Boris Karloff, Reginald Denny, Wallace Ford, J.M. Kerrigan, and Victor McLaglen in The Lost Patrol (1934)


(director: John Ford; screenwriters: Dudley Nichols/based on the novel “Patrol” by Philip MacDonald; cinematographer: Harold Wenstrom; editor: Paul Weatherwax; music: Max Steiner; cast: Victor McLaglen (The Sergeant), Boris Karloff (Sanders), Wallace Ford (Morelli), Reginald Denny (George Brown), J.M. Kerrigan (Quincannon), Billy Bevan (Herbert Hale), Alan Hale (Cook), Brandon Hurst (Bell), Douglas Walton (Pearson), Sammy Stein (Abelson), Howard Wilson (Aviator), Neville Clark (Lt. Hawkins), Paul Hanson (Jock Mackay); Runtime: 66; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Cliff Reid; RKO; 1934)
“Seems archaic, as it has not dated that well.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Philip MacDonald’s novel “Patrol” was previously filmed as a silent in 1929 and starred Cyril McLaglen, Victor’s brother, as the Sergeant; it’s written by Dudley Nichols, who also wrote for Ford the “The Informer,” “Stagecoach” and” The Long Voyage Home.” It’s John Ford’s (“Rio Grande”/”She Wore A Yellow Ribbon”) much copied black and white classic film that despite its spare story conveys through its gritty visuals the dehumanization and insanity of war. It was Max Steiner’s first (out of 24) Oscar nominated scores, with this one winning the Oscar.

It’s set in 1917 in the scorching Mesopotamian desert (shot in the desert around Yuma Arizona.), where a WW I British Army patrol are fighting the Arab enemy. The patrol’s officer, the only one who knows the way, is killed by an unseen sniper. The patrol’s resolute Sergeant (Victor McLaglen) takes charge of the 11 thirsty men and keeps them heading north on the assumption that they will hit their brigade when they locate the river. The tired patrol stops for the night at an oasis and trade personal stories about their life. Pearson (Douglas Walton) is assigned sentry duty. In the morning the patrol discovers that their sentry was killed by being knifed in the back and all the horses were stolen. The Arabs start picking off the patrol one by one until the only ones left are the Bible-spewing religious madman Sanders (Boris Karloff), former music hall performer Morelli (Wallace Ford) and the grizzled sergeant. Sanders is bound when he goes bonkers, accusing the sergeant of trying to kill him. A pilot (Howard Wilson) who lands in a rescue attempt is killed, but Morelli and the sergeant go into the plane to take the machine gun and set the plane on fire. A British patrol sees the fire from a distance and is on its way. Sanders breaks loose and marches Christ-like with a homemade cross to the enemy and is killed before Morelli can rescue him, who is also killed by the snipers. The dazed sergeant mans the machine gun and guns down all the Arabs. The patrol arrives and find that the sergeant is the sole survivor.

The unseen sniper attack on the leaderless men is open to many metaphorical interpretations. It gave way to ‘Foreign Legion’ clichés and tales about heroic men alone in desert combat. Upon its release it was a box office hit. Today it seems archaic, as it has not dated that well.