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North West Frontier (film)

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J. Lee Thompson

Initial DVD release
May 12, 2009


United Kingdom


Adventure, Drama

Music director
Mischa Spoliansky


North West Frontier (film) movie poster

Robin Estridge
Frank S. Nugent
Will Price

Release date

Kenneth More
(Capt. Scott),
Lauren Bacall
(Catherine Wyatt),
Herbert Lom
(Van Layden),
Wilfrid Hyde-White
I.S. Johar
Ursula Jeans
(Lady Windham)

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Two people trapped by fate. In a country with no destiny.

North west frontier 1959 trailer fan made

North West Frontier (USA: Flame Over India; Australia: Empress of India) is a 1959 British adventure film starring Kenneth More, Lauren Bacall, Herbert Lom, Wilfrid Hyde-White and I. S. Johar. The Cinemascope film, which was produced by Marcel Hellman, was directed by J. Lee Thompson. It was a commercial success at the British box office in 1959. The film's achievement led to J. Lee Thompson beginning his American career as a director. In 1961, he made The Guns of Navarone, which was also noted for the cinematography of Geoffrey Unsworth..


North West Frontier (film) movie scenes

The film is set in the North West Frontier Province of British India (now within modern Pakistan). It explores the ethnic tensions within British Indians after Muslim rebels attack a fortress and kill a Hindu maharajah.

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Queen visits north west frontier 1961


North West Frontier (film) NorthWest Frontier 1959 Dustedoff

In 1905 on the North West Frontier of British India, a Hindu maharajah asks British Army Captain Scott (Kenneth More) to take his young son, Prince Kishan, to the safety of the Governor's Residence in Haserabad due to a Muslim uprising in his province. Accompanying them is the prince's nanny/governess, an American widow named Mrs Wyatt (Lauren Bacall). They leave shortly before the rebels storm the palace and kill the Prince's father, the maharajah.

North West Frontier (film) North West Frontier 1959 starring Kenneth More Lauren Bacall

On arrival at Haserabad, Captain Scott sees that many local Hindus and Europeans are leaving on the last train to Kalapur. The Muslim rebels soon close in and take control of the outer wall and gate beside the railway yard. The British governor tells Scott that he must take the young prince to Kalapur for his safety. In the railyard, the British captain discovers the Empress of India, an old engine with carriage cared for by its driver Gupta (I. S. Johar).

North West Frontier (film) North West Frontier 1959 Trailer Fan Made YouTube

Early the next morning, Captain Scott quietly loads the passengers onto the old train. They include Mrs Wyatt, Prince Kishan, arms dealer Mr Peters (Eugene Deckers), British ex-pat Mr Bridie (Wilfrid Hyde-White), Lady Wyndham (the governor's wife), two Indian NCOs, and half-Dutch, half-Indonesian Muslim journalist Mr Peter van Leyden (Herbert Lom). The Empress quietly freewheels down a gradient and out of the yard, but unexpectedly sounds her whistle, alerting the rebels, so Gupta engages the steam, crashing through the outer gate.

North West Frontier (film) Amazoncom North West Frontier Kenneth More Herbert Lom IS

Later that morning, the train encounters the earlier refugee train; everyone on board has been massacred by the rebels. Mrs Wyatt leaves the Empress and finds one survivor, a small baby concealed by his mother's body.

North West Frontier (film) North West Frontier Movie Posters From Movie Poster Shop

The next morning, the train has to stop because a portion of the track has been blown up. Mrs Wyatt spots the signaling flashes of a heliograph atop a mountain summit, and everyone quickly realises that the Muslim rebels are waiting in the surrounding mountains. With track repairs barely finished, the train gets away under a hail of rebel gunfire; Gupta is wounded but survives.

Later on that day, while stopping to refill the engine's water tank, Scott walks into the pump house only to find Van Leyden allowing Prince Kishan to stand dangerously close to the pump's rapidly spinning flywheel. During the night, Mr Van Leyden again approaches the prince only to notice Lady Wyndham staring at him.

