A Quick Thought About the Lives of a Bengal Lancer--
This movie isn't a great one. The Lives of a Bengal Lancer in terms of Imperial Adventure moves falls below GungaDin, but above The Northwest Frontier (and probably well above Carryon Up the Khyber if the You Tube clips are accurate). There are certain kind of movies that I am drawn to though, and regardless of the quality I have to watch them. I've been over this before, but besides the obvious choice of WWII movies, movies about Imperial adventure are high on the list. It's a problem I have.
Outside of my own ridiculous solipism, movies like The Lives of a Bengal Lancer meet a larger need. They're the grease that keeps movie studios going between bouts of costumed affair dramas and biopics about dead jerks. Like the Western or the War movie or the screwball comedy, it meets a certain need, it stars a certain kind of actor, and it gets in and out without you having to think too hard. It's old fashioned film making and for better or worse it represents the kind of movie they don't make anymore.
And considering that it comes on a dual-disc with the movie Beau Geste,, I think that means that this isn't the most popular Gary Cooper film of all time. . . except maybe with Adolf Hitler, apparently (then again A Matter of Life and Death comes similar packaging and that movie is just about perfect). This movie is no A Matter of Life and Death, though, what it is is the perfect B-picture. It meets every need that it is expected to meet and it does it without you really ever having to pause and be embarrassed by the fact that this movie has a dramatic use of brown face.
(To be fair the brown face scenes are awesome. Hear that, liberal elite? Awesome. Also: It is totally grounded in historical fact. Chew on that, hippies.)
What I like is its expedience in storytelling. It's the kind of thing movies like it (or their distant relatives) should take note on. There are no B-plots that don't get resolved or flow into the main story. There aren't any ruminations on what this all means or the impact of their mission unless it directly
This film has no fat. A butcher would be proud.
It seems that movies forgot what they were. Nowadays everything is getting longer and longer. I suppose it is as a response to television and video games being what they are (3d is also a symptom of this fear). They want cinema to be more cinematic and one thing TV can't do is make something that's three hours long.
Looking at this movie (and many more like it), I think that they're missing the point. You don't need a one-hundred forty minute running time to make a movie cinematic. Since the birth of cinema they've made good films that are good partially because they're short and to the point. Making them longer, to me, is an attempt to treat the wrong symptoms.
There's also the old adage of quality over quantity, but I'm being a hypocrite here, so let's just move quietly along, shall we?
Another reason this movie benefits from its percieved brevity is that we don't get much of a chance to mull on the fact that this movie tacitly supports the subjugation of about a fifth of the world's population. That tends to put the damper on enjoyment, as a rule. Its storyline is also about as pat as a movie like this can get. There's no surprises, there's no real insight, it's just a story that follows three men (a jaded veteran, a cocky upstart, and an unproven rookie) as they take on an Afghan warlord (I should make a list of that stock character's apperances. . .) and then the movie ends as soon as they've accomplished that.
It's a frolic. There's no substance, there's no real philosophy, there's just men doing their jobs and then a big bad guy with an accent dies at the end. In between there's some horse riding, aome costumes, a some outdoors, a dragon lady, and dialogue that ranges from glib irony to cloying sincerity. In short: It's an old fashioned adventure film. What more could a man want?