It. tit.: La guardia nera; Sog.: by the novel King of the Khyber Rifles di Talbot Mundy; Scen.: James Kevin McGuiness, John Stone; F.: Joseph H. August; Mo.: Alex Troffey; Mu.: la canzone Flowers of Delight è di William Kernell; Int.: Victor McLaglen (captain Donald King), Myrna Loy (Yasmani), Roy D’Arcy (Rewa Ghunga), Pat Somerset (official of the Hilanders), David Rollins (lieutenant Malcom King), Mitchell Lewis (Mohammed Khan), Walter Long (Harem Bey), David Percy (official of the Hilanders), Lumsden Hare (colonel), Cyril Chadwick (major Twynes), David Torrence (marshal), Francis Ford (major MacGregor), Claude King, Frederick Sullivan, Joseph Diskay, Joyzelle, Richard Travers; Prod.: William Fox; Pri. pro.: 22 maggio 1929. 35mm. L.: 2510 m. D.: 92’. Bn.
Ford’s first all-talking feature, The Black Watch (1929), an adaptation of Talbot Mundy’s novel King of the Khyber Rifles, stars Victor McLaglen as a British army officer in a fabled Scottish regiment who undertakes a secret mission to India in the early days of World War I. Ford’s virtuosic direction of the battle sequences, featuring elaborate use of backlighting by the master cinematographer Joseph H. August and a complex orchestration of montage and music, harked back to the derringdo heroics of Francis Ford’s 1915 silent feature The Campbells Are Coming, on which Jack Ford was first assistant director (Francis plays a small but memorable role in The Black Watch). Jack made The Black Watch as a parttalkie, but after he finished his work on it, Fox general manager Winfield Sheehan hired British cast member Lumsden Hare to direct some additional talking sequences They included unintentionally comical love scenes with McLaglen and Myrna Loy as Princess Yasmani, the improbable leader of Indian rebel forces. Ford thought Hare’s scenes were “really horrible — long, talky things, had nothing to do with the story — and completely screwed it up. I wanted to vomit when I saw them.” (from Searching for John Ford)
“The combination of Ford’s camera-eye with August’s voluptuous lighting gives the film a remarkable visual distinction: strikingly chiaroscuro, boldly dramatic in its compositions, strongly dramatic in atmosphere. The Black Watch is indeed well worth preserving, though partly, it must be admitted, for the rich absurdity of its stiffupper-lip regimentals, and its romantic scenes between a wonderfully sensuous Myrna Loy and an endearingly clumsy Victor McLaglen.”
Lindsay Anderson, About John Ford, Plexus, London 1981