The train reaches a bomb-damaged viaduct/bridge, although the rails remain largely intact. All the passengers carefully walk cross the bridge's damaged section. Again, Van Leyden's behaviour nearly results in the prince's death by letting him fall. Captain Scott accuses Van Leyden of trying to kill the prince, and he places the reporter under arrest. After that, Captain Scott, under Gupta's guidance, carefully drives the train across the broken bridge section.

Later, while going through a tunnel, Van Leyden uses the opportunity to overpower his guard. He uses a Maxim machine gun to hold the passengers at bay. It is now that he declares his loyalty to the Muslim cause. He is unable to kill Prince Kishnan because the boy is with Captain Scott in the locomotive's cab. Scott returns to the carriage with the young prince after spotting more rebel heliograph signals, but they are saved when Van Leyden is knocked off balance. Scott pursues him onto the carriage roof, but it is Mrs Wyatt who shoots and kills Van Leyden just as he is about to kill Scott. The Muslim rebels catch up with the train on horseback but have to stop their attack when the Empress enters a two-mile-long hillside tunnel. On the other side, the train reaches the safety of Kalapur. At the station, young Prince Kishan is met by his Hindu entourage, Gupta is taken to hospital, Lady Wyndham is informed that her husband, the governor, is safe, and Scott and Mrs Wyatt leave together.


In 1957 More announced he would play "a romantic adventure" part set during the Indian Mutiny, Night Runners of Bengal. This film was never made and it is likely instead More was transferred to a similar project, North West Frontier. Olivia de Havilland was originally announced as the female lead.


Location scenes filming in India took place at the Amber Fort, in Rajasthan. Some of the rail sequences were shot in southern Spain in the province of Granada. The area's dry arid steppe was used to portray British India. Parts of the railway, which is now abandoned, traversed the northern part of the Sierra Nevada between Guadix and Baza. The bomb-damaged rail bridge that the train must cross is over the Carretera de Belerda (at 37°23′22.82″N 3°11′44.44″W). The ending used Iznalloz railway station near Barrio Primero De Mayo (at 37°23′45.27″N 3°31′39.75″W).

An article by Ray Ellis, entitled Railway Films of the Raj, published in the Indian Railway Study Group Newsletter No.9 in January 1993, states:

A large part of this film was shot on location in Spain, on the 1668 mm gauge Zafra-Huelva Railway, of the RENFE. Originally built by a British Company, the line runs parallel with the Spanish-Portuguese border, and has some spectacular bridges and some very Indian looking scenery. The little tank engine used as "Empress of India" is one of four 0-6-0T's that was built by Kerr, Stuart and Company (works nos 713,714,715 & 725) in 1900 for the South of Spain Railway, and later RENFE 030.0209-212. The engine used was modified to look more like a locomotive filmed in India, which included the fitting of 'chopper' couplings. For filming sequences on the sound stage at Pinewood Studios, London, full size replicas of the locomotive, rolling stock and part of the bridge were constructed, with Pinewood's usual remarkable accuracy. Some scenes were also filmed in India using metre gauge trains, somewhere near Jaipur. These include the departure of the 'refugee' train and the scenes where the 'escape' train catches up and passes the 'refugee' train. The 'refugee' train is hauled by an OJ class 4-4-0 (built by W. G. Bagnall in 1943) and the 'escape' train is hauled by a TJ class 0-6-0T (built by Bagnell in 1942, and sent to India, despite having been ordered by a steelworks in Turkey!). This later engine was also heavily modified to look more like the modified locomotive used in Spain.


The film was a major hit in the UK, being among the six most popular films in Great Britain for the year ended 31 October 1959.

The film was one of seven made by Rank which were bought for distribution in the US by 20th Century Fox. Lauren Bacall called it a "good little movie ... with a stupid title" (referring to the US title Flame Over India.)

Awards & nominations

  • BAFTA Awards
  • 1960: Best Film: Nominated
  • 1960: Best Film from Any Source: J. Lee Thompson: Nominated
  • 1960: Best British Screenplay: Robin Estridge: Nominated
  • Home media

    The United States copyright on the film's Flame Over India release version has lapsed into the public domain.


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