In many ways this film is typical fare of interwar years Hollywood; unrequited love and a love triangle form the basis of this romantic movie. What makes it more interesting for Imperial historians is the fact that it is based on a Somerset Maugham storyline (The Ambassador's wife) and that it uses the British Empire as an exotic backdrop for the story.
Set somewhere in the imperial desert; North Africa or the Middle East, the story takes place in a British barracks on some tempestuous border with the Arabs of the interior. The story centers around a love triangle between Captain Roark, his superior officer; Colonel Winter and the Colonel's wife; Julia Ashton. All of the protagonists are filled with the mutual respect and adoration for one another that would be fitting of British officers and their class. And which makes the whole affair far more difficult to resolve. Only a bold sacrifice on one of their part's would be enough to break the dam.
In some ways this is hollywood at its worst, full of fake accents, unconvincing costumes and scenery and a call to the exoticism over realism. However, in other ways, this film is revealing and illustrative of interwar imperial outposts. Authentic attitudes, props and ideas filter through the Hollywood gloss and cutting room floor. Treatment of the natives, stiff upper lip attitudes and gung-ho derring do were very much part of the imperial tapestry of the era. At one point, the Colonel is more concerned that a military setback would be perceived as a loss of prestige and face in front of the natives rather than the tactical and strategic costs of defeat; a highly authentic concern of the military of that period. A separate military encounter illustrates how although some sort of military parity existed between the British forces and their Arab adversaries, the British could call upon technology in the form of radio transmissions and aerial support to maintain a competitive advantage over the desert warriors. However the British admiration for the noble savage in general, and the Bedouin Arab in particular, is never far from the surface, so long as he is kind enough to lose at the end of the day.
The film is an entertaining 73 minutes long with a fine musical score by Erich Korngold. As is so often the case with films from this era, despite the lack of Hollywood scruples for detail these films can be far more revealing than more historically accurate films from more contemporary periods.
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