- by Zoë
Three British sergeants,
Cutter, MacChesney and Ballantine are sent to determine what happened when
everyone at an outstation in India is killed by natives. Later, they
discover a temple, where large number of natives are planning to destroy
the British troops in the area. The three sergeants and their water carrier,
Gunga Din, are taken prisoner and tortured. The British troops approach, but
do not know that they are marching into a trap. Gunga Din, though badly
wounded, blows a bugle-call to warn them, and then dies. The sergeants are
rescued, and Gunga Din is given full honours.
- by Heather Doughty
Although this movie was considered very controversial in
it's time, I found that Gunga Din was a favorite of mine. Made in 1939, it is the story of
3 practical jokers - playing sergeants in the British army stationed in India. One, Sgt.
Ballentine (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) is about to resign from the army and get married, and
of course, the other two do not want him to leave, fearing they'll be assigned someone
else who's not nearly as much fun as their best pal, and in fact are given a rather
stick-in-the mud replacement, who they sneakily dispatch in a very funny punch bowl
tampering incident. The lengths they go to get Ballentine to rejoin are hilarious to
watch. However, disaster strikes, and an entire town is wiped out with no communication,
so of course, our three heroes, and their faithful water boy, Gunga Din, are sent to find
out what happened to them. What follows is an interesting plot, where the spiritual leader
of a band of rebels captures them all, tortures them, and uses them as bait to trap the
reinforcement troops that come to their rescue. Although it sounds grim, the movie is
actually very funny at times, and also moving as Gunga Din, who wants nothing more than to
become a British soldier, and has been ridiculed by all, bravely sacrifices his life to
save our heroes and the British troops from certain death. Although Cary has a smaller
supporting role in this film, he shines from the screen and is a joy to watch as the
devil-may-care and somewhat shallow Cutter. I've watched this film many many times....in
fact, I think I'll excuse myself and go watch it again.
"Cutter! You unhand that man right now! That's an
order!" - yelled to Cutter in the middle of a brawl where he's got a man by the neck
over the window of a high balcony. He shrugs......and does as he's ordered, as the man
falls to ground far below. Cary's nonchalant body language and facial expressions in this
scene are classic!
Film Review - January 25, 1939
- by "Wear"
- submitted by Barry Martin
Spectacular in its sweep and tremendous in its dramatic
portrayals, 'Gunga Din' is certain to hit peak spots on the
boxoffice front. One of the big money pictures this year,
both in coin represented in its production and what it means to
Numerous extended runs and
resounding grosses appear certain for domestic field while in the
foreign market it should mop up if only because of actionful,
melodramatic content. Picture has numerous exploitation
angles and is backed by a giant bally and advertising
campaign. For British territory, it should score extra big
because it's the sort of production that swells national pride in
Aside from the feature's ability to
tell a swiftly-paced, exciting yarn about British rule in India in
the 1890s, it shows Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen and Douglas
Fairbanks, Jr., as a trio of happy-go-lucky British army sergeants
who typify the type of hard-bitten non-coms described by Kipling
in his famed 'Barrack Room Ballads.'
Basis of Ben Hecht and Charles
MacArthur's original story from the barrack ballad, is the
outbreak of the Thugs, cruel religious marauders, who revolted
against English troops in India late in the 19th century, 50 years
after they had been originally put down. It is the constant
and brutal warfare that they wage, almost from the opening scene
until the sweeping battle climax, which forms the plot
That powerfully staged fight
between the British and the Thug hordes near the Khyber Pass forms
a hair-raising climax as Gunga Din, regimental water carrier,
fulfills his ambition, even though as a dead hero.
Remarkable suspense has been developed as the native struggles to
the top of the temple dome, though mortally wounded, and sounds
the bugle blast which warns the English forces of the trap into
which they are marching.
George Stevens has employed superb
change of pace, first going from action army combat to character close-ups
and then tossing in a bit of humor of romantic touch. He
directs with fine discernment, both in the sweeping episodes at
long range, and the less hectic indoor scenes. Stevens is
also credited as associated producer.
The understandable, living drama of
the three musketeering sergeants has been neatly made into the
screen vehicle by Joel Sayre and Fred Guiol. Deviation from
the main story is the effort of two hardy non-coms to persuade
their buddy-in-arms, Ballantine, to abandon thoughts of marriage
for a new enlistment in the army and fealty to the trio.
It's a clever counterplot, and in part, at least, will answer
objection that there is not enough romance in the picture, since
this constant effort to pry Ballantine away from his wife-to-be
figures importantly in the main plot theme.
With the Grant-McLaglen-Fairbanks
combo measuring to every expectancy as big draw figures in this
type of yarn, further, interest attaches to the title role of 'Gunga
Din,' native water carrier, and the villainous Thug leader.
