North West Frontier (film)

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North West Frontier
North West Frontier, a 1959 film.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Produced by Marcel Hellman
Written by Robin Estridge
Frank S. Nugent
Patrick Ford
Will Price
Starring Kenneth More
Lauren Bacall
Herbert Lom
Wilfrid Hyde-White
I. S. Johar
Music by Mischa Spoliansky
Cinematography Geoffrey Unsworth
Edited by Frederick Wilson
Distributed by Rank
Release dates
Running time
129 min.
Country United Kingdom
Language English

North West Frontier (titled Flame Over India in the US and Empress of India in Australia)[1] is a 1959 British CinemaScope adventure film starring Kenneth More and Lauren Bacall. The film was directed by J. Lee Thompson from a screenplay by Robin Estridge and also features Wilfrid Hyde-White, Herbert Lom and I. S. Johar.

The film is set in the North West Frontier Province of British India, which now lies within modern Pakistan. The film explores tensions between Hindu and Muslim Indians as Muslim rebels attack a fortress to kill a young Hindu maharajah.

The success of the film led to J. Lee Thompson beginning his American career as a director. He went on to make the The Guns of Navarone in 1961 which was also noted for Geoffrey Unsworth's cinematography.[2] Lauren Bacall called it a "good little movie... with a stupid title" (referring to the US title Flame Over India.)[3]


North West Frontier, British India, 1905: a Hindu maharajah asks British Army Captain Scott (Kenneth More) to take his son, Prince Kishan, to the safety of the Governor's Residence in Haserabad because a Muslim uprising has begun in his province. Accompanying them is a widow, Mrs Wyatt (Lauren Bacall), the prince's American nanny/governess. Soon they leave, the rebels storm the palace and kill the maharajah.

North West Frontier (from left to right: Ian Hunter, Kenneth More, Lauren Bacall, Jack Gwillim)

On arrival at Haserabad, Captain Scott sees that the last trainful of local Hindus and Europeans are leaving on the last train to Kalapur. After it leaves, the rebels close in and take control of the outer wall and gate beside the railway yard. The British governor then tells Scott that he must take the young prince to Kalapur because it has become too dangerous to keep him in Haserabad. In the railyard, the British captain discovers the Empress of India, an old, obsolete engine lovingly cared for by its driver Gupta (I. S. Johar) and a battered old carriage.

In the early hours of the next morning, Captain Scott quietly loads the passengers on the train. They include Mrs Wyatt, Prince Kishan, arms dealer Mr Peters (Eugene Deckers), British ex-pat Mr Bridie (Wilfrid Hyde-White), Lady Wyndham (the governor's wife), two Indian NCOs and half-Dutch, half-Indonesian journalist Mr Peter van Leyden (Herbert Lom). To avoid detection the Empress freewheels out of the yard, but unexpectedly the old engine lets off her whistle, alerting the rebels to the plan, so Gupta engages the steam to smash through the outer gate.

Later that morning, the train encounters the refugee train that had left the day before. It is found that everyone on board had been massacred by the rebels. But Mrs Wyatt, who rebuffs Captain Scott's order to remain on her train, finds one survivor; a small baby who was concealed by his mother's body.

The next morning, the train has to stop because part of the track has been blown up. However, they soon realise that the rebels are already waiting for them in the surrounding mountains. The rebels' cover is blown when Mrs Wyatt spots a light shining at the mountain summit, which turns out to be a heliograph, the rebels' means of communication. With the job barely finished, the train gets away under a hail of gunfire. Gupta is hit in the arm but he survives.

Later on that day, while stopping to refill the engine's tanks, Scott walks into the pump house to find Van Leyden allowing Prince Kishan to stand dangerously close to the spinning flywheel. During the night, Mr Van Leyden again approaches the prince only to notice Lady Wyndham staring at him.

