Friday, November 14, 2014

Tonight's Movie: King of the Khyber Rifles (1953)

This post on KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES (1953) is my contribution to the British Empire in Film Blogathon being hosted from November 14th through 17th at The Stalking Moon and Phantom Empires. Be sure to check out the many interesting links at the Day One Roundup and additional roundups throughout the next few days.

KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES is set at a British outpost in India in 1857, "the one hundredth year of British rule," as noted in an opening narrative card. A ball held in honor of Queen Victoria's birthday figures prominently in the plotline.

Captain Alan King (Tyrone Power) arrives to serve under Brigadier General Maitland (Michael Rennie), but soon finds himself ostracized by some of his fellow officers due to his half-caste status; King's father was a British officer who had also served in India, while his mother was a local Indian woman.

Maitland's young daughter Susan (Terry Moore) is untroubled by King's background and falls head over heels for the handsome captain. She enthusiastically pursues him and is rewarded when he returns her affection, to her father's dismay. Her father attempts to break up the romance by sending Susan back to England but she is determined that she will one day be with her captain.

King must ultimately lead a regiment of Indians, the Khyber Rifles, into battle against his foster brother Karram Khan (the enjoyably wicked Guy Rolfe), who has been fomenting unrest among the natives and killing British soldiers.

This is a pleasant if not particularly distinguished film. It's enjoyable entertainment yet it's somewhat tepid; both the action scenes and the love story, which should be thrilling on the one hand and swooningly romantic on the other, never quite catch fire. It's not boring, yet it's not particularly exciting, either.

The movie's chief attribute is Tyrone Power, who is terrific in just about anything, and he's backed by solid talents including the great cinematographer Leon Shamroy, who shot the film in CinemaScope, and composer Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann contributes a stirring opening credits theme which sounds very Herrmann-esque indeed. The director was Power's frequent collaborator, Henry King.

The issue of racial prejudice is handled well; the storyline focused on the "forbidden" love between Power and Moore's characters was fairly daring for the era.

Unfortunately Moore, making no attempt at a British accent, is miscast as a British commanding officer's daughter; she's charming in the right material (see SHACK OUT ON 101) but as one reviewer wrote at IMDb, she plays the role with "the sunny demeanor of a USC cheerleader."

As was the case with GUNGA DIN (1939) over a decade previously, the Alabama Hills outside Lone Pine, California, stand in for India.

Power worked in Lone Pine on multiple occasions, including BRIGHAM YOUNG (1940) and RAWHIDE (1951), and is said to have been a popular visitor in the little Sierra town, where he mingled with the local citizens and was generally perceived as an all-around nice guy. The Tyrone Power website features a reprint of a publicity article with Power commenting on Lone Pine.

One of the film's problems is that it seems to have been very windy during much of the film's location shooting, resulting in the need to loop in dialogue later. The voices at times noticeably seem to be speaking from an echo chamber, which is a bit distracting, particularly when the dubbed lines are intermingled with "live" dialogue. It's rare for something like this to be such a noticeable issue.

This 100-minute film was written by Ben Goff and Ivan Roberts, inspired by a novel by Talbot Mundy and a story by Harry Kleiner.

KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES is not available on VHS, DVD, or Blu-ray. Perhaps at some point it will follow Power's PONY SOLDIER (1952) and be released on Blu-ray by Twilight Time. I was able to see it thanks to Fox Movie Channel, but I would enjoy seeing a better print one day. At this writing the movie is also available on YouTube.

Thanks to Jeff and Clayton for hosting this blogathon and inspiring me to finally catch up with another Tyrone Power movie!

2019 Update: I was able to see this film at the 30th Lone Pine Film Festival, and we also visited one of the film's locations.

2022 Update: Here's a new post with photos of a different -- and rather interesting -- Lone Pine location from this film.


Blogger Jeff Flugel said...

Great post, Laura! I think your assessment of the film is fair, though I like it more than you seem to. I love that description of Terry Moore as a "like a USC cheerleader." She does bring an element of that to the part, but I find her an unusual screen presence and I like that the film doesn't shy away from not only the racial difference between them, but also the noticeable age difference.

The movie might lack the zip and froth of the best of these kinds of costume pics, but I quite enjoyed it when I watched it earlier this year. Anyway, glad you had a chance to check out another Tyrone Power movie (he is far and away the best thing in it, for sure), and thanks again for contributing to the 'thon!

5:40 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

The Black Watch filmed in 1929 by John Ford with Victor McLaglen and Myna Loy in the leads is a far more interesting take on Talbot Mundy's novel, a deviation to be sure, but nevertheless a fine film. I believe it is available for free online.

12:17 PM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

So, I guess there was no Oscar nomination for sound recording?

We can always count on Tyrone Power to give us his best. Based on your review, I won't seek it out, but I won't ignore the movie if it comes my way.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Great fun, wot?

