(1956 c 110')
Based on a novel by John Masters, an Anglo-Indian woman feels torn between living as an Indian or with the English while the British are preparing to withdraw from India amid political turmoil.
In India in 1947 Col. Rodney Savage (Stewart Granger) receives flower wreaths from Indian officers before boarding a train with Victoria Jones (Ava Gardner). They kiss goodbye, and she says she will write to him and gets off the train. Savage is in a compartment with a general who has come to speed up the British withdrawal from India. Savage explains that Victoria is half English and half Indian. The general is surprised that the Indian army honored him for having killed one of their martyrs, but Savage explains that Davay was their enemy too. Col. Savage says he does not hate wogs (Indians) because he “never hates in the plural.” He narrates the story that began with a mutiny in the Indian navy.
Col. Savage says he was assigned to Bhowani Junction where a local train had been derailed. He says the Congress Party was intent on speeding up the departure of the English. They use “passive resistance,” but some Communists used violence, especially Davay. Surabhai (Abraham Sofaer) is leading the local Congress Party. The traffic superintendent Patrick Taylor (Bill Travers) is also Anglo-Indian and feels persecuted by the Congress Party. Subaltern Victoria Jones in an army uniform is returning on the train after four years. Patrick greets her with a kiss. He is summoned by a British officer, is irritated, and calmed down by Col. Savage, who has an immediate concern. Victoria says sometimes the officer does not send copies to all concerned. In the crowd Lt. Graham McDaniel (Lionel Jeffries) puts his arms around Victoria. Savage seems to blame Victoria and tells her to walk in front of them. Patrick is given a note and is angry he did not get it sooner. Col. Savage says he is there for railway protection and needs an office. Savage takes charge and tells Patrick he wants to get things done. Victoria complains to Patrick that Savage blamed her for the groping by the filthy man. The commissioner Govindaswami (Marne Maitland) comes in and tells Savage about the Communist Davay. He suspects Davay caused the derailment, and there is danger of a railway strike. Govindaswami defends Surabai and says he is working for an India governed by Indians. Col. Savage orders Victoria to be a liaison.
Patrick gives Victoria a ride on his motorcycle. She is embraced by her English father, Thomas Jones (Edward Chapman) and then by her Indian mother. Her father urges her to invite the colonel there. Patrick complains that Victoria was in Delhi too long, and he argues that the Indians will not give them jobs as the English did. Victoria disagrees, and she shouts at Patrick, asking him to think. She feels they are caught between the English and the Indians and goes in her room. Patrick says they have to use their hearts too. She asks why they have to consider themselves better or worse than others. Patrick says he could never marry anyone but her. He wants her to marry him. She gets a telegram that her leave is cancelled, and she has to report to Col. Savage because of the emergency.
Victoria reports to the traffic office, and Ranjit Kasel (Francis Matthews) gives her the timetables. He says the children are the new India, and he wants to work in education. She says he can cope with the British.
All over India large demonstrations are demanding independence. A railway strike is called. An ammunition train has been stopped. The Congress Party is determined to keep the strike going. Savage catches Victoria as she falls off Patrick’s motorcycle. Govindaswami tells Savage that Indians are determined to stop the train, and they are laying on the tracks. Victoria says her father is driving the train. Surabhai says their peaceful protest is legal, and he criticizes the lackeys of the British imperialists. They are protesting nonviolently, but someone throws a rock that hits Govindaswami. Surabhai lays down on the track. The train slows down and stops next to him. Govindaswami says the train is going to retrieve the explosives in order to prevent a bloodbath. Soldiers and the crowd tussle, and Victoria tries to help a woman. Col. Savage has horns blown, and Govindaswami announces that the military will shoot at them if they do not disperse. The crowd retreats, but those on the tracks remain. Govindaswami tells Savage he does not want them hurt. Savage orders Jones to be ready. Victoria pleads and says Surabhai will not get up, and he tells Savage so. Savage has men bring in buckets of sewer water and tells them that untouchables will contaminate them. When they pour the water, they get up and leave the tracks, enabling the train to pass. Govindaswami says he hates Savage’s white face, but the heroic Surabhai bothers him. Victoria calls Savage a cruel bully. She refuses his ride and goes with Patrick, who laughs at what happened. She gets angry at him and says she does not want to see him again except on duty. She apologizes to Ranjit, who says she is kind.
