Cast & Crew
In 1947, after several months of supervising reservists assigned to maintain peace at Bhowani Junction station during British withdrawal from India, Col. Rodney Savage has been summoned to return to England. While many Indians pay tribute to the departing Savage, Victoria Jones, a woman of Anglo-Indian descent, kisses the colonel as he boards the train. When fellow passenger Gen. Agavy, who has arranged to have Savage travel in his car, asks the colonel about his stay at Bhowani Junction, Savage recounts the complicated story of being torn between his military duty and his love for Victoria: Savage is detailed to Bhowani just as the Indian Congress Party, who are Gandhi sympathizers, support a recent Indian navy mutiny by organizing a harmless but well organized disruption at the station to halt the rail service and push the English out of the country. As the Congress choke the railway station with crowds, the Communist resistance and their underground leader, Davay, see an opportunity to create a violent riot. During the confusion, local traffic superintendent Patrick Taylor, an Anglo-Indian, meets his childhood sweetheart Victoria, who has just returned from Delhi after serving four years in the Women's Auxiliary Corps of the Indian army. The new collector, a local Indian official named Govindaswami, informs Savage, Taylor and Victoria about Davay, explaining that the Soviet Union wants the Communist party to run the country after the English have left. Following the meeting, Savage, who is instantly attracted to Victoria, orders her to remain in service to the railway despite her protests. Soon after, Taylor and Victoria return home to her Indian mother and her English father, Thomas Jones, a train conductor. Over dinner, Taylor expresses his fear that government jobs given to the more privileged Anglo-Indians will not be available should the English leave. Infuriated, Victoria yells that, as Anglo-Indians, they must find their place in Indian society without help from the English, and flees to her bedroom. Taylor then tries to talk to her about their plans for marriage, but Victoria, torn between the two cultures, retorts that she might marry an Indian man instead. The next day, striking Congress members lie down on the tracks in order to halt an ammunition train. When the Communists incite the gathering crowd to violence, Savage disperses them at gunpoint. After gaining Govindaswami's approval, Savage then orders Indian lower caste "untouchables" to throw pails of slop from the restrooms at the demonstrators, who flee the tracks in humiliation and disgust. When Taylor laughs at Savage's clever ploy against the Indians, Victoria becomes so outraged she vows never to speak to him again. Savage soon receives word that ammunition has been stolen from the train and that Davay has incited mobs to loot and burn nearby towns. That night as bombs fall on Bhowani, Victoria is walking home on the train tracks when Lt. Graham McDaniel, a lecherous station worker, attempts to rape her. Fighting for her life, Victoria hits McDaniel with a bar of steel, instantly killing him. Indian co-worker Ranjit Kasal finds Victoria beside the dead man and helps her to his house, where his mother, the Sandani, forbids her to tell the truth, assuming that the English would blame her son, an Indian, for the murder in order to save the military's reputation. Sandani reprimands Victoria for not dressing like an Indian and expresses her wish that Victoria marry Ranjit. Ghan Shyam, a guest in Sandani's home, then offers to hide McDaniel's body. Convinced that she must embrace Indian life, Victoria dresses in a sari and begins publicly dating Ranjit, hoping her admiration of his traditions will turn into love. One day, military investigator George Lansom questions Victoria about the night of the murder and shows her a picture of Ghan Shyam, whom he identifies as Davay. Victoria claims to know nothing of either McDaniel or Davay. A few weeks later, when Ranjit asks Victoria to join him in becoming a Sikh and marry him, she accepts and begins studying the religion. When the strike is finally halted, Davay blows up a passenger train using the stolen explosives, causing dozens of deaths and injuries. Receiving orders to assist in the rescue effort, Victoria arrives at the wreck but is paralyzed by the horror surrounding her. Later, Ranjit and Victoria realize they cannot turn in Davay, who is still living with them under the name Ghan Shyam, for fear of implicating Sandani in Communist organizing and Victoria in McDaniel's death. Days later, Lansom questions Victoria again and tells her they have found the body of a sentry along with McDaniel's. During her wedding to Ranjit at a Sikh temple, conflicting voices fill Victoria's head with doubts and compel her to flee. Deciding to leave the city for a few days, she catches a ride on her father's next run, where Savage offers to share his cabin with her. Desperate to clear her conscience for both McDaniel's and the sentry's deaths, Victoria finally admits to killing McDaniel in self-defense and to knowing Davay's location. Savage believes her, but insists she admit the truth to the authorities and reveal Ranjit and Sandani's involvement. After Victoria is found innocent of the murder, Savage takes her out to celebrate and a romance soon develops between the officer and his subordinate. Within weeks, after Savage is ordered to return to England, Victoria rejects his offer to join him, claiming that she wants to find her place in India. Late one night, Davay kidnaps Victoria and secretly takes her aboard a freight train car heading out of town. Taylor, having heard that the train made an unscheduled stop, questions a railway man and learns that the car stopped near Victoria's home. When he finds Victoria's bed empty and goes to Savage's home, both men quickly realize Victoria must be aboard the train and race in a jeep to head off it off. Davay binds and gags Victoria, ties dynamite to his body and jumps off the train in a tunnel. When Savage stops the train at the other end of the tunnel, they find Victoria and learn that Davay is still inside the tunnel. As he follows Savage into the tunnel with guns drawn, the brave but naïve Taylor runs ahead with his flashlight and is shot by Davay. With help from Taylor's light, Savage kills Davay and then cradles the dying Taylor in his arms. As a train passes through the tunnel, Savage spots Mahatma Gandhi and realizes that Davay's attempt to kill India's new leader was narrowly averted. Within days, as he prepares to leave India, a love-struck Savage asks Victoria to join him in England as his wife, but she claims to belong to India. When Savage promises to leave the army and return to India to live with her, Victoria is overjoyed. Back on the train leaving India, Gen. Agavy offers to help Savage get an early military release, insisting that it is the least he could do.
