Gunga Din [1939]

Genre: Adventure, War
This big, boisterous adventure is more inspired by than based on Rudyard Kipling's famous poem. Legendary screenwriters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur have fashioned a rousing Hollywood movie full of high adventure, knockabout comedy, and old-fashioned male bonding. And old-fashioned it is: the trio of British officers and best friends who form the core of the film are a 19th-century three musketeers in India, threatened by the interventions of a woman who means to marry the dashing Ballantine (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). Blustery commander MacChesney (Victor McLaglen) schemes to keep Ballantine in the army while his second in command, the treasure-hunting Cutter (Cary Grant in a hopelessly mugging comic performance), continues searching for his elusive mother lode, but all their plans are thrown into chaos when the rise of the bloodthirsty Thugs threaten Britannia's soldiers. Sam Jaffe takes up the rear guard in turban, loin, and full-body make-up as the titular Gunga Din, the loyal water carrier who dreams of becoming a soldier. Bombastically chauvinist and naively imperialist, the film is bound to rub some people wrong, but Stevens creates a thrilling spectacle in the grand Hollywood mold, a handsome, exciting classic comic adventure that helped make 1939 Hollywood's grandest year. --Sean Axmaker

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