From the legendary John Ford and RKO studios comes this riveting tale of a group of British soldiers lost in the Mesopotamia Desert during WW1 having to defend themselves against an unseen Arab enemy. The film stars one of Ford’s favorite stock company members, Victor McLaglen who in just one more year would win an Oscar for Best Actor in The Informer as would “Pappy Ford” himself for directing the film.
McLaglen commands the screen as the rough edged Sergeant overlooking a small patrol that includes second billed Boris Karloff followed by Wallace Ford and Reginald Denny. Film buffs will also spot Billy Bevan among the troop and one of my favorite character players thanks to his association with Errol Flynn adventures at WB, Alan Hale Sr.
From the outset the enemy is a silent killer when a soldier atop a horse riding point is shot down from his saddle. It’s Boris’ religious fanatic who will read from the good book over the makeshift grave in the sand dunes. The heat is sweltering and the water is sparse. Soon a horse will fall victim to the heat and exhaustion. Fortunately Wally Ford will spot an oasis with a fort like building and lead a charge to it’s sanctuary.
It will prove to be the last stop for the troop.
During the darkness of their first night on site, a young soldier’s life is cut short and their horses are stolen. They’ve little choice but to barricade themselves from the constant threat of a sniper’s bullet. Even so their numbers are dwindling as they reminisce about the good times they’ve lived boozing and chasing women. It’s a conversation that Boris doesn’t approve of as he descends into madness and slicing the ham rather thick as he was accused of upon the film’s original release.
Truthfully I can’t help but wonder if Boris’ religious fanatic might have been a template/inspiration for Telly Savalas’ memorable turn as Archer Maggott in The Dirty Dozen.
For those that still remain alive at the half way point of the 65 minute thriller fatigue, boredom and heat stroke is setting in. Karloff isn’t to be trusted, Ford is babbling that he can’t stand to be left alone and Hale is set to march through the sands to find the brigade they’ve become separated from. All this to a score from Max Steiner.
There’s little point in my going any further with the plot unless I want to play spoiler and I don’t.
Ford’s film is an apparent remake of a “lost” 1929 silent version based on the same source novel, Patrol, from writer Philip MacDonald. The one notable thing that jumped at me from the screen during the opening credits is the fact that Merian C. Cooper is the credited producer on the film. Cooper directed the 8th Wonder of The World, King Kong, just one year prior to Patrol’s release at RKO. There’s more to it than the King Kong connection. Cooper would figure prominently in the career of Ford more than a decade later. He’d serve as Producer on another nine Ford films. The Fugitive, Fort Apache, The Three Godfathers, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Wagon Master, Rio Grande, The Quiet Man, The Sun Shines Bright and The Searchers.
Horror legend, Boris Karloff, was in the midst of a good run. He’d made a name for himself as The Monster in 1931, followed that up with a number of memorable roles including The Mummy and Fu Manchu. 1934 found him here in a John Ford film, playing opposite George Arliss in a Best Picture nominee, The House of Rothschild and rounding out the year with one of the great horror films of the decade, The Black Cat opposite Bela Lugosi. Give him one more year and he’d headline what some consider the greatest fantasy film of them all, The Bride of Frankenstein.
Considering this is a John Ford film there’s a couple of things missing. Or should I say a couple of names? Yeah I’m referring to John Wayne and Ward Bond. Wayne was still working on the B circuit after his early bit roles in some Ford films awaiting his mentor to giftwrap him Stagecoach and stardom. It wouldn’t have been a stretch to see Wayne as one of the young soldiers under McLaglen’s tutelage. Bond could easily have fit in as one of the soldiers of the Lost Patrol. Like his pal Duke, Bond, cut his teeth playing bits in some Ford films and would end up becoming a trusted member of Ford’s stock company and practically lampoons Ford in the director’s own The Wings of Eagles released in 1957.
Filmed in Yuma, Arizona, under the scorching heat, Lost Patrol, is a film I’ve revisited a number of times since seeing it on VHS in the good old days of the weekend rental. As a lover of classic cinema not to mention being a fan of both McLaglen and Karloff I’ve always enjoyed this one and that short running time makes it easy to shoehorn into one’s schedule. I will grant you it’s the type of film that today’s audiences may find a bit creaky but then, I’m not one to listen to the younger set telling me a movie is too old or that they’re not interested if it’s in black and white. That last comment always gets my back up and nostrils flaring.
You shouldn’t have too much trouble locating a copy of Lost Patrol as it’s been on VHS and DVD over the past couple decades. I believe it may have appeared on TCM as well. An original one sheet from 1934? No such luck but I did recently add this near mint rerelease poster from 1954 to my collection. Think I’ll hang on to it so if you’re a Karloff collector don’t bother to ask.