THE STAR OF INDIA. Eros Films, UK, 1954. United Artists, US, 1856. Cornell Wilde, Jean Wallace, Herbert Lom, Basil Sydney, Yvonne Sanson, John Slater, Walter Rilla. Screenplay: Herbert Dalmas, Denis Freeman (additional dialogue), John H, Kafka (uncredited). Directed by Arthur Lubin.

   Gorgeous color and the scenic haunting mystery-ridden landscape of the Languedoc region of France are among the highlights of this 17th century swashbuckler featuring Cornel Wilde as Pierre St. Laurent, a French officer recently returned from the wars in India (when the French and Dutch were still vying for an Indian Empire with the British) whose homecoming is spoiled when he finds his home has been sold for taxes and is now occupied by Katrina (Jean Wallace, Wilde’s wife), the widow of an older Count.

   When a visit to the ruthless and feline Royal Governor of the region Narbonne (Herbert Lom) yields no relief, Pierre returns to Katrina who informs him the Count sold a family jewel to Narbonne to pay for the estate and that if he will return the jewel, she will return his estates.

   That night when Pierre steals a statue of Shiva from Narbonne, he is forced to kill another thief who dies whispering the name of the king, and when the statue in turn houses only an empty compartment, Pierre is convinced Katrina’s story is about a family jewel is a lie — certainly when the jewel in the painting of her grandmother turns out to have been only recently added to the portrait and is a different shape than the hidden compartment in the statue.

   Spying on her, he learns that she is an agent of the Dutch government in the person of Van Horst (Walter Rilla), and the jewel is none other than the sacred sapphire known as the Star of India stolen by agents of Narbonne in India from a temple which the Dutch government wishes returned to India, where the jewels theft has stirred riots and unrest and death among native and colonists alike.

   Shades of The Moonstone and The Sign of the Four.

   Pierre manages to get himself invited to stay with Narbonne by returning the statue of Shiva, claiming to have stopped the thief he killed with a promise from Narbonne he can present his case to Louis XIV (Basil Sydney) himself. But he soon discovers that Louis, who is traveling with his Mistress Madame de Montespan (Yvonne Sanson), wants the jewel for her (and already sent the thief Pierre killed to steal it from Narbonne).

   Now Pierre must choose between his king, his conscience, and his growing love for Katrina if he can discover where Narbonne has hidden the jewel, steal it from under the eye of Narbonne, his man Emile (John Slater), and the greedy king (well played by Sydney).

   It’s a clever film with an attractive cast made even better by Wilde, a natural swashbucker (Bandit of Sherwood, At Sword’s Point, Forever Amber, Treasure of the Golden Condor, Sword of Lancelot) and a gifted swordsman (he qualified for the 1936 Olympic fencing team but never competed), who was as at ease as Errol Flynn in this type of role.

   There were always complaints about Wallace role in Wilde’s films, but while she was no great actress, she was photogenic and competent and certainly the films are better than those Hugo Haas put Cleo Moore in, and I would argue she is better than Sondra Locke in most of Clint Eastwood’s films and at least as good as Jill Ireland in Charles Bronson’s. As nepotism goes it seems a lesser sin.

   The film might have fared better with Maureen O’Hara or Rhonda Fleming, but Wallace is more than adequate, and between Wilde’s swashbuckling, Lom’s villainy, a smart script, capable direction by Lubin (Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves with Wilde and many Abbott and Costello films and later television), attractive sets, well staged action, and the too seldom seen Languedoc scenery, the film has more than enough going for it to compensate.

   If, like me, you like a good swashbuckler this one is relatively rare and quite worth the effort to see. I don’t know if it is available on DVD, but you can find it streaming on YouTube in English with not too distracting foreign subtitles in a decent enough print.