Sam Jaffe contributes possibly his best screen portrayal since his
work in 'Lost Horizon.' Though comparatively a lesser role,
he makes it stand out as vital all the time. Eduardo
Ciannelli, familiar for his gangster roles, outdoes himself as
ruthless native leader of India's Thugs.
Young Fairbanks, Cary Grant and
McLaglen set their characters definitely in the first hand-to-hand
conflict with natives and maintain them right to the final
fadeout. Montagu Love and Lumsden Hare make conventional
army officers, Abner Biberman is a realistic Thug fighting leader,
while Robert Coote and Cecil Kellaway head the strong support
which includes countless extras. Joan Fontaine plays the
only speaking femme role, the girl Fairbanks proposes to
marry. Pretty and sufficient for the limited character.
Nicety of the camera work by John H
August enhances the production values which crowd the film.
Special effects by Vernon L Walker are deft.
Production needs no diagram to show
that heavy coin was sunk into making this click. 'Gunga Din'
undoubtedly will recoup plenty at the boxoffice window.
Times Film Review - January 27, 1939
- by Bosley Crowther
- submitted by Barry Martin
With a poet in the credit
lines, it is hardly surprising that "Gunga Din" (at the
Music Hall) should turn about to be as jaunty as a Barrack Room
Ballad, as splendid as a Durbar, as exciting and at times as
preposterous as a Pearl White serial. Thanks to the collaboration
of the late Mr. Kipling, who wrote for the cinema without knowing
it, it moves with all the discipline, dash and color of a vanished
time, when Mr. Disraeli was Prime Minister and the empire had a
good conscience. Although its mid portions tend to sag a bit under
the weight of Victorian destiny, it blossoms at both ends into
sequences of magnificently explosive action.
All moves, as a matter of fact,
should be like the first twenty-five and the last thirty minutes
of "Gunga Din," which are the sheer poetry of cinematic
motion. Not that the production as a whole leaves anything to be
desired in lavishness and panoramic sweep. The charge of the Sepoy
Lancers, for example, in the concluding battle sequence, is the
most spectacular bit of cinema sine the Warner Brothers and
Tennyson stormed the heights of Balaklava. In fact the movies at
their best really appear to have more in common with the poets
than with plain, straightforward, rationally documented prose.
Though the picture draws heavily on
the Ballads for atmosphere and inspiration, and doesn't scruple to
use Kipling himself, the brilliantly talented young war
correspondent, as a minor character (it seems he dashed off the
famous poem in time for the Commandant to read it over the
water-carrier's grave), the only historical or literary authority
for it seems to have been an original story by Ben Hecht and
Charles MacArthur. In this case, "original" may be taken
to signify that the story is quite unlike other predecessors in
the same genre, except possibly "The Lives of a Bengal
Lancer," "Beau Geste," "The Lost Patrol"
and "Charge of the Light Brigade." The parallels - some
of them doubtless unavoidable - may be charitable excused on the
ground that two memories are better than one.
As for Gunga Din himself, it seems
rather a pity that he should receive fourth billing in his own
picture. Yet for all the dash cut by the three stars, Cary Grant,
Victor McLaglen and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., it is the humble,
ascetic, stooped, yet somehow sublime, figure of Sam Jaffe that
one remembers. "An' for all 'is dirty 'ide, 'e was white,
clear white, inside, when 'e went to tend the wounded under
fire," said the poet, and the sentiment, Victorian and
patronizing as it may be, echoes in the heart. There is infinite
humility, age-old patience and pity, in the way old Din kneels to
offer water to the living and the dying. And, though bent under
the weight of his perspiring water-skin, his agility in dodging
bullets is marvelous to behold. As Sam Jaffe plays him, Gunga Din
is not only a better man than any in the cast; he should be a
serious contender for the best performance of the year.
Even at those points where the
script seems to lose its sense of direction, George Stevens always
admirably retains his own. At its best, it is an orchestration,
taut with suspense and enriched in the fighting scenes with
beautifully timed, almost epigrammatic bits of
"business" and a swinging gusto which makes of every
roundhouse blow a thing of beauty. Mr. Fairbanks leaps from roof
to roof like his esteemed sire; Mr. McLaglen in his uniform struts
intemperately; Cary Grant clowns even beneath the lash of the cult
of Thugs, even with a bayonet wound in his vitals. As Guru, high
priest of the killer cult, whose attempted ambush of the British
troops is foiled by the heroic and suicidal bugling of good old
Din, Eduardo Ciannelli has stepped straight from an old-fashioned
Film Review - February 2, 1939
- by Nelson B Bell
- submitted by Renee Klish
RKO - Radio Hits
Peak in Film of 'Gunga Din'
It is an adroitly fashioned and
skillfully articulated screen play that Charles MacArthur and Ben
Hecht have fashioned from suggestions in the Kipling poem for
their epic film version of "Gunga Din." They have
concocted a melodrama of far-flung proportions that is as
compactly filled with dramatic surprises as it is with thunderous
and tumultuous action. They have personalized a story that
might easily have wandered away into one of those vague
expositions of "historical" empire building and so lost
much of its present forcefulness and concentrated interest.
