Hitler's Favourite Film
The Lives of A Bengal Lancer (1935) ~ England, My England
Was it the derring-do and racial violence? Or was it the impression it left on him, that a mere handful of brave and efficient functionaries could dominate millions upon millions of presumably sub-human Asiatics? The fact is that he mentioned this over and over in conversation, and we can only assume that the film was for him as much a totem and a profession of faith as it was a harmless entertainment.
But Hollywood (surprise) rendered little of the original book on which the film is based - Major Yeats-Brown's autobiographical account of his time in India. As well as being dashing and brave, the Major took time to enquire into the 'native mind' and his researches lead him on a spiritual journey encompassing yoga and eastern mystical thought, and this is the book that Hollywood rendered as little more than a displaced western. It is reminiscent of the manner in which Shelley's socialism was 'selected-out' of his Selected Works for so long, and in neither of these two cases can the intentions of these unacknowledged legislators have been taken into account when translating or presenting their works.
So may we venture to suggest that Hollywood's hands are even more deeply steeped in blood than even their own goriest artworks might suggest? Is it absurd to suggest that a crazed visionary like Hitler might be persuaded to invade and enslave the Soviet Union on the strength of a tale of dashing heroism against almost overwhelming odds?
To deny Art could have such force is to underrate a powerful player of our psyches. Films and film moments are what people often remember and even cherish and as Dr Goebbels well knew, however debased it might be, it can move mountains of peoples, and thereby mountains.
And what if Hitler had instead read Major Yeats-Brown's spiritual autobiography? Well he may not have become a yogi, but it might have given him pause for thought. But more realistically, what of the other millions of souls, who might otherwise have benefited from Yeats-Brown's insights had Hollywood not filleted the book for their film?
For Yeats-Brown's book was as much a philosophical and spiritual record as it was a personal history of combat. Rather as Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom became Lawrence of Arabia, the film of Major Yeats-Brown's book served to entertain, but not to enlighten. Hollywood's version is more akin to making an epic version of the Bible and including only the skirmishes with the Philistines and the Song of Solomon, whilst omitting the rest of the Old Testament and the whole of the New. So, instead of Yeats-Brown, we got Gary Cooper and learnt the value of a stiff-upper-lip - a handy thing admittedly, in time of genocidal conflict.
It would not be fair to you, dear readers, or to the cause of truth, not to admit to an omission on my part.
I leave it to you to decide.
- The Lives of a Bengal Lancer - Francis Yeats-Brown - Google Books
Autobiography of a British cavilry officer in pre-war India and on the western front, who later became a member of the Royal flying corps in Mesopotamia. The closing chapters concern his subsequent travels in India.