The soldiers from the train find the train with the explosives. Victoria gets a call from Savage that the dynamite was stolen before they got there. Indians begin looting and destroying things. Victoria hears explosions, shouting, and shooting. Ranjit offers to go with her on the troop train. She says she feels she does not belong anywhere.
At night Victoria walks by the tracks alone. McDaniel offers to accompany her and helps her get past the guards. He asks her to thank him and tries to kiss her. She resists, and he persists in grabbing her. He gets her on the ground and lays on top of her. She grabs a piece of steel and hits him several times until he is unconscious. Ranjit tells her to put it down and helps her walk away and return home. His mother, the Sandani (Freda Jackson), asks who she killed and shows her the blood on her dress. Victoria sees it and screams. Ranjit says she killed Captain McDaniel, who deserved it. Victoria says he tried to rape her. The Sandani tells Ranjit to fetch their friend, and she tells Victoria to take off her clothes. She tells Victoria that the English will not believe her. She says they must trust their friend. Ghanshyam goes to get rid of the body. Ranjit’s mother asks Victoria to realize she is an Indian and act like one. She gives her Indian clothes to put on. Victoria asks Ranjit who Ghanshyam is. He comes back tells them what their story will be.
Wearing a sari, Victoria goes out with Ranjit. She refuses to hide from Patrick, who knocks over her drink at the bar. He tells her to go to the wog cinema. She tells him to sober up, and he asks her to marry him, which is why he is so miserable. Savage asks Victoria why she is behaving as an Indian. The British officer Lanson shows Victoria and Ranjit a photo of Ghanshyam, and they say they have never seen him. He says it is Davay, and they suspect he stole the dynamite. He says she was the last person to see McDaniel, and he asks if she kissed him. She says she did not like him, and he had made advances against her will. Col. Savage intervenes and says he ordered McDaniel to stay away from her.
Ranjit tells Victoria that he is honorably in love with her. He says his mother wants him to marry her. She says he should ask her, but he is shy. So she says she will ask him when the time comes. She asks if she would live with his mother, and she urges him to break away from his mother. He gives her the holy book of the Sikhs that she will need for the ceremony.
Davay lights the fuse for an explosive that causes a train to be derailed. Several people are dead, and people try to save others. Col. Savage sees evidence of what caused it. Victoria arrives in a white sari, and he orders her to help the injured. Ranjit asks Davay if he caused this, and he admits it. Victoria asks Ranjit if Ghanshyam is Davay, and he suspects he is. Ranjit says his mother has been to prison 26 times, and he can’t send her there again. Savage gives a tired Victoria a ride in his jeep.
Victoria is reading the Sikh holy book. The officer Lanson tells Victoria that McDaniel’s body was found mutilated. He says the missing sentry was also found with his throat cut at the same place. He asks again if she ever met Ghanshyam. She says nothing, and he warns her she will be questioned again.
Victoria and Ranjit enter a Sikh temple, and she is agreeing to become a Sikh. She hears her father’s voice and then the voice of the Sandani. Her own voice says she does not belong anywhere. She remembers what Ranjit said to her. She also remembers the voices of Savage and the officer Lanson. She stands up and walks out as Ranjit continues to pray. She goes to the railroad yard and finds her father, who is glad she came to him. She asks if she can go with him in his cab. Savage asks Jones how he is being treated. Savage says he is going to Gandwara, and he orders Victoria to come because she wants to come. She feels weak in the heat. Her father says he is pleased that she changed her mind. She embraces him.
