The Black Watch is a film I am not entirely sure how I felt about it. I did not hate it but I did not like it that much. This is an early sound film and many early sound films have several issues such as sound and acting. The acting was alright the sound was good you could hear what was happening and the direction by John Ford was top notch. To me the problem with this film was the story, it was awfully boring.
The story takes place during World War I. Donald King (Victor McLaglen) is a Scottish soldier in the Black Watch regiment. His regiment is schedule to be shipped out to the front in France when he is called to see his commanding officer. The officer asks Donald about how he grew up in India and can speak several dialects of the country’s language. Donald is assigned on a secret mission to go to India to stop a rebellion that is being lead by a woman named Yasmani (Myrna Loy). Her followers see her as a goddess on earth and will do whatever she wants. She also has a stockpile of weapons. Donald does not want to go to India he wants to fight the war with his regiment. The officer gives him no choice he must go. Donald returns to his regiment and tells his superior that his request for a transfer to India has been approved he will not be going to the front. Donald’s younger brother Malcolm and their fellow soldiers think he is a coward for not going to the front with them.
Donald begins his mission by walking past Yasmani’s home everyday to catch her attention. Men around the town gossip about how Donald constantly drinks whenever he is in town. One night he gets into a fight with another soldier and kills him. The fight is fake to make Yasmani believe that Donald is now a rogue from the Scottish army and will be willing to join her rebellion. Yasmani is immediately taken with Donald and wants to seduce him. Her top followers do not like how she is falling for this westerner and worry their whole empire will crumble because of her desires.
Yasmani brings Donald and some of his fellow Indian soldiers in disguise to her hide out in the hills the Cave of Echoes. Slaves turn the door to the cave open. The slaves are captured British soldiers one of them being a friend of Donald’s. Yasmani has Donald brought to her private chambers. She tries desperately to seduce him but he will not give in. She shows him her crystal ball as a way to show him that he is not missing fighting in the war. He sees his brother is either dead or hurt and he becomes upset that he is not there with his friend. Unable to bear what is doing Donald tells Yasmani that he was sent there to stop her. She knew what he was doing the whole time and does not care. He gets Yasmani to speak to her followers to tell them there will be no fighting. Angry that she has turned her back on them two of the followers shoot her. Donald and the Indian soldiers are able to stop the rebels from attacking them and put an end to their rebellion.
Donald returns home during a break for Christmas to his regiment where he has been reinstated.
Myrna Loy at this stage in her career was still in her vamp phase. Even in this part of her career and at twenty-four years old she had great talent. She was the only actor who was not wooden or over the top with their performance. Victor McLaglen was very rigid. At times his acting made me laugh it was so bad. Loy wrote in her autobiography that McLaglen was not at all comfortable with their love scenes because he was nineteen years older than her and saw her as a little girl. You can see a lot of awkwardness in their “love” scenes.
The Black Watch was directed by John Ford. His direction is not terrible at all. The story is what I feel brings the film down. As I said it was awfully boring and longer than it should have been. It was not a terrible film but it definitely is not one of the best. Only view The Black Watch if you are a fan of Myrna Loy or John Ford.