Dharma Rajah Emman
Pandro S. Berman
Charles C. Parker
A. W. Watkins
F. A. Young
It's too bad that Bhowani Junction exists only in the form that it took after massive re-editing by MGM, after director George Cukor had finished the film and moved on, for by several accounts, the original version was the more interesting movie. Set in 1947 India, it's the story of a half-British, half-Indian woman (Ava Gardner) who feels at home in neither country. She returns to India at the time that the British are leaving the country for good, and against this festering political backdrop, she tries to cope with her identity crisis by indulging in several romances, including one with a British officer (Stewart Granger) who is in charge of preventing trains from being sabotaged. Train wrecks and explosive crowd scenes with thousands of extras lend an epic atmosphere to a film which Gardner described as "the studio's biggest production of 1956."
Granger and Gardner provide amusingly different takes in their memoirs on what happened between them on this picture's location. Granger goes on for many pages about Gardner's advances toward him and his restraint of those advances because he wanted to be faithful to his wife, Jean Simmons. (By a strange coincidence, Simmons was at this time starring with Gardner's husband Frank Sinatra in Guys and Dolls, 1955, half a world away.) Gardner devotes a mere two sentences to the situation, referring to Granger by his given name, "Jimmy": "Sometime during the small hours of the morning Jimmy volunteered that he couldn't possibly be unfaithful to Jean. I smiled, patted his hand, and said, 'Honey, you've been reading the wrong press clips.'"
In any event, they played well together, although director Cukor later said that the bland Granger was not his first choice: "I wanted Trevor Howard. Stewart Granger was just a movie star and he brought out the movie queen in Ava. She was good, but she and everything else would have been better with Trevor Howard. He'd have been more cruel, more real, in their whole affair."
Ava Gardner was starting to be taken seriously as an actress. She had been Oscar®-nominated for Mogambo (1953) and had just finished The Barefoot Contessa (1954) opposite Humphrey Bogart. In Bhowani Junction, she displayed good range and was asked to perform some difficult scenes, including a harrowing rape sequence which left a lifelong mark on her psyche:
"I can still remember every moment of that scene," she later wrote. "I felt terrified, hopelessly vulnerable, spitting and scratching like a cat. Defeated. I was almost out of my mind at the awful violence, the awful reality. And the worst thing I had to do in that scene was kill my attacker [played by Lionel Jeffries]..I left that scene without speaking and went immediately back to my trailer. Trembling and shaking, I swallowed an enormous whiskey...I'd known Lionel for weeks now; he was a sweet man and I adored him, but I knew that if I didn't see him quickly, that scene was going to stick in my mind forever and I'd hate his guts. George came in to see if I was all right. 'George,' I said, 'for God's sake, please get Lionel over here - now! Because unless I see him and give him a big hug, I'll never speak to him as long as I live.' Lionel hurried over, I gave him my hug, and things were all right between us. No film scene had ever affected me so deeply before, had left me with such a nightmare sense of terror, and no scene would ever do so again."
Bhowani Junction was filmed in Lahore, Pakistan, because the Indian government was demanding script approval and high tax payments. Conditions in Pakistan for the crew were brutal, with high heat, humidity, and dysentery. The script also had many enormous logistical challenges, such as coordinating the street riots with thousands of people. Cukor and his ace cameraman, Freddie Young (of future Lawrence of Arabia, 1962, fame), pulled these scenes off superbly, using a burnt-out color palette.
