Sunday, April 26, 2015

British India

In part because of the earthquake that hit Nepal yesterday, and in part because of a comment that somebody left on my post on Four Men and a Prayer, I started thinking about colonial India and the movies. Four Men and a Prayer, of course, is only partially set in India; I think there's more action in South America and more back in England. But it's what happens in India that gets the story going.

I'm not certain why India was such a popular subject for the movies, although there are any number of obvious reasons. First is that it would have seemed just as exotic as China (also a frequent subject for movies in the early 1930s), Japan, or Africa. But there's more to it. India was under British rule, and that would have offered ample opportunity for British people to go there and write stories about their experiences that could be turned into movies, with Rudyard Kipling being the most notable example. China had the missionaries; Japan not so much. I think being under British colonial rule also had something to do with it in another way, which is the garrisoning of British soldiers. Just as having US soldiers out on the western frontier provided a fertile ground for the telling of westerns, so having British soldiers between what are now Pakistan and Afghanistan would have made for some good material for adventure stories. And with the Anglophilia in the US, it's more natural that stories of Britain's colonies might be more likely to show up in Hollywood movies than France's African colonies or the Dutch East Indies.

As for the movies themselves, there's a wide range both of when the movies were made, and what time period is being portrayed. Mid-18th century figure Robert Clive shows up several times, most notably in Clive of India where he's played by Ronald Colman. As for the 19th century, the aforementioned Rudyard Kipling might be a good jumping-off point. I'm intending to do a full-length post on the 1970s version of The Man Who Would Be King the next time it shows up on TCM. And then getting to the 1940s and the Indian independence movement, you've got something like Gandhi, a good film for junior high school students needing a bit of history told in an easily digestible way.

There are a couple of movies I've blogged about. For the adventure aspect, you could do worse than Tyrone Power in King of the Khyber Rifles. It wasn't Power's first film playing somebody of Indian heritage; he had done so 15 years earlier in the melodrama The Rains Came. The Rains Came would get a lavish remake in the 1950s and a retitling as The Rains of Ranchipur with Lana Turner starring.

Less adventurous, and several decades later, is Man in the Middle (aka The Winston Affair), which is set during World War II and involving all those soldiers stationed in India, now keeping the place from being overrun by the Japanese. One of those soldiers (Keenan Wynn) commits an atrocity, and it's up to Robert Mitchum to defend the guy.

And I haven't even gotten into all those 1930s adventure films: Gunga Din, Lives of a Bengal Lancer, and the like.

I assume somebody's done a blogathon on the subject already. But what's your favore "British India" movie?

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