The train then reaches a large viaduct bridge which has been damaged by a bomb although the rails remain intact. All the passengers disembark and carefully cross the broken section. But again Van Leyden's behaviour nearly results in the prince's death because he held him too short almost letting him fall. Captain Scott accuses Van Leyden of trying to kill the prince. The reporter is placed under arrest. After that, Captain Scott (under the guidance of Gupta) then carefully drives the train across the broken section.

While going through a tunnel later on, Van Leyden (who was under guard in the luggage compartment) uses the opportunity to overpower his guard. He then uses a Maxim machine gun to hold the passengers hostage. But he cannot kill Prince Kishnan immediately because he is riding on the engine outside. Eventually Scott returns to the carriage with the young prince, after spotting more heliograph signals used by the rebels, showing they've been waiting for them again, but they are saved as Van Leyden is knocked off balance at the crucial moment. The British officer Scott pursues Van Leyden onto the carriage roof. However it is Mrs Wyatt who shoots and kills Van Leyden just as he is about to finish off Scott. The rebels catch up with the train on horseback, however they have to stop when it enters a two-mile-long tunnel. On the other side, the train and its passengers reach the safety of Kalapur. At the station Prince Kishan is met by senior Hindus, Gupta is taken to hospital, Lady Wyndham is informed her husband is safe because the rebels withdrew with the departure of the prince and Scott and Mrs Wyatt leave together.




Location scenes filming in India took place at the Amber Fort, in Rajasthan. Some of the rail sequences were shot in southern Spain in the province of Granada. The area's dry arid steppes was used to portray British India. Parts of the railway, which are now abandoned, traversed the northern part of the Sierra Nevada between Guadix and Baza.[4]

An article entitled Railway Films of the Raj by Ray Ellis was published with the Indian Railway Study Group Newsletter No.9 in January 1993. It stated:

A large part of this film was shot on location in Spain, on the 1668 mm gauge Zafra-Huelva Railway, of the RENFE. Originally built by a British Company, the line runs parallel with the Spanish-Portuguese border, and has some spectacular bridges and some very Indian looking scenery. The little tank engine used "Empress of India" is one of four 0-6-0T's built by Kerr, Stuart and Company (works nos 713,714,715 & 725) in 1900 for the South of Spain Railway, and later RENFE 030.0209-212. The engine used being modified to look more like a locomotive filmed in India, which included the fitting of 'chopper' couplings.
For filming sequences on the sound stage at Pinewood Studios, London, full size replicas of the locomotive, rolling stock and part of the bridge were constructed, with Pinewoods usual remarkable accuracy.
Some scenes were also filmed in India using metre gauge trains, somewhere near Jaipur. These include the departure of the 'refugee' train and the scenes where the 'escape' train catches up and passes the 'refugee' train. The 'refugee' train is hauled by an OJ class 4-4-0 (built by W. G. Bagnall in 1943) and the 'escape' train is hauled by a TJ class 0-6-0T (built by Bagnell in 1942, and sent to India, despite having been ordered by a steelworks in Turkey!). This later engine was also heavily modified to look more like the modified locomotive used in Spain.


The film was a major hit in the UK, being among the six most popular films in Great Britain for the year ended 31 October 1959.[5]

The United States copyright on the Flame Over India has lapsed into the public domain.



  1. ^ Review New York Times.
  2. ^ North West Frontier – Review Time Out, London.
  3. ^ NEW CHAPTER FOR A MANHATTAN HOLLYWOOD QUEEN By HOWARD THOMPSON. New York Times (1923–Current file) [New York, N.Y] 23 February 1964: X9.
  4. ^ "OLD RAILWAY 2". Retrieved 2 July 2009. 
  5. ^ FOUR BRITISH FILMS IN 'TOP 6': BOULTING COMEDY HEADS BOX OFFICE LIST Our own Reporter. The Guardian (1959–2003) [London (UK)] 11 December 1959: 4.
  6. ^ Awards Internet Movie Database.
  7. ^ 1960 BAFTA Awards, winner & nominees Internet Movie Database.
  8. ^ Film Nominations 1959 British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA).

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