The Lost Patrol (1934 film)

The Lost Patrol is a 1934 American pre-Code war film made by RKO. It was directed and produced by John Ford, with Merian C. Cooper as executive producer and Cliff Reid as associate producer. The screenplay was by Dudley Nichols, adapted by Garrett Fort from the novel Patrol by Philip MacDonald. The music score was by Max Steiner and the cinematography by Harold Wenstrom. The film is a remake of a 1929 British silent film, also named The Lost Patrol, based on the same novel.[2]

The Lost Patrol
Original theatrical poster
Directed byJohn Ford
Produced byMerian C. Cooper
Cliff Reid
John Ford
Written byGarrett Fort
Philip MacDonald
Dudley Nichols
StarringVictor McLaglen
Boris Karloff
Music byMax Steiner
CinematographyHarold Wenstrom
Edited byPaul Weatherwax
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Release date
February 16, 1934 (1934-02-16)
Running time
73 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$583,000[1]

The Lost Patrol stars Victor McLaglen, Boris Karloff, Wallace Ford, Reginald Denny, J. M. Kerrigan and Alan Hale.[Note 1]

MacDonald’s story and the incident depicted in a 1936 Soviet film The Thirteen (set the Central Asia desert during the Basmachi rebellion and directed by Mikhail Romm) inspired the 1943 film Sahara, featuring Humphrey Bogart. Sahara was remade In 1995, featuring James Belushi, and as a Western, Last of the Comanches, in 1953.[Note 2]


During World War I, the young lieutenant in charge of a small British mounted patrol in the empty Mesopotamian desert is shot and killed by an unseen sniper. This leaves the sergeant at a loss, since he had not been told what their mission is and has no idea where they are. Riding north in the hope of rejoining their brigade, the eleven remaining men reach a deserted oasis where they find water, dates to eat and shelter.

During the night, one of the sentries is killed, the other seriously wounded, and all their horses are stolen, leaving them stranded. They bury the dead man and put his sword at the head of his grave. One by one, the remaining men are picked off by the unseen assailants. During the course of the film, the men talk and reminisce and fight—and deal with their situation. In desperation, the sergeant sends two men chosen by lot on foot for help, but they are caught and their mutilated bodies returned. One man, Abelson, suffering from heat exhaustion, sees a mirage and wanders into deadly rifle fire. The pilot of a British biplane spots the survivors, but nonchalantly lands nearby and despite frantic warnings is killed. After dark, the sergeant takes the machine gun from the aircraft and then sets the plane on fire as a signal to any British troops. Sanders, a religious fanatic, goes mad and walks into deadly fire.

In the end only the sergeant is left and, thinking he too is dead, the six Arabs who have been besieging the oasis advance on foot. Using the machine gun from the aircraft, the sergeant kills them all. A British patrol which had seen the smoke from the burning plane rides up and the officer in charge asks the sergeant roughly where his men are. In silence, the sergeant looks toward their graves, six swords gleaming in the sun.


Production and casting

The film was directed by John Ford, who also directed The World Moves On and Judge Priest in the year it came out. Ford co-produced the film along with Merian C. Cooper and Cliff Reid. Cooper himself had a military career. He served in the United States Army Air Service from 1916 to 1921, and would return to military service in World War II, in which he served from 1941 to 1945, reaching the rank of brigadier general. Ford himself served in the United States Navy in World War II from 1942 to 1945, reaching the rank of commander. He stayed on the reserve from 1946 to 1962. On the reserve, Ford reached the rank of rear admiral. The script was written by Dudley Nichols and Garrett Fort, based on the 1927 war novel Patrol, by Philip MacDonald. The novel was first adapted in 1929, by Walter Summers, who directed and wrote the film with Victor McLaglen’s younger brother Cyril in the lead role. The novel and movies focus on the psychological strain on a patrol of British soldiers when they become lost in the desert and surrounded by the enemy in Iraq. MacDonald himself served in the British cavalry during World War I in the Mesopotamian campaign.

