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Flame Over India(1959)
In northwestern India soon after the turn of the 20th Century, Moslem rebels seek to kill a six-year-old Hindu prince to end his family line. Captain Scott of the British Army is ordered to get the prince out of the region safely. Adventure ensues as Scott sneaks the child away, through Moslem held territory, by train. Also on board are the boy's American governess, an arms merchant, a cynical reporter, and two upper class Britons.
For more about Flame Over India and the Flame Over India Blu-ray release, see Flame Over India Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on June 29, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Lauren Bacall, Kenneth More, Herbert Lom, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Ursula Jeans, Ian Hunter
Director: J. Lee Thompson
» See full cast & crew
Flame Over India Blu-ray Review
Saving the little prince.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, June 29, 2012
We live in a world of such radicalized religiosity that it's sometimes hard to remember that religious fanaticism is nothing new, and has indeed been around seemingly since time immemorial. That said, it's hard to imagine a film like North West Frontier (released in the United States as Flame Over India) being made in today's politically correct atmosphere. This 1959 British production takes a glossy but relatively unvarnished look at simmering early 20th century tensions between Muslims and Hindus in what was then called British India but which has since become a part of Pakistan, a country of course no stranger to simmering religious tensions. In the United States, where differences between Christians are sometimes swept under the rug in the guise of collegiality, and where minority religions are often not really part of the national dialogue at all, it can be hard to understand the radical differences in belief that colored (and continue to color) this part of the world. This is somewhat the same situation that seems to confound a lot of Westerners when confronted with the apparently unending conflict between Arabs and Israelis, which on its face is a struggle for nationhood and territory but which some wags have traced back to Abraham, Sarah and Hagar and various decisions that were made thousands of years ago, affecting countless psyches in their wake. As the narrator states so eloquently in the opening sequence of North West Frontier, the conflict between the Muslims and Hindus in this film, as perhaps with every other religious conflict in the long sordid history of Mankind, comes down to people arguing over what name to call God. This large scale film is a sort of "road" picture, with a group of desperate people attempting to find safety, not just for themselves, but perhaps most importantly for a young charge, a Hindu Prince put into their care for safekeeping.
The central conflict in North West Frontier between the Muslims and the Hindus doesn't really need to be understood to grasp the general tenor of what's going on in the film, and in fact one of the central subplots is not the conflict itself, but the British control of India, which the British see as "bringing order" to a lawless region, but which the natives of course have a different reaction to. Kenneth More portrays upright and dutiful Captain Scott, who has been entrusted with getting young Prince Kishan (an adorable Govind Raja Ross) to safety, along with the Prince's American governess, Catherine Wyatt (Lauren Bacall). Their escape from the royal palace is fraught with danger when they're surrounded by attacking Muslims on horseback, and they actually have to ditch their own horses and make their way to a British outpost via a variety of means, including walking.
Unfortunately once they get to the outpost, it becomes clear that an approaching Muslim attack force will soon take everyone prisoner, and so a desperate gambit is put into play whereby Captain Scott, Catherine, young Prince Kishan and a couple of other hangers-on attempt to get to safety via an old train. This odd group of "castaways" includes two elderly British (played by Wilfrid Hyde-White and Ursula Jeans) and a swarthy Muslim journalist named Van Leyden (Herbert Lom), who may have more than mere reportage on his mind. (A couple of sidebars here are worth mentioning. Lom played a Muslim prince in El Cid, a film which has yet to see the Blu-ray light of day stateside. Also, Van Leyden's name is often pronounced so quickly and oddly in this film that it sometimes sounds uncomfortably close to "bin Laden", something that actually seems rather prescient considering one of the film's plot machinations.)
North West Frontier is extremely well staged by director J. Lee Thompson, who really made his first substantial international mark with this film after years as a journeyman (he would go on to helm such classics as The Guns of Navarone and the original Cape Fear). The film is full of manic tracking and crane shots, with a kinetic quality that really helps keep the story interesting and visually compelling. There is a really brilliantly staged set piece on a huge trestle bridge that has been bombed that will have agoraphobics grabbing their chair arms in sweaty temerity, even if the matte work shows its seams a little more obviously in this high definition presentation. There's also an uncommonly objective view in a couple of scenes here (including a really disturbing sequence featuring the aftermath of a slaughter) wherein Britain's claims to hegemony and "creating order" are rather pointedly questioned.
