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With: Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Sam Jaffe, Joan Fontaine
Written by: Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur, Joel Sayre, Fred Guiol, William Faulkner (uncredited), Dudley Nichols (uncredited), based on a poem by Rudyard Kipling
Directed by: George Stevens
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 117
Date: 01/24/1939

Gunga Din (1939)

4 Stars (out of 4)

An Awfully Big Adventure

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This hugely exciting adventure film was one of director George Stevens' last pure entertainments before he went off to war and came back as a "serious" filmmaker. Supposedly based on a poem by Rudyard Kipling, the film is mostly about the great effort grown men will expend to remain boys. Archibald Cutter (Cary Grant), 'Mac' MacChesney (Victor McLaglen) and Tommy Ballantine (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) are the three wisecracking sergeants stationed in India at around the turn of the century. The evil Thugee cult has attacked an outpost and cut down the telegraph lines, but the men's primary concern is keeping Ballantine from leaving the army, getting married and going into the tea business. Grant is at his best in a showy comedy role, and McLaglen proves himself a surprisingly agile comedian, clearly having more fun than he does in the John Ford films. Fairbanks manages a suave twinkle that lives up to his father's best work.

In a touching performance, Sam Jaffe plays the heroic Gunga Din, an Indian bhisti who wishes to be a soldier. Joan Fontaine is stuck in the thankless role as Ballantine's fianc´┐Że, or rather, his ball and chain. (Thankfully Fontaine went on to a much better role the following year, in Hitchcock's Rebecca.)

Howard Hawks supposedly worked on the film's pre-production, hiring credited writers Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur (and uncredited writer William Faulkner) to create the camaraderie between the three men. Stevens and writers Joel Sayre and Fred Guiol completed the mix, perhaps adding the noble bits toward the end. Steven Spielberg was clearly inspired by this film, as huge chunks, including the collapsing rope bridge, made it into his Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984).

DVD Details: Warner Home Video's new DVD comes with a making-of documentary, a Looney Tunes cartoon, The Film Fan, and a commentary track by historian Rudy Behlmer, plus trailers.

Gunga Din has been released as part of a new package of George Stevens films, also including I Remember Mama (1948), George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey (1985) andGeorge Stevens: D-Day to Berlin (1994)

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