Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Black Watch (the beginning)

09.15 Cinema Arlecchino, Bologna, 30 June 2010
La guardia nera. US (c) 1929 Fox Film Corporation. R.: John Ford. 92'
Lingua originale con sottotitoli italiani
From and restored by: MoMA.

Last Saturday I saw the last 30 minutes of this strange film. Now I saw the first 40 minutes.

The film takes place in 1914, as Britain is sending its troops to fight in Flanders in WWI. But Captain King (Victor McLaglen) of The Black Watch is not allowed to join his comrades in Flanders. Instead, the native speaker of North Indian languages is sent to Peshawar.

Captain King meets the Princess (Myrna Loy) of the Pakistani-Afghan mountain rebels who have declared a Holy War against the West. "Your mission is the prevent the Holy War".

This is not a great film, but it is interesting to observe John Ford's work as a director in his first all-talking movie. There is a lot of music and singing. The main communities of the story are introduced by their music: the Scots by their bagpipe music and songs, and the North Indian Muslims by the muezzin in Peshawar.

The first 40 minutes are dedicated to the disappointment, demoralization and degradation of Captain King. In Peshawar he becomes known as a drunken swine. In an officers' canteen he even accidentally kills an annoying fellow officer.

On the other hand, Captain King, born in India, is genuinely fond of the Indian people whereas his fellow officers display racist attitudes.

Myrna Loy looks wonderful but she is made to speak her dialogue in a mannered way.

The Black Watch is not a successful film but it is interesting to compare it with the simultaneous Der weisse Teufel, another film about the Holy War against the West.

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