It's fun to see Bacall in a period piece, something her sultry demeanor might not initially suggest she's perfectly suited for, but she acquits herself quite nicely here. If there aren't exactly romantic sparks flying between her and More, there's a gentle subtext of attraction hinted at that makes their shared predicament more compelling. The supporting cast is aces, including the always wonderful Hyde-White, who is both funny and touching by turns. Lom does a decent job in managing not to chew the scenery until it's absolutely impossible not to, in the film's kind of silly climax. North West Frontier is an epic adventure film that deserves wider renown, especially since this sort of film really isn't made anymore. The subplot of British colonial rule may not seem as potent today as it may have even as late as 1959, but the other point of religious extremism seems perhaps more relevant than ever today.
Note: As seems to be the case with most VCI Blu-ray releases, the niche label has a real problem accurately labeling their product. Though some of this is addressed below in the various spec sections, there are several misattributions either on the keepcase insert or the disc menu itself. The insert states that the video is NTSC 4x3, when of course it's an anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1 aspect ratio correctly displayed in 16x9. While the keepcase insert at least gets the audio right by detailing an LPCM 2.0 track, the disc menu lists the audio as Dolby 2.0. VCI would do itself a service by managing these little details better.
Flame Over India Blu-ray, Video Quality
Flame Over India (AKA North West Frontier) is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of VCI Entertainment with a VC- 1 encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1. This is to my recollection the first Cinemascope feature released by VCI on Blu-ray, and the results, if not as spectacular as might have been hoped, are at least solid. VCI has had a tendency with some of their Blu-ray releases to smear on the digital noise reduction with a fairly aggressive hand, though for the most part their Rank Collection releases have been spared that approach, something which continues here. Not only is grain visible, in a couple of shots it gets perilously close to noise levels, especially in some shots of the sky. The image is decently crisp and clear and fine object detail is quite pleasing in close-ups. Where this transfer misses the mark at least partially is in its color timing, and to a lesser extent with some minor haloing which is evident in several shots. In terms of the color timing, things are way too yellow throughout several swaths of this presentation, giving flesh tones a jaundiced look and bathing a lot of the image in a sort of saffron hue. Because of this tendency, reds drift toward orange and blues have a slightly green tinge. This anomaly is worst in the film's opening 30 minutes or so, and while it improves markedly after that point, it's prevalent off and on throughout to one degree or another. A good telecine colorist could have at least ameliorated this had they color timed this release against a reference print, but perhaps there wasn't one available to them. The elements are in quite good condition, with only occasional scratches and a stray line or two (usually in the middle of the frame) remaining after what is advertised as a "restoration".
Flame Over India Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Flame Over India features two uncompressed LPCM tracks (despite VCI's continued insistence on their Blu-ray releases that they have "Dolby" tracks), one the film's original mono track delivered via LPCM 2.0 and a so-called "enhanced" track delivered via LPCM 4.0. Stick with the 2.0 track for a number of reasons. It offers excellent fidelity with really nice dynamic range, and well prioritized dialogue, effects and score. While the 4.0 track does significantly open up the soundfield, especially in some of the action sequences, it also has a number of truly bizarre anomalies, including really bad phasing and chorusing, and at circa 1:55:00 or so, a completely weird looping echo of a baby crying that makes the poor tot sound like the spawn of Satan.
Flame Over India Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
No supplements of any kind are included on this Blu-ray disc.
Flame Over India Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Whatever you call it, Flame Over India and/or North West Frontier is an often thrilling adventure yarn, full of some fantastic scenery and local color. Bacall and More make for a very appealing lead duo, and the supporting cast is full of familiar faces, all of whom do fine work. This was a sumptuous Cinemascope production and helped elevate J. Lee Thompson to the A-list rank (no pun intended, considering this film's studio) of directors. The Blu-ray is a somewhat mixed bag. While the video is decently sharp and well detailed, the color timing is really peculiarly yellow in the opening half hour especially. The "enhanced" 4.0 audio also has some significant problems, though at least the LPCM 2.0 mix sounds fine. For those who can overlook these niggling issues, Flame Over India offers a great story and some very exciting set pieces, and with caveats noted, comes Recommended.
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Flame Over India Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Flame Over India Blu-ray - March 20, 2012
Independent distributors VCI Entertainment will release on Blu-ray director J. Lee Thompson's Flame Over India a.k.a The North West Frontier (1959), starring Kenneth More, Lauren Bacall and Herbert Lom. The preliminary release date set by the distributors is June ...
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