Richard Dix was cast to play the lead role in The Lost Patrol but he went into another film instead and Victor McLaglen replaced him.[4] McLaglen himself was a World War I veteran, having served as a Captain (acting) with the 10th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment. Later he claimed to have served with the Royal Irish Fusiliers. He served for a time as military Assistant Provost Marshal for the city of Baghdad. McLaglen would work with Ford and Nichols again in The Informer. The three of them would win Academy Awards for Best Actor, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Already an actor in 1909, Boris Karloff attempted to enlist in the British Army during World War I, but was rejected due to his heart murmur.

Wallace Ford and Reginald Denny, who played Morelli and Brown, had both served in World War I. Ford served in the United States cavalry, while Denny served as an observer/gunner in the Royal Flying Corps. Denny would eventually found a company that made radio-controlled target aircraft during World War II.


The Lost Patrol was filmed in Algodones Dunes, California and Yuma, Arizona. Filming began on August 31 and ended on September 22, 1933. In Algodones Dunes, the temperatures soared and one of the film's producers wound up in the hospital with sunstroke.[5] According to Karloff’s biographer Peter Underwood, the temperature on the Yuma locations could be as hot as 150 degrees and actors were limited to working two hours a day.


Film historian Alun Evans in Brassey's Guide to War Films, considered the production, "... something of a classic, if only for the number of copy-cat pictures it spawned."[3] The film made a profit of $84,000.[1] Film reviewer Paul Tatara claims, "Critics have alternately hailed The Lost Patrol as a flawed masterpiece and a failed experiment. In reality, it's probably a little bit of both."[5] In a contemporary review, Mourdant Hall of The New York Times, noted: "In The Lost Patrol, a picture now sojourning at the Rialto, women are conspicuous by their absence. It is an audible adaptation of Philip MacDonald's novel Patrol, which was exhibited here in silent film form several years ago. The present production is highly effective from a photographic standpoint, but the incidents are often strained."[6]

Among the awards for The Lost Patrol, it was listed as one of the "10 Best Films - 1934" by The New York Times and received nominations for Best Picture in the 1934 National Board of Review and for Max Steiner for the 1934 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Academy Award for Original Music Score.[7] On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 100% based on 6 reviews, with a weighted average rating of 7.6/10.[8]

See also


  1. The Lost Patrol (1929) coincidentally starred Victor McLaglen's younger brother Cyril McLaglen in the lead role.
  2. In 1954, an Italian film with the same name (aka La Pattuglia Sperduta), directed by Piero Nelli was not a remake.[3]


  1. Jewel, Richard. "RKO Film Grosses: 1931-1951." Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol. 14, No. 1, 1994, p. 56.
  2. Pallot and Monaco 1995, p. 499.
  3. Evans 2000, p. 124.
  4. Schallert, Edwin (August 29, 1933). "News and Gossip of Studio and Theater: March favored as "Count of Monte Cristo: Film script now complete; McLaglen assigned to star role in 'Patrol'; Mystery Attaches to Plans of Helen Hayes Distant Locales Chosen for Warners' Air Epic". Los Angeles Times. p. A7.
  5. Tatara, Paul. "Articles: The Lost Patrol (1934)." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: December 23, 2014.
  6. Hall, Mourdant. "Movie review: The Lost Patrol (1934); Victor McLaglen, Reginald Denny, J.M. Kerrigan and others in the picture, The Lost Patrol." The New York Times, April 2, 1934.
  7. "Details: The Lost Patrol." The New York Times. Retrieved: December 23, 2014.
  8. "The Lost Patrol (1934) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 9 October 2017.


  • Evans, Alun. Brassey's Guide to War Films. Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books, 2000. ISBN 1-57488-263-5.
  • Pallot, James and James Monaco. The Movie Guide. New York: Berkley Publishing Group, 1995. ISBN 978-0-399-51914-7.
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