The Black Watch

  • 1929
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Adventure

This early John Ford talkie is loaded with the director's special action, his attention to military detail and protocol as precise as every setup shot he takes. McLaglen is a brawny captain of a Scottish regiment who is stopped at the last minute from boarding the boat sailing for France and given new orders. Instead of going to the front (it is WW I),...read more

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This early John Ford talkie is loaded with the director's special action, his attention to military detail and protocol as precise as every setup shot he takes. McLaglen is a brawny captain of a Scottish regiment who is stopped at the last minute from boarding the boat sailing for France

and given new orders. Instead of going to the front (it is WW I), he is to sail immediately to India to help put down an impending uprising in the Northern mountains. Upon arriving in India, however, McLaglen gets involved in a drunken brawl, ostensibly killing a fellow officer. He is arrested but

escapes his British guards, racing down a crowded street. All of this is a ruse, however, to make it appear that he is a renegade so that he will be welcomed in the sumptuous court of Loy, an Indian princess who is a descendant of Alexander the Great and is worshipped by her followers. It is

McLaglen's job to find out her plans since it has been reported that she intends to lead a revolt, sending her native troops through the Khyber Pass to attack the British. Loy and McLaglen play a cat-and-mouse game, and Loy falls in love with the burly soldier, much to the chagrin of her advisers,

D'Arcy and Long. There is, nevertheless, a pitched battle when Loy's orders are wrongly interpreted and she is captured by McLaglen after soldiers dressed as natives infiltrate her court. The action is plentiful and well-coordinated as the Black Watch, with kilts flowing and bagpipes bleating, is

shown fighting in France and later in India, scenes certainly not lost on George Stevens when he was preparing GUNGA DIN. August's camera work is superb under Ford's watchful eye, but there was trouble with the primitive sound systems of the day, particularly in the action scenes. The reason Ford

failed to blow up the ammunition dump coveted by both British and native troops in the final battle is that technicians didn't think the microphones could stand the strain. Other problems presented themselves. McLaglen had to tone down his silent film histrionics and had difficulty adjusting to

sound. The timber of his voice was fine, but his articulation left much to be desired. In one tender moment with Loy he pronounces her name "Yes, Minnie," when her name is "Yassmini." At the movie's premiere this caused the audience to erupt into laughter and Ford immediately cut the scene from

the movie. (Loy's friends, however, joked so much about this faux pas that her nickname among close associates ever after was "Minnie.") Loy plays the mystical Indian princess to the exotic hilt, her slanted eyes further accented by heavy makeup, her wardrobe stunning, but too ancient for the

period of the film's setting. She is a femme fatale through and through here, her private perversion being the capturing of British officers. She tortures them personally, whipping them and destroying their "manhood," until McLaglen steals her heart. It is at this juncture that D'Arcy and company,

accurately believing she is about to betray their cause, kill Loy, which brings about their own deaths at the hands of the raging bull McLaglen and his fierce Scottish troops. Rousing adventure from the man who brought the genre to perfection on the screen. (Remade as KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES

with Tyrone Power in 1953). Song: "Flames of Delight" (William Kernell).

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  • Rating: NR
  • Review: This early John Ford talkie is loaded with the director's special action, his attention to military detail and protocol as precise as every setup shot he takes. McLaglen is a brawny captain of a Scottish regiment who is stopped at the last minute from boar… (more)

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