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The Lost Patrol

THE LOST PATROL
DVD Region 0. Odeon.

A remake of a 1929 silent movie, this 1934 film is a surprisingly bleak and modern feeling movie.

Set in 1917, it opens with a British army patrol stranded in the Mesopotamian desert after their commanding officer is killed by an Arab sniper. Not knowing the mission, or even where they are, Sergeant Victor McLaglan manages to lead his troops to an oasis, only to find their sentries killed and horses stolen. As the unseen Arabs lay siege to the patrol, picking off the soldiers one by one, the survivors become increasingly desperate as madness and paranoia takes over.

The Lost PatrolThis terse little movie, directed by John Ford, is ostensibly a war film, but with it's invisible and faceless enemy and increasing sense of foreboding, it often feels more like a horror film - something helped by the presence of Boris Karloff as a religious fanatic who becomes more maniacal as the film progresses. Interestingly, the film has a cynical, anti-religious slant to it that is unusual, even now, for American cinema, and it's this, plus the well-rounded characters (ironic that an American film can portray British soldiers in a less stereotyped way than much of our own war-fixated cinema!) that makes the film still seem surprisingly fresh.

Max Steiner's Oscar-nominated score is mostly effective - though there are a few moments of entirely inappropriate upbeat marching music (the closing theme seems especially ill-timed, given what we've just seen) - and John Ford's direction is tight and economical.

In many ways, this is a precursor to films like Assault on Precinct 13, though arguably more nihilistic and grim. Certainly, it's a revelation if you only know Ford through his more sentimental Westerns - there's no schmaltz here.

Well worth picking up.

DAVID FLINT

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