Thursday 3 November 2011

1,001 Films: "Gunga Din" (1939)

Gunga Din is an enjoyable RKO feature, following a trio of sergeants (Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) muddling through colonial boredom in India by messing around, pulling pranks and wondering out loud how they can get a nice little war going for themselves. Though the murderous Thuggee cult is at large, much of the film plays off writer Ben Hecht and star Grant's genius for comedy; contemporary viewers are likely to be reminded of the recent Three Kings, where another bunch of knockabout recruits went in search of treasure while neglecting what it is they're supposed to be getting on with. George Stevens' film eventually holes up on the Thuggee temple roof as we, along with Kipling's titular hero (Sam Jaffe), wait for something dramatic to happen, and then has to finish with the never-quite-convincing Three Kings finale in which slacker leads turn heroes, but this is mostly rip-roaring entertainment, blessed with some tremendous speeded-up fight sequences, an epic action-adventure of the type so rarely accomplished nowadays.

Gunga Din is available on DVD as part of Universal's Cary Grant Collection boxset.

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