The studio was impressed, but concerned about budget and schedule overruns. They decided to cut post-production time down drastically and rush the film into theaters. Because of the hurried schedule, test screening results and censorship concerns, many interesting elements were deleted from the final print, including much of the Indian atmosphere, an erotic love scene, and an infamous sequence in which Ava Gardner uses Granger's toothbrush after dipping it in scotch. Cukor said the picture was not simply recut, but simplified and "rearranged in an uninteresting way," with flashbacks and repetitive voiceovers inserted, explaining over and over Gardner's identity struggle.
Nonetheless, the film drew some modest praise, such as Variety's review: "The sense of realism in the film is one of the best things about it...Cukor, in staging his crowd scenes, achieved some magnificent effects and Freddie Young's lensing is first-rate. The milling, sweating, shouting crowds, egged on by Red agents, are almost frighteningly real, and the CinemaScope screen comes alive with an abundance of movement." The New York Times singled out Gardner's performance: "As the Anglo-Indian lady, Ava Gardner has moments of staggering power, especially when she expresses the violence of the lady's social sentiments."
Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Director: George Cukor
Screenplay: Sonya Levien, Ivan Moffat, John Masters (novel)
Cinematography: Freddie Young
Film Editing: George Boemler, Frank Clarke
Art Direction: Gene Allen, John Howell
Music: Miklos Rozsa
Cast: Ava Gardner (Victoria Jones), Stewart Granger (Col. Rodney Savage), Bill Travers (Patrick Taylor), Abraham Sofaer (Surabhai), Francis Matthews (Ranjit Kasel), Marne Maitland (Govindaswami).
C-110m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Jeremy Arnold
The opening credits includes the following acknowledgment: "The producers gratefully acknowledge the assistance given by the Pakistan government in providing officers and men of the 13th Battalion Frontier Force Rifles, units of the Punjab police and the facilities of the Northwestern railway." Voice-over narration provided by Stewart Granger as the character "Col. Rodney Savage" is heard throughout the film detailing India's political turmoil and his own dilemma between his military duties and his growing love for "Victoria Jones."
The film's story encompasses background on the history of India and Pakistan in the twentieth century: The Indian National Congress party, the dominant political force in India throughout most of the 1900s, emphasized passive resistance to British colonial rule in India. Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) won control over the Congress in 1920 and, although he resigned as a member of the party in 1934, he continued to lead the political movement, which resulted in a non-violent resolution to the end of colonization. When, in 1939, the British declared India at war with German-led axis powers, the Congress vowed only to support the British troops if they promised withdrawal from India immediately following the war.
In 1947, with a new, more lenient post-World War II British government in place, talks between the two countries resulted in the Mountbatten plan, which called for the creation of two independent states, India and Pakistan; however, this time period was also marked by extreme violence between Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, which caused over one million casualties. In addition, India's Communists, led by Manabendra Nath Roy, who opposed the Congress, engaged in acts of terrorism to try to overthrow the British. During the turmoil, Gandhi was assassinated at the hands of a Hindu extremist in 1948. For more information about Gandhi, please consult the entry for the 1953 documentary Mahatma Gandhi: 20th Century Prophet (see below).
On April 12, 1954, Hollywood Reporter noted that M-G-M had outbid both 20th Century-Fox and Columbia for the John Masters novel on which the film was based. A August 26, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item states that M-G-M was considering Cornel Wilde, Michael Wilding and Edmund Purdom, presumably for the role of "Patrick Taylor". According to a February 7, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, Purdom left the production by his own request, while Wilde and Wilding were replaced by Bill Travers. By October 19, 1954, a Hollywood Reporter news item reported that M-G-M has sought and failed to get permission from India for shooting in that country due to Indian government objections to material regarding Gandhi.
A May 15, 1955 New York Times article added that after India announced their plan to charge M-G-M twelve percent of its net world profit on the picture, Pakistan offered to waive almost all taxes if the production moved there. As of a November 2, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item, M-G-M decided to move locations to Pakistan and became the first American studio to do a feature film in that country. A December 1, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Andrew Morton assisted director George Cukor in early production in India and obtained release from M-G-M before the film's completion.
The May 15, 1955 New York Times article also noted that the Pakistani government loaned a detachment of 400 men from the Frontier Force Rifle as well as a special police detail for scenes. The article went on to state that portions of the film were shot in Pakistan on the banks of the Ravi River and in a Sikh temple, where non-Sikhs are normally prohibited entry. According to a June 10, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, the railroad wreck sequence of the film was shot on location in Longmoor, England. An June 11, 1956 Newsweek article stated that M-G-M established headquarters in Lahore, Pakistan and railroad sequences were shot at the Lahore Railroad station.
Director Cukor can be seen in a small role in the film as a train passenger who follows Ava Gardner off the train. Hollywood Reporter news items and production charts add Julian Sherrier, Joseph Tomelty and Zia Mohyeddin to the cast; however, their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed.
Released in United States Summer June 1956
Released in United States Summer June 1956