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Synopsis

(reprint from “King of the Khyber Rifles” campaign booklet)


The scene is India in 1851, the hundredth year of British rule. Captain Alan King (Tyrone Power) arrives at the Peshawar garrison after escaping an ambush by Afridi tribesmen commanded by ruthless Kurram Kham (Guy Rolfe). He is assigned by Brigadier General Maitland (Michael Rennie) to command the famous Khyber Rifles regiment.

Lt. Heath (John Justin) arranges for King to share his bungalow, and there immediately springs up a rivalry between Heath and King over Susan Maitland (Terry Moore). When Heath learns that King's father was an English Major and his mother a Moslem, he recoils from the shock of rooming with a half-caste.

King inquires about the idenity of Kurram Khan and sets out to find Hamid-Bahra (Maurice Colbourne), a Moslem priest. He learns from the old man that his boyhood playmate Hassam is Kurram Khan. Returning through the bazaar, King sees Susan and a native housekeeper Lali (Argentina Brunetti) listening to a holy man prophecying death to all infidels on the "night of the long knives." King shouts to the crowd in native Pushtu that the prophecy is a lie. The crowd presses around King, but he manages to rescue Susan and Lali and sends them home. At the garrison Susan, opening admiring King, invites him to dinner. He declines because his half-caste status makes him unacceptable. Susan put him down for two dances at the Queen's birthday ball, but King is not invited.

Following a rendezvous King and Susan ride alone out of the garrison. They are ambushed in a temple by four Afridi horsemen who try to kidnap Susan, but King leads her back to the garrison. General Maitland wants to send her home but she refuses to go, saying she is going to marry Captain King. Outside Corporal Stuart (John Farrow) is dead. His body, tied to a horse, caries a note pinned to his tunic that reveals Kurram Khan has captured one of the searching parties sent for King and Susan. Khan, who has learned of a shipment of Enfield rifles, issues an ultimatum that he will send back a dead man every day unless the Enfield rifles are turned over to him.

King volunteers to try to kill Kurram Khan, knowing that with him dead, the tribes he holds together would revert to fighting among themselves. Alone, King goes up the Khyber Pass to Khan's stronghold. He manages to get an audience with Khan and convinces him he was not sent by the British. When King gets an opportunity to kill Khan, he has a moment of stricken conscience and fails to cut Khan's throat.

King is tied to a stake alongside four other British soldiers. Horsemen, Carrying lances, are lined up opposite them. One after another Khan signals the lancers to rush the men and spear them. All are killed but King. Khan takes the last horseman's lance and charges him but does not throw it. "Last night you spared my life," Khan says, "now I return the gesture." He arranges for King's safe passage to Peshawar, adding, "but we will meet again, and when we do there will be no hesitation."

All over India mutinies occur. The "night of the long knives" has arrived. King leads the Khyber Rifles in a rear attack on Jattre. The native riflemen have been told that the cartridges of the new rifles are contaminated with the fat from pigs. To load the rifles they must bite off the end of the cartridge. They refuse to do it. In battle they throw away their rifles and use their knives. King flashes his knife like the others. He breaks into Khan's tent and battles with him to the death. King, wounded by Khan's revolver, is about to be slashed by his own knife when Khan hesitates for one instant, as King onc did, unable to kill his foster brother. In that instant, Ahmed throws a knife, killing Khan.

The Khyber Rifles return victorious. King's leadership against Khan wins the respect of his colleagues and gains the approval of Maitland as a future son-in-law. Susan beams with pride when as she and her father watch King lead the Khyber Rifles in parade.

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