all about Gunga Din

5 things you should know about Gunga Din (1939)

1. It’s awesome, one of the greatest classic adventure movies ever made. I could stop there but I grant this first assertion is a little subjective so let’s dedicate the next four things to convincing you of the first.

2. Men of action are at the center. I could write reams about the great acting by the charming Cary Grant, the dashing swashbuckler Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and the lovably gruff bully Victor McLaglen, but suffice it to say that it is the interaction (dare I call it chemistry?) of the men that makes this movie, both in acting and plot. Nothing against the wonderful Joan Fontaine, here still an ingénue and just a year away from breaking through in Rebecca and Suspicion, but the fact is that ladies and gentlemen alike (it’s by no means just a guy movie) who value duty, friendship and honor will end up rooting against Fontaine’s goal of getting Fairbanks away from his buddies, out of the military and into her idea of a nice life in the tea business.

3. George Stevens directs. Stevens deftly combines buddy humor, emotion and epic battle scenes; he’d come from Laurel & Hardy slapstick comedies, small town dramas and Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers dance extravaganzas but never something this huge. His action choreography in Gunga Din set the pattern for all genres of adventure movie until decades later when realism entered the picture (and even beyond that, since you can spot the influence in the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies). Gunga Din started under Howard Hawks’ control but RKO fired Hawks when he went over budget on Bringing up Baby; little did they know that Stevens would take longer and spend more than anyone had on an RKO movie to date, but he also gave them one of their biggest hits.

4. Great writing. Joel Sayre and Fred Guiol, along with Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur (The Front Page) get credit, but William Faulkner and Dudley Nichols (Stagecoach, The Informer) also contributed. The story, based on a Rudyard Kipling poem about the British army facing an uprising in India, was mostly dialogue and needed filling out when Stevens took over, and even with all those expert pens, many scenes were invented and lines improvised right before shooting. Simply drawn but fascinating subplots and characters, unambiguous good vs. evil, with fanatical Thuggee leader (Eduardo Ciannelli) meant to represent Hitler.

5. Sam Jaffe. Few actors could have played the title character, an idealized “noble savage” figure, without making it a racist stereotype, even in an era when movies weren’t nearly as concerned with political correctness. Din worships and is loyal to the westerners whose respect he could and finally does earn, because born into a low caste in India at that time, he had no hope of ever rising above his position. Jaffe, a math teacher turned amazingly talented actor who got an Oscar nomination forThe Asphalt Jungle, makes Din memorably humble, heroic and forever aspiring to greatness which he achieves through sacrifice.

Five things already and I didn’t even get to Alfred Newman’s score or the pet elephant, but here’s the only thing you need to remember; Gunga Din is often on TCM on DVD and on amazon instant video

this article was originally posted at Landmark report– LINK

3 thoughts on “all about Gunga Din

  1. Believe it or not I love Fairbanks in The Life of Jimmy Dolan. I sometimes get hell from people when I say it was just as good as Garfield in They Made Me A criminal.


    1. Well I totally believe it, because I am a big Fairbanks jr fan myself! I love Life of Jimmy Dolan and totally agree with you on it being better than the remake, he did a great job there, made a perfect match with Loretta Young, was part of a neat cast, etc.– one of his best.


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