And so, I return to the early 1930’s for my next review. An era I recently complained about during my review of ‘A Farewell to Arms’. My complaints being that the films of the era tend to suffer from a lack of realism or acting ability or directorial skill or good writing whilst being loaded with polemic political themes. The reasons I suggested for these shortcomings were the developing nature of sound recording, the political machinations in the run up to the 2nd World War and the Hays Code (its introduction in 1932 and lack of enforcement until 1934 creating a gap where no-one truly knew where they stood). My film today doesn’t seem to suffer from any of these issues but that’s not to say it doesn’t suffer in other ways.
This is the 1934 re-make of the 1929 British Silent film ‘The Lost Patrol’ which itself is derived from a book simply called ‘Patrol’. Directed by John Ford (The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance) the king of location shooting and massive back drops. It would go on in years to come to be re-made for a Soviet audience, then as a 2nd World War film and on again to be made as a Western before attaining the giddying heights of becoming a computer game for Commodore Amiga, Atari ST and DOS.
A quick aside on the subject of The Searchers by the way. It’s lauded as probably the best Western film ever made, even contemporary audiences apparently score it highly. My question is have any of these people actually seen it? It’s dreadful! The acting is terrible, especially John Wayne, the story/plot is threadbare, the cowboy and Indians stuff is overt racism (even for the time, surely) and it’s long and boring. Maybe I’m missing something but there you go. Back to The Lost Patrol.
The story is a simple one, born out by the length of the film at just 71 minutes. A group of British chaps on horses in the deserts of Mesopotamia in 1917 are led astray by their young Captain who won’t admit to them that they’re lost. When he takes a bullet through the lung (dying instantly) the rest of the team suddenly realise they are in a bit of a pickle. The ensuing 65 minutes or so see the guys slowly picked off by the invisible, sharp-shooting Arab enemy.
The first thing I noticed was the accents. For a British unit the accents tend to sway back and forth across the Atlantic, sometimes stopping midway. I thought some of these guys were Americans but after a bit of researching it looks like they’re all British (or Irish) so the accents thing is a bit of an anomaly, maybe these British actors had simply spent too much time on the wrong side of the pond.
The next thing I noticed was Boris Karloff (my first car, a white, 1L Ford Fiesta was called Boris Carwash). I think this is the first non-monstery film I’ve seen him in and I kind of assumed his voice was affected in that way of his for the slightly spooky tone required in horror films. No, it turns out he just sounds like he’s about to break into the ‘Monster Mash’ every time he opens his mouth. Having said that he is superb in this. He brilliantly overacts the descent into religious madness he’s been hired for. No-one in the unit likes him, I imagined he’d get his moment in the sun at some point and the story would revolve around him becoming the hero of the piece (very much like James Cagney in ‘The Fighting 69th’) but no, he just carries on being dis-liked before being tied up and (after breaking free and running away) eventually gets shot to pieces by the invisible enemy whilst pretending to be Jesus.
Aside from pretty much every bit with Boris in it there are also other moments of unintended comedy. An RAF plane spots them holed up at their oasis, lands and makes to pop over for a chat. He jumps all dapper like out of his plane, takes a few steps, gets shot and staggers about for a bit whilst saying ‘I say, I say, you chaps should…..’ before falling face first into the sand. I had to rewind that bit a few times to make sure it wasn’t intentionally funny. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t.
Interestingly this is the third Great War Film I’ve watched recently that references Rudyard Kipling. The others being ‘My Boy Jack’ (obviously) but also ‘Gallipoli’ has an early scene with a father of one of the guys reading Kipling to a group of children. I suppose this is an accurate portrayal of the times as Kipling was probably the most well-known writer of his era. I think I might keep a note of films that reference Kipling for my statistical analysis page.
The story is pretty universal and I can see why it’s been re-made to cover different genres. The unseen enemy/monster is a staple of thrillers and I think that is where this movie intends to pitch itself. To my 2014 eyes it’s not a thriller, it could be a character piece, but we don’t have enough time or dialogue to learn about the individuals. I think this is more a psychological study of cabin fever. The guys are lost, they find somewhere safe, they start bickering, then fighting, then they start leaving one by one to be picked off by the unseen enemy. No one wants to be left alone.
As the classic RKO Radio Pictures logo and the words ‘The’ and ‘End’ fill my screen I press pause to write this review. I liked it. It’s short, but it’s a simple story. I feel the length is about right. It didn’t drag or feel like I missed anything. This kind of film wouldn’t get made today, we need more. We need characters that have a back story, we need more tension, we need a bit of gore. This film has none of these things and I think it’s all the better for it. It’s a simple little story transferred simply to film and told in a straightforward and simple way. I liked it and if you have 71 minutes to waste you might like it too.