DATELINE: Closeted Lancers
Those old Colonial epics of the 1930s are well-remembered (from Gunga Din, Beau Geste, Mutiny on the Bounty, and Charge of the Light Brigade) with stars like Cary Grant, Errol Flynn, and Clark Gable.
One of the least celebrated and seldom mentioned is the 1935 Henry Hawks film called Lives of a Bengal Lancer.
It uses a similar formula as the others, but has a few wrinkles to put it over the top.
Once again we have a triumvirate of stars in a bromance that seems rather heavy on the ties that bind men. This one sends Gary Cooper and Franchot Tone to the Raj. How do all these Americans show up in British India? Well, they’re self-described Canadians. That settles that.
What intrigues is the performance of Richard Cromwell, so long forgotten except as Angela Lansbury’s real life, gay husband. He was so obviously gay that it defies logic that anyone could not have known, but Angela didn’t. Here he plays the boyish son of the regiment commander, under the care of mother hen Gary Cooper. He is obviously gay here too in the movie.
What? The plot reeks of homoerotic love story—and the minor women are thrown in for complication, but certainly nothing serious. Here, the men bond with the men, or boys as it may.
It’s a rousing adventure out in the Khyber Pass with Muslim enemies that today might be handled with more care. Then, again, animals were likely hurt in the making of the picture, too. It was another time and era.
It is not a lost gay classic, but probably has more along those lines than usually admitted. It is about as politically incorrect as you might find—and a guilty pleasure too.