This is one of my fave's just a nice little Raj gem, with some neato stuff for my various hobbies. I actually reviewd this myself last year, and it's wonderful to see some things that I missed! Thanks so much for joining the fun. :)

Clayton @ Phantom Empires

3:04 PM  
Blogger Mike's Take on the Movies said...

One of the few movies with Ty I have yet to see. Thanks for reminding me of it and posting the youtube link. AS you say it's kind of a rare one with no home video release. Bye for now.

4:31 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks to you all so much for your comments, and special thanks to Jeff and Clayton for hosting a terrific blogathon!

Jeff, glad you enjoyed the review. Terry Moore really did seem like a California girl plopped down in the middle of a British outpost! I agree, I liked the way the film addressed the racial issue and also didn't try to hide the age difference. Although I wasn't wowed by the film, I would definitely watch it again. Of course, I'd say that about most Tyrone Power movies! :)

Thanks for the information on the 1929 film, barrylane. Myrna Loy's presence makes it of particular interest to me.

Caftan Woman, I LOL re no Oscar nomination for Best Sound. Definitely not. LOL. It's definitely a film you should watch if it pops up on your TV, even though I found it a bit disappointing.

Mike, thanks for dropping by, hope you enjoy checking the film out. So many of Power's films are available, it's rather surprising this one never even seems to have made it out on VHS.

Best wishes,

10:35 AM  
Blogger Kristina said...

Just now making my way around to read these British Empire posts. I haven't seen this one yet but as a Ty completist like you it'll be a must-see. Nice to see him featured a few times in this blogathon and nice to see him anywhere, frankly ;)

5:37 PM  
Blogger History on Film said...

Tyrone Power is always a pleasure to watch, even if the rest of the movie is not as enjoyable. Khyber Rifles is a decent film, but as you say, it lacks excitement. However, I appreciated the honest look at racism, especially for the time.

9:12 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Congratulations, Laura, on your fine contribution to what has turned out to be great fun and really interesting. I also enjoyed making some small contribution to the Blogathon.

11:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Power available on YouTube you say....? Well that's my Thursday night sorted (even if he is the best thing in it ;) Great post - have been introduced to so many greats through this blogathon.

2:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Laura- I believe your review is terribly accurate. King of the Khyber Rifles is not the best film that either Tyrone Power or Michael Rennie ever made. As for Terry Moore, I've not seen enough films of her's to make any reasonable assessments.
Despite the problems with it, the film is worth seeing, in my opinion anyway.
The location shooting in the area of Lone Pine, California, on of all days, Bastille Day, 14 July 1953, brought added benefits to its realism. Tyrone Power, as was typical of him, works rather hard to bring his character to life, which was exceptionally entertaining. Michael Rennie does a very good bit of acting here, which was a bonus I had not expected.
One aspect of my personal life and career allows me to bring to bear an expertise that very few others have, I served in active combat duty in Middle Eastern countries. Additionally, I made many friends fighting with me who were Muslim. One of those men risked his life to save mine.
As you might suspect, my personal view of people who practice the Islamic faith is particularly positive. That said, I do not judge an entire population on the acts of those I have known.
Having said that I do think that the Muslim faith is, for the most part, not harshly judged in this film. That is a rare attitude in the era King of the Khyber Rifles was made, and if this film were ever remade, a trend in Hollywood I believe proves the lack of creativity in the film community currently, I am reasonably certain the equitable treatment of Islam displayed here would not be reproduced.
My attempt to wrap this up may be unsuccessful, however here goes ... Overall, I enjoyed the film, though I am somewhat biased as I think Tyrone Power was tremendously under appreciated as an actor. He worked under significant pressure to assure his various studios that their investments would be returned with profits. Over the length of his career that idea, for the most part proved true. Trying to improve his acting technique and utilising his good looks simultaneously, was a winning formula. After his service in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, Power's performances in military roles had an added gravitas that was previously missing. Said gravitas is on prominent display in King of the Khyber Rifles, and if that were not true, the film would be, sadly lacking in yet another aspect.
While I am not a huge fan of the film, I am quite happy that I was able to see it. Additionally, I would suggest that if one is interested in Tyrone Power movies and has not seen this particular film, they should, by all means see it. His performance is well done and is the most compelling reason to see King of the Khyber Rifles. And it's bloody free to view on YouTube anyway.

6:55 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much to everyone for your comments!

Anonymous, I appreciated your detailed responses to the film and agree with them. Not a perfect movie, but Power is very good indeed. (Interesting point on the pressure on him to deliver for the studio at the box office!) I especially love hearing from "old-timers" that Power was greatly liked as a "regular guy" in Lone Pine.

By coincidence I have just written a new post on the film's Lone Pine locations:

Best wishes,

7:48 PM  

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