The film starred Ava Gardner as Victoria Jones, an Anglo-Indian who has been serving in the Indian Army, and Stewart Granger as Colonel Rodney Savage, a (British) Indian Army officer. It also featured Bill Travers, Abraham Sofaer, Francis Matthews, Lionel Jeffries and (uncredited) Neelo (who went on to become one of the leading ladies of the Pakistan film industry).
The film was shot in England at MGM-British Studios, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, on the Longmoor Military Railway, and on location in Lahore, Pakistan.
India, 1947: In the final days of British rule, Victoria Jones, the daughter of an Indian mother and an English train engineer, is serving in the British Army. She returns on leave after four years to her home in Bhowani, where supporters of Mahatma Gandhi are non-violently protesting against British rule and communists, led by a revolutionary known as Davay, foment riot and sabotage.
She becomes reacquainted with a childhood sweetheart also of Anglo-Indian heritage, rail traffic superintendent Patrick Taylor, and with Colonel Rodney Savage, whose Indian battalion has been sent to Bhowani to maintain law and order as British rule ends. The protesters disrupt rail service and Savage places Victoria on duty during the crisis. He disperses the protesters but Victoria does not approve of his methods. She begins seriously contemplating her identity and speculates that she might marry a man from India, although clearly Taylor is still in love with her and Savage infatuated.
Walking home alone one night, Victoria is attacked and nearly raped by Captain McDaniel, one of Savage's officers, killing him with a steel bar. Finding her, a Sikh co-worker of Taylor's, Ranjit Kasel, takes her to his home and offers her sanctuary, introducing her to his mother, the Sadani, and to a guest in their home, Ghan Shyam, who offers to hide McDaniel's body after the Sadani worries that her son Ranjit will be accused of murdering the officer.
Davay's raids continue. He blows up a train, causing numerous deaths and injuries. Victoria, influenced by her love for India, decides to marry Ranjit, but fearing the complete loss of her identity during the ceremony, suddenly flee. When an army sentry is found murdered because he saw McDaniel and Victoria together just before she killed the officer, Victoria realizes that the man in Ranjit's home, Ghan Shyam, is actually Davay and that the Sadani, once a notorious Indian resistance leader, has been harboring him.
Davay kidnaps Victoria, using her to escape the city aboard her father's train. Savage and Taylor intercept the train before it reaches a tunnel, rescuing Victoria but finding Davay has gone into the tunnel with dynamite. Taylor recklessly advances to defuse the dynamite but is shot by Davay, who is immediately killed by Savage. Savage, cradling Taylor as he dies, watches the passage of the train. On board is Gandhi, whom Davay meant to assassinate, thereby inciting further hostilities and riots.
Savage's duty in India ends and he is summoned back to England, but his love for Victoria has become overwhelming. When she refuses to marry him and live in England, he proposes to marry but remain in India, and she accepts. Savage's superior offers to expedite his early release from military service as reward for his accomplishments.Ava Gardner as Victoria Jones
Stewart Granger as Colonel Rodney Savage
Bill Travers as Patrick Taylor
Abraham Sofaer as Surabhai
Francis Matthews as Ranjit Kasel
Marne Maitland as Govindaswami
Peter Illing as Ghan Shyam aka Davay
Edward Chapman as Thomas Jones
Freda Jackson as the Sadani
Lionel Jeffries as Captain Graham McDaniel
Alan Tilvern as Ted Dunphy
Yousaf D Hamdani as Assistant Director
Neelo as a 15 year old girl
Zohra Mahmood, special appearance
The film, like the original novel, portrays the Anglo-Indian protagonist, Victoria Jones, as tugged in different directions by three suitors, Col. Rodney Savage, Ranjit Kasel and Patrick Taylor, each representing a different ethnic community: British, Indian (Sikh) and Anglo-Indian, respectively. The film-makers, however, changed the novel's ending and Victoria's fate. Whereas in the novel Victoria finally seeks her future with her fellow Anglo-Indian Patrick, a railway worker, the film-makers instead matched her at the end with the more obviously dashing British officer Rodney Savage, while consigning Patrick to a heroic death. (In the writer's own depiction, in the (unfilmed) sequel "To the Coral Strand", Rodney Savage does stay on in India after the end of British rule - but he does not marry Victoria, but rather goes through many upheavals and finally finds love with an Indian woman.)
The novel was the fourth by John Masters about India. MGM outbid two other studios to buy the film rights, paying more than $100,000. Ava Gardner and Stewart Granger were announced as leads almost immediately; Gardner had been on suspension at the studio for refusing to appear in Love Me or Leave Me.
George Cukor was assigned to direct. He travelled to India in October 1954 to research the movie. "I feel that for the first time India has been presented in this book as it really is, instead of the usual hokey-pokey atmosphere in which it is painted by most authors who write about it," he said.
The Indian government refused to cooperate with the production of the film.
The fictional location Bhowani Junction was in India, most probably Jhansi. MGM had wanted to shoot the film in location in India; but, as the government of India insisted on script approval and imposed high taxes, MGM decided to film in Pakistan where the government was more welcoming.
As a result of the change in location to Pakistan, the script was altered to show Rodney Savage in command of the 1/13 Frontier Force Battalion (Coke's Rifles), which at that time of filming was part of the 7th (Golden Arrow) Division of the Pakistan Army, rather than in command of a Gurkha Battalion, the 1/13 Gorkha Rifles, as in the book. Pakistan army and police enthusiastically assisted in making of the film. Several Pakistan army units of the 7 Golden Arrow Division including the 5th Battalion of 13th Frontier Force Rifles (now 10 Frontier Force Regiment), 5th Probyn’s Horse, 1st Battalion of 13th Frontier Force Rifles (now 7 Frontier Force Regiment), participated in the making of the film. Colonel Savage in the film is shown wearing the Golden Arrow formation sign of the Pakistan 7 Division.
Also in the movie is the 4th Battalion (Wilde's) 13th Frontier Force Rifles, the band at the Lahore Railway Station with a deer as its mascot, while the troops taking part in the train accident were from the 4/13th. The battalion has a copy of the book and autographed photographs from both Ava Gardner and Stewart Granger.
The future Pakistani film star Neelo appeared in a small role as a reporter in a crowd scene. Neelo was introduced to Cukor by A. H. Rana, the film's production manager and casting assistant in Pakistan, who worked with the film's casting director, Harvey Woods. This was her first role in a movie.
The film earned $2,075,000 in North America and $2.8 million elsewhere, making a loss of $933,000.
It recorded admissions of 1,554,970 in France.