January 11, 2015

The origin of the movie cliché “We have ways of making you talk!”

The threatening words “We have ways of making you talk” are now a familiar cliché in movies.

It’s usually said for comedic effect, often with a heavy foreign accent, like: “Ve haf vays of making you talk!”

If you’re a classic film buff you may know that the origin of this movie quote is a line in an old Gary Cooper movie titled The Lives of a Bengal Lancer.

If you’re a major film quote geek you may know that the familiar version used today is actually a misquote of the actual line in the film.

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer is a Rudyard Kipling-style tale set in India during the days when it was a British colony.

It premiered in New York City on January 11, 1935.

The film is loosely based on an autobiographical book of the same name, written by British Army officer and author Francis Yeats-Brown in 1930.

The heroes of the movie are three British officers in the famed Bengal Lancers: Lieutenant McGregor, played by Cooper; Lieutenant Forsythe, played by Franchot Tone; and, Lieutenant Stone, played by Richard Cromwell.

The plot deals with their efforts to thwart a revolt against British rule by an Indian leader named Mohammed Khan, played by the great character actor Douglas Dumbrille.

When Stone is taken captive by Khan, McGregor and Forsythe go undercover to try to find and rescue him. But they are also captured by Khan.

The famous quote from the film comes during a scene in which Mohammed Khan has the three officers brought to him for what starts out as a deceptively cordial dinner.

Soon, Mohammed Khan gets to the point.

He offers to let them go free if they tell him the location of a huge supply of British ammunition he needs to provide firepower for his planned rebellion.

Khan explains: “You have only to answer two very simple questions. By what route is the ammunition train coming? And, just where does the regiment plan to meet it for convoy?"

Forsythe says flippantly: “Well, when the furry little animal jumped out of the bag he really jumped, didn’t he?”

Khan responds by making his ominously memorable threat — in perfectly good English, with no silly accent:

       “Well, gentlemen? We have ways to make men talk.”

The Lancers refuse to give Khan the information he wants.

So, as threatened, Khan uses his ways of encouraging answers.

One by one, starting with Gary Cooper, sharp slivers of bamboo are inserted under their fingernails. Then the bamboo slivers are set on fire.

Lieutenant Stone eventually spills the beans. But by the end of the film he redeems himself heroically and gets his revenge by killing Khan.

Somehow, over the decades Mohammed Khan’s sinister line from The Lives of a Bengal Lancer morphed into a comedic cliché, usually in misquoted form.

Nowadays, most people who aren’t classic film buffs are totally unaware of its origin.

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