marks for fast paced action and adventure, although it succeeds equally well as a character driven historical period drama. It is an entertaining thrill ride through early 20th century India, capturing the tension and unrest at a pivotal time in the country's history. Due to the current instability of modern world, we sometimes forget that the dangerous threat from religious fanaticism has been around for centuries, making this topic as relevant today as it was in early 20th century India.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older