The Lost Patrol (John Ford, 1934)


Yeah, the story and the characters aren’t the deepest and most complex you’ll ever find (the movie’s only an hour and 10 minutes, so there ain’t exactly much room to flesh these guys out as they find themselves stranded in a desert oasis…), and the acting’s pretty damn hammy (Boris Karloff, as the humorless worrywart of the group, takes the cake…he’s like a bad, extremely hammy Shakespearean actor who has no business doing Shakespeare in the first place).  But all that be damned, because this movie was fucking awesome, man.  Proof’s in the pudding…


Truth is, who fucking cares that there’s not enough character development, because this…nothing but a lost patrol in World War I Mesopotamia trapped in an isolated oasis, surrounded on all sides by an unseen Arab enemy, is tension defined.  Yeah, the oft-jolly music as this man or another does something goofy can be grating, but when that music suddenly comes to a sudden halt and a goofy man suddenly becomes a dead man, struck by an unexpected bullet, that’s incredibly disturbing and unsettling if you ask me.  Much, if not most, of the dialogue isn’t plot-driven, but rather indirectly goes into the men’s backstories – not completely, but just enough to give us a taste of who these guys are and what their motivations might be.  It’s all very off-handed, in the moment, and genuine – even charming.  I couldn’t identify a single character by name if you held a gun to my head, but boy did I like ‘em, even as the tension, mistrust, and desperation grew, and the bodies started piling up.  And tension there is.  The patrol’s Arab enemies are unseen and can kill from practically any range from practically any invisible vantage point.  It defies all logic, but that just makes this unseen menace all the more terrifying and nerve-wracking for the patrol.  The sound of a bullet (the bullets that almost never miss) is short, with no echo or reverberation – quick, to the point, remorseless, just like whoever’s firing the gun.  The cinematography’s pretty much remarkable, the small men in a vast desert under a vast cloud-covered sky underscoring the feeling that the enemy really can be anywhere.  The paranoia and anxiety amongst the men hits you like a ton of bricks, especially considering how relatively carefree the feel of the film is early on, even as they’re being hunted – the desperation is real, and you really feel like these guys are going bat-shit crazy (which is where Karloff’s performance actually starts to work), exactly as men in a situation as intense as this one should.  The Arab villains are portrayed as anything but realistic, and indeed pretty much super-human, but hell, that pretty much makes our heroes even more vulnerable, and worthy of our worry, and human.

But still, 


fucking Karloff, man 😆  No wonder his claim to fame was a flat-top head, bolts on his neck, grunting, and a mix of fearsomeness and child-like innocence 😛


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