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Patrick Schoenmaker

Indiana Jones' Influences
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The Black Watch

Released by Fox Film Corporation - 1929

Directed by: John Ford
Story by: Talbot Mundy (novel)
Screenplay by: James Kevin McGuinness
Produced by: Winfield R. Sheehan

Victor McLaglen .... Capt. Donald Gordon King
Myrna Loy .... Yasmani
David Rollins .... Lt. Malcolm King
Lumsden Hare .... Colonel of the Black Watch
Roy D'Arcy .... Rewa Ghunga


Victor McGlaglen plays Captain Donald King of the British Army and as in other performances, Gunga Din among them, McGlaglen brims with the robust, bombastic characteristics of a silent film star, which in fact he had been (this, his first talkie). That said, he displays a remarkable honesty underlying all the beefy gusto.
King’s comrades, known as The Black Watch, are assigned a battlefront in Europe while King is secretly dispatched to India. The British occupied country in the East is under threat of rebellion by the Hillmen of the Khyber Pass. Infiltrating the Hillmen’s high mountain caves is a challenge complicated further by the tantalizing charms of their exotic Princess Yasmini, played effectively by the ever-versatile Myrna Loy.

The world of Indiana Jones clearly would not have been the same without the literary works of Talbot Mundy. - The Black Watch is a movie version of Talbot Mundy's novel King of the Khyber Rifles. - Standing out among the similarities, Captain King disguises himself at one point in Arab dress, much like Indy in Raiders and Young Indy in Daredevils of the Desert. In Daredevils, Young Indy darkens his skin, something King does in the Mundy novel but a deceit the McGlaglen character does not utilize. As King descends further into their nefarious camp, he discovers an enslaved workforce not unlike the one Indy discovers in Temple of Doom.

Racial insensitivities aside, The Black Watch is a beautifully constructed adventure film. Deviating from the opening in the novel, here Captain King is introduced in the company of the British Army. The filmmakers focus much attention on pomp and circumstance, formality and patriotic fervor. The first act is dominated by bagpipes, marching and dining in the company of men. All this serves to make the mystical and exotic qualities of the East more alluring. This contrasting of worlds between the daily grind and eventual trip to the far away and unfamiliar is an often-used plot device. "What’s more boring than school?" a group of well-known filmmakers once must have asked themselves. "So, let’s put Indiana Jones in a teacher’s bow tie, arms loaded with books and papers to grade."

John Ford would go on to direct numerous classics. George Lucas thought enough of him to make him a character Young Indy meets and works with in Hollywood Follies. Ford motifs such as frame-shaped compositions, silhouettes and lonely heroes are all found in this, his first sound film. The Black Watch is also noteworthy for its cinematographer Joseph H. August, who would go on to lens Gunga Din and having Randolph Scott in a bit part. Lastly, John Ford favorite and future legend, John Wayne handled props. Why this long lost treasure is unavailable on either VHS or DVD is a mystery only a man in a fedora with a cracking whip could solve.
(Stephen Jared)


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