They have been deft, too, in
avoiding too much obvious reliance upon the Kipling poem as a
camouflage for their own dramaturgic shortcomings. On the
evidence of this picture, they have no dramaturgic
shortcomings. They felt no need to rely upon Mr. Kipling
except in the most remote sort of way, and so they didn't.
To make clearer what I mean, one
approaching yesterday afternoon's preview of "Gunga
Din," in the private projection room of the Twentieth
Century-Fox Film Exchange, did so with an assurance bred of past
experience that the film would open with a rolling screen
reproduction of the poem from which the picture derives its
name. That was a complete misapprehension. The reading
of a stanza or two of the Kipling lines came at the end of the
picture, over the body of the water-boy who had proved himself a
hero and won a high place on the honor roll of the British army in
India. That was only the first of a series of preconceived
notions of the stereotyped manner in which "Gunga Din"
would be brought to the silver sheet to be amazingly and
All of this, of course, was faulty
thinking. There is nothing stereotyped about "Gunga
Din." It is beyond question the most impressive
production that RKO-Radio ever has brought to the screen, not even
excepting "Cimarron." It is a picture that surges
with action of the most violent and hair-raising description; it
deals interestingly, humanly and excitingly with the deep
patriotism and adventurous spirit of three sergeants in the
service of the Queen on a distant outpost of the Empire. A
romantic touch is lent the developments by the enthusiasm of one
of the three to quit the army and become a married tea merchant,
enjoying the placid pleasures of domestic life in pastural
precincts. That just doesn't come off.
Climax Reaches Blistering
What does come off is a series of
turbulent and nerve-tingling episodes in which suspenseful events
mount to a final climax that I should say never has been equaled
on the screen for its realistic simulation of armed repression of
revolt. The thing will literally bowl you over.
There are elements of drama,
vagrant touches of comedy, momentary periods of romance and other
ingredients of a handsome entertainment woven into his expansive
mosaic by Director George Stevens that will not be gone into here
and now. I might go so far as to say that "Gunga
Din" does not at all times maintain the top velocity of its
climactic scenes, but that seems to be unimportant, because
"Gunga Din" opens with action that would do for the
climax of most pictures and then goes on from there to demonstrate
what action really can be like when a director buckles down and
puts his mind to it!
Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen and
Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., have roles so evenly balanced in
importance and appeal that there is nothing to choose among
them. They do a grad job, individually and
collectively. Incidentally, there will be a review of
"Gunga Din" in these columns - I hope - on Friday
morning, following tonight's premiere performances on Fifteenth
THE WALL STREET
Film Review - January 27, 1939
- by J.K.B.
- submitted by Renee Klish
RKO has the temerity to film the
story which Hecht and MacArthur dared to expand from the famous
89-line poem of Rudyard Kipling about the faithful waterboy with a
British patrol in India. The inspiration which moved Kipling
to write the poem, along with many other of his Barrack Room
Ballads, is just as impressive on the screen as it must have been
to the be-spectacled correspondent who saw it enacted in real
life. It is, to be brief, a story which demands a critic
with a pen as strong as the man who gave it birth.
Well-knit and taut, the story
catches you up in its rough and headstrong flight and never lets
you down. If you aren't gasping over the reckless
hand-to-hand fighting or the thundering cavalry, your throat
catches over the awesome beauty of the scenery. California,
in addition to all its natives' violent claims, has in Mt. Whitney
- where the scenes were filmed - mountain grandeur which must
certainly surpass the Himalayas which it represents.
As the Three Musketeers of the
desert, Victor McLaglan, Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks are
utterly believable as the hard-hitting, brave, yet loyal trio
which they depict with such apparent enjoyment. So strong is
the bond between them, and to the audience, that the intrusion of
the lone woman in the cast intent on marrying Fairbanks is
resented just as much by the audience as by his buddies. But
it is Sam Jaffe as the wistful, faithful Gunga Din, who seeks to
be a soldier but never becomes one until after his death, who,
rightly, is the outstanding character. And it is only
because he is so believable and appealing, that the closing scene
where Kipling's poem is read as his burial services does not
appear maudlin or out of place - as it easily might.
