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Film / North West Frontier

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North West Frontier (also known as Flame Over India in the United States and Empress of India in Australia) is a 1959 British adventure film directed by J. Lee Thompson and starring Kenneth More, Lauren Bacall, and Herbert Lom.

The setting is 1905, in the North West Frontier province of India. A Muslim uprising has begun, and British Army Captain Scott (More) is asked to take the 5-year-old Prince Kishan and his widowed governess, Mrs. Wyatt (Bacall), to the safety of Haserabad, and from there to Delhi. However, upon arriving Scott finds that the last train out has already departed, and the rebels have seized the gates.

Undaunted, Scott finds a battered old locomotive called the Empress of India (but always affectionately referred to as "Victoria"note ) and enlists the help of its driver, Gupta (I. S. Johar), to get himself, the Prince, Mrs. Wyatt, and several extra passengers — including Mr. Van Leyden (Lom), a Dutch journalist; Mr. Bridie (Wilfrid Hyde-White), a British ex-pat; Mr. Peters (Eugene Deckers), an arms dealer; Lady Windham (Ursula Jeans), the governor's wife; and two unnamed Indian NCOs — out of Haserabad.

This film provides examples of:

  • Chekhov's Skill: Mrs Wyatt is one of the only civilians on the train who knows how to use a gun. Which comes in handy when Scott is fighting Van Leyden.
  • Companion Cube: Gupta treats Victoria as this. So does Scott.
  • Cool Train: Victoria. Despite being an ancient and poorly-maintained loco considered only good for shunting, she manages to get everyone to safety.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Lady Wyndham.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Everyone, Scott, Peters, and Mrs. Wyatt most of all.
    Peters: [about a gun] I've never used one of these in my life.
    Scott: They're for killing people with.
  • Disney Villain Death:
    • Van Leyden, who falls off the train.
    • Almost happens to Prince Kishan, who almost falls off a bridge. Luckily, Scott was able to reach him.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: Gupta initially appears to be a servile Ethnic Scrappy speaking in humorously broken English. However, he's also a highly experienced railwayman whose expertise is essential to the mission.
  • Double Take: Mr. Bridie does one when he sees the train being chased by horsemen.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Van Leyden is visibly nauseated by the massacre, and seems to regret that killing the Prince is a necessity for his cause.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: Not so much among the central characters, but neither the British nor the rebels are portrayed as being in the right.
  • Irony: Peters, an arms dealer, has never used a gun in his life.
  • Mighty Whitey: Peters and Scott both demonstrate this attitude. Scott even describes the Indians as "children" at one point.
  • Not With the Safety On, You Won't: Attempted as a bluff by Peters who, as an arms dealer, would be considered the gun expert on the train.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Scott has elements of this, although this is Deliberate Values Dissonance given that he's a British soldier in India in 1905.
  • Percussive Maintenance: Used by Gupta on Victoria. Scott attempts it, but gets a facefull of oil for his trouble.
  • Ramming Always Works: Well, when the obstacle is a wooden gate and the ram is a fully coaled and watered locomotive with a full head of steam going downhill, yeah, that gate didn't stand a chance.
  • Tempting Fate:
    Mr. Bridie: And now I supposed all our troubles are over.
  • Understatement: "He got off." Said by Scott about Van Leyden after he falls off the roof of the train.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Van Leyden's motivation for attempting to murder a 5-year-old boy
  • Thriller on the Express: The entire plot of the film.
  • The Von Trope Family: Van Leyden.
  • Traintop Battle: It was inevitable that this would happen sooner or later.
  • Upper-Class Twit: The monocled colonel.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Van Leyden.