Recently, while browsing through archive.org, I came across a surprising find. A silent film, entitled
“The Last Cartridge – an Incident of the Sepoy Rebellion in India.” The publication date is 1908 and stars Charles Kent and Florence Turner.
The plot is quite simple – a group of British soldiers are caught off guard by the mutineers and flee for safety in a fort. One, the intrepid hero, sprints off on his horse, presumably to get help, while the besieged garrison hold out against all odds, their numbers dwindling. At last, only the commander and his daughter remain (she is appropriately in love with the hero on the horse, of whom her father disapproves) with only one cartridge left to protect her honour. The horse riding hero returns – and the film ends all too abruptly, leading me to believe some of it may be missing.
The film is an oddity in all respects – of the Indians who appear to look more like very stereotyped Africans and Arabs. This is a truely strange set of sepoys! Indian servants would most certainly never have appeared anywhere bare chested waving fans either. The grass hut and Chinese lanterns hardly place it in India so fortunately, the title explains where this should be! Peppered liberally with melodrama complete with swooning maidens and a stupendously brave hero, the film fulfills perhaps what it set out to be – an almagation of several incidents of the mutiny itself, without being a depiction of the mutiny in specifics. It is a dash of Meerut, with a pinch of Lucknow, a stirring of Rosettis”In the Round Tower at Jhansi”, a spoonful of Fatehgarh and a smattering of Delhi. That it is an American film perhaps explains the Wild West feeling to it. Unlike Rosetti’s poem, this commander misses the shot.
On a whole, despite its myriad of drawbacks, these 10 minutes of little history give a view to a past that has disappeared forever, even if it was written by someone who had combined a little knowledge with a tremendous imagination. Despite the obvious flaws, the film retains charm.
You Tube provides the musical version, which is not available on archive.org.