Film Review - January 25, 1939
- by Edwin Schallert
- submitted by Renee Klish
Melodrama on Magnificent Scale
Magnitude and money are emblazoned
in the largest capital letters in "Gunga Din" which
received its screen inauguration in gala style with an éclat
premier last night at Pantages Hollywood Theater. Truly
accomplished in the grand manner of war spectacles is this
adaptation of Rudyard Kipling poem, that heroizes the subject of
those verses, and tells a roystering story of thrills, melodrama
and adventure in India.
This is the feature that took
nearly $2,000,000 to produce. Actual cost, I understand, was
$1,830,000, and the film surpasses in that item, at least, any
other undertaking in recent years at R.K.O. studio, which
sponsored the enterprise. The audience build-up is doubtless
already large, and applause vouchsafed last night for certain
scenes indicated that the note of popularity had been emphatically
"Gunga Din" may have more
appeal to men than women at times; that's true. It's on the
masculine side in plot. But the pictorial qualities are
universal in their attraction, and no one can fail to be
fascinated by the bigger panoramas.
Magnificence of the outdoor scenes
of "Gunga Din," has never, it might be said, been
rivaled in the history of pictures. This production takes
its place alongside of the greatest that have attempted to mass
forces on the Herculean plan.
FORCES WELL HANDLED
George Stevens, as producer and
director, has managed his armies admirably, and Pandro Berman, as
executive in charge, evidently demonstrated the courage of putting
everything at Stevens' command.
Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen and
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. are a sort of "soldiers three"
combination who contribute lusty entertainment, while Same Jaffe
impersonates the courageous title character and native
water-bearer who desires to prove himself a brave soldier, and
who, in the final analysis does.
The underlying theme idealizing
this character is pretty well presented, and gives visual meaning
to the Kipling classic.
Suspense is splendidly devised in
the earlier episodes when a beleaguered village is cut off from
communication with the neighboring military post.
The crafty attck of the thugs on
the rescuing party is made into another powerful episode.
Lots of dizzying gunfire here.
Finally everything builds to a
sensational climax when the British attack the marauders in their
own den, with Cary Grant, alone, and then Victor McLaglen and
Fairbanks Jr. leading the way.
The capture of these three is the
inspiration for enthralling happenings, in which the trio of
actors mentioned, with Eduardo Ciannelli, who does an excellent
performance, quite dominate. Also Same Jaffe as Gunga Din
shares liberally in the laurels.
Grant is very persuasive in his
work, while McLaglen has the hearty quality that distinguishes his
best portrayals, and Fairbanks gives an efficient account of
himself. Not much leeway for romance in this film, but Joan
Fontaine typifies it, while Montagu Love has many of the most
telling lines to speak, and offers them admirably.
Despite the many stirring battles,
there is good comedy relief, particularly in the bridge-crossing
episode with Grant and Jaffe, and during an earlier quite
incidental stretch of sequences pertaining to an elixir for
pachyderms. While a bit off the track, this seems to serve
well for amusement. Grant is especially clever in the
Robert Coote, Abner Biberman and
Lumsden Hare are others. Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur
wrote the story, which was put into screen play form by Joel Sayre
and Fred Gould.
Click here to read
Susanna's review of "Gunga
Click here to read Jenny's Crackpot
Reviews at the Cary Grant Shrine
|From Douglas Fairbanks' autobiography - 'The Salad Days':
"....one day Cary Grant, a remarkable guy with an agile mind (which HE said was
replete with complexes) and a treasure of a friend, asked me if I wanted to play something
called Gunga Din......Cary, enthusiastic as ever, was at pains to assure me that if I
joined the cast, everyone would be thrilled......I still had no clue as to which of the
two younger sergeants Cary and I would play. They were about equal in importance. One was
the romantic who, after numerous exciting adventures, falls in love and gets the girl.
This would be Joan Fontaine's first role as a leading lady. The other sergeant was his
mate, an engagingly brave, funny young cockney. These two, with the older one, shared the
adventures fairly equally. When I asked Cary which part he intended to play, he answered,
'Whichever one you don't want! I want us to be together in this so badly - I think the two
of us, plus old McLaglen as our top sergeant, MacChesney, will make this picture more than
just another big special'. I have never so much as HEARD of another actor (usually
considered a congenitally selfish breed) who proposed to a contemporary colleague, in some
ways a rival, so unselfish a proposal. I came to learn that such gestures were typical of
Cary. He had always been most concerned with being involved in what he guessed would be a
Apparently, they finally settled the casting by tossing a coin and thereafter Cary and
Douglas Fairbanks would address each other as Cutter and Ballantyne!
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