Victoria walks in a crowd to the other train, and Savage invites her into his compartment and lets her take a shower. He tells her to stop calling him sir and gives her a drink. She says she is not a traitor, but she was sick of being a half-breed. She tried to become an Indian but could not change. He says the people on the train were murdered. He says she knows something about Davay. She confesses that she killed McDaniel because he was trying to rape her. Savage says she led him on, but she vehemently denies that. She says he was trying to kill her. He says she could help Govindaswami find Davay. She asks for another drink.
In the morning Savage asks Victoria if she wants to retract anything she said while drunk. She asks if she will be charged with murder, and he says she said it was self-defense. She says she did not expect him to believe her. He says she did not kill the sentry. He says he will stand by her. She says she found a human being inside him.
Victoria goes before a court of inquiry. Govindaswami arrests the Sandani. Ranjit says he cannot take her side as long as she shields Davay. She calls him a weakling and blames his girl for informing against them. Ranjit warns her that if she harms Victoria, she will never see him again.
Savage tells Victoria she is free because of self-defense. She asks permission to thank him and kisses him. They go out for a drink at a non-vegetarian Hindu restaurant. They see Indian soldiers dancing and join them. Soldiers tell them they should marry.
Savage and Victoria walk in a cemetery, and he shows her the gravestone of his great grandmother who died in the Mutiny in 1857. He says he is going back to school in England. He asks if she would like to see England. She recalls the fantasies she had as a child about being received in England by royalty. She says only children can escape from reality. She asks if they can enjoy themselves for a while, and he agrees to that. They realize they are breaking army regulations.
Victoria is waked by Davay, who warns he may kill her if she does not obey. He tells her to wear a red dress. She gets up and puts it on. He says Savage has the city surrounded, and she must help him escape. Behind her house he has her stop the train by waving a white towel. The engineer recognizes her and continues on. Someone pulls her into a box car. Patrick calls to ask why the train stopped, and he learns that a woman in a red dress got on the train with a man. In the boxcar Davay warns her not to make a sound.
Patrick knocks on a door. Davay is prepared to strangle her if she is not quiet. Soldiers are searching the train. Patrick pounds on Savage’s door and asks him where Victoria is. Savage says he is in love with her too. Patrick says Victoria has a red dress, and they decide to go after her.
The soldiers do not find Davay and Victoria, and the train continues on. Savage drives his jeep fast to catch up to the train. Davay says he is changing Indian history. He jumps off the train. Patrick waves to the engineer, and the train is stopped. Savage finds Victoria tied up.
Davay places dynamite on the railroad track. Victoria tells them that Davay has explosives. Savage orders a search of the tunnel, and they drive back there. Savage is given a rifle and leads the way into the tunnel. Patrick says a passenger train is due in four minutes, and he walks with a flashlight and finds the dynamite. Davay shoots him, and Savage shoots Davay until he is dead. Savage goes to Patrick and moves him off the tracks. Patrick as he is dying asks him to tell Victoria that he did not bungle one thing. The train passes by, and Savage sees that Gandhi is on the train.
Victoria reads Savage’s order to report to the school in England. He asks her to come with him as his wife. She says she can’t because she does not belong there. She feels she belongs in India. He asks her to marry him, but she says it wouldn’t work. He suggests he could get out of the army and return to India. He asks if she would marry him then, and she agrees.
Savage tells the general he still feels that way, and the general says he can move up his retirement.
This epic romantic drama explores the mixed culture of British India just as the Indians by mostly nonviolently means are persuading the British to withdraw and let them be independent. Though the story is narrated by the British colonel, the central character is the Anglo-Indian woman who considers marrying an Anglo-Indian, an Indian Sikh, or a British colonel. The effectiveness of nonviolent demonstrations is contrasted to the chaos and destruction caused by violent revolutionaries.