Gunga Din: The Original Bromance

Onward to Gunga Din, a 1939 RKO adventure film starring Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks Jr, chronicling the triumph of British soldiers over Indian natives.  Yay!  It comes in at #718 on our list.

OK, let's just get this out of the way.

We all feel better now?  Good. :)

So anyway, the British forces stationed in India loses contact with one of their outposts, and they send a trio of unconventional but undeniably effective soldiers to deal with the trouble.  Cutter, Mac, and Ballantine soon face a bigger problem -- Ballantine is leaving the army, getting married, and going into the tea business.  This highly offends both Cutter and Mac, especially the bit about the tea business (In my head there's a back story where somewhere along the line they were thrown a dirty curve by a tea merchant, and they haven't been the same since...suspicious, like.  But I'm pretty sure it's just because they're personally affronted that any friend of theirs would want to give up all the fun and adventure to go into a profession as supernaturally boring as the tea business.)

Ballantine is unswayed by their outrage and is nearly finished with his duty,   Their loyal noble savage Indian servant, Gunga Din, tells Cutter about a treasure that he has seen, and Cutter decides that it's a really good idea to desert the army to go on a wild goose chase -- where he is quickly captured by an offshoot group of Kali-worshiping rabble rousers.  Gunga somehow manages to escape, and he goes back to tell Mac and Ballantine, forcing the latter to go out with them on One Last Mission.  Oh yes, the One Last Mission trope, I know thee well.  Mac gets him to sign a re-enlistment form so that he doesn't get in trouble for taking a civilian on a military mission, with the promise that they can tear it up when they get back.  I'm willing to bet 100 dollars that Ballantine isn't going to end up tearing it up.

So Ballantine and Mac go on a rescue mission, although it isn't so much a rescue mission as it is a get captured and be of absolutely no use to anyone mission.  Luckily, however, the leader has this inexplicably uncontrollable urge to explain every single detail of his secret conquest plan.  I question his ability as a military strategist.  The British troops have come to recover their comrades, and they're about to be ambushed by a veritable army of *gasp* bad men in turbans, when Gunga Din comes to the rescue.  He has literally been bayoneted, but he manages to climb up a tower of gold and sound the alarm, allowing the British troops to take the offensive.  They crush the bad guys almost laughably easily (it's Her Majesty's army, what do you expect?), although sadly Gunga Din is shot and killed.  His dream of being a soldier is fulfilled, however, when they give him the rank of a corporal on the death records.   Dawwww how sweet.

Random Musings:

  • Oh, those untrustworthy natives.  You try to do the good Christian thing and take over their country give them protection, and they launch an attack on your outpost.  Typical.  Ungrateful sods.

  • Sorry, but the British hats are ridiculous.  And they remind me way too much of the bad guy from Jumanji.

  • This is easily Cary Grant at his most attractive.  Definitely.  But...that's not really meant to be a Cockney accent, is it?

It's pretty dire.  It's like he remembers it's supposed to be Cockney when there's a "h" he has to pronounce (or not pronounce, as the case may be).

  • I love the mildly exasperated look on Cary Grant's face as he walks in on Douglas Fairbanks Jr fighting eight or ten natives, then casually saunters over and joins the fray.  Smooth.

  • I LOVE Mac trying to trick his darling elephant into taking her elephant elixir the way you would coerce a two year old into eating broccoli.  Classic.  I am supremely amused by the genuine affection Mac has for little Annie.  Never try to get between a boy and his elephant.

  • Is it just me, or does Douglas Fairbanks sound ever so slightly Australian sometimes?  Bear in mind that it's entirely possible that it's just me.

  • Oh no are we spiking the pinch with elephant elixir?  No good can come of this.  Edit: I was wrong.  The good that came out of it was a hilarious hunt for a fly in the punch that Victor McLagen plays perfectly straight.  Well done.

  • Yeah, this movie is definitely the prototype for bromance roadtrip movies, thinly veiled as a war action/adventure film.

  • I love Cutter and Mac trying to think of ways to keep Ballantine from leaving them - including such well thought out plans as starting a war or nipping off to blow up the Taj Mahal.

  • I'm sorry, I know I've already mentioned the whole racism thin, but Gunga Din?  I am offended on behalf of all India.  I don't mean to keep beating a dead horse, I know this was made in the 1930s and there were much different standards regarding the representation of various ethnicities in film...but I can't help but think how much the "Indian" makeup makes me think of Soul Man.

  • OMG I'm like five seconds away from punching this bitch in the face.  I do not like Ballantine's fiancee.  She's a buzzkill.  I'm glad he finally tells her what's what.

  • I love the scene where Cary Grant's tied up, arguing with Mac, while Ballantine just sits on the ground, head in hand, so totally over their lover's quarrel.  "You displease me greatly and I'll ignore the both of you," says the long-suffering Ballantine.  So priceless it should be in a Mastercard commercial.

  • Why is Auld Lang Syne playing at Gunga Din's funeral?  Isn't that a New Years song?  Am I missing the relevance?  Edit: WTF did I do without wikipedia?  Apparently it's also a funeral song.  And, oddly enough, a Boy Scout song.  Who knew?

I really like the relationship between the three sergeants.  They've got great chemistry, they really seem like they're friends, and I love the various shenanigans they get up to.  I could just imagine a TV show or something with them running about India, dicking around, and getting in trouble.  I would watch it.  I just really wish that these three characters could have had a better, more engaging story - they're head and shoulders the best thing in it.  I'm officially a new fan of Douglas Fairbanks Jr - I don't know whether he would have been better served by Cary Grant's role (the one he originally had, until Cary was a whiner baby and they flipped a coin for it) but he really does well here.

But unfortunately...that's kind of all it's got going for it.  The plot is threadbare at best, and I found myself getting bored more than once.  For an adventure film, the action scenes aren't that enthralling.  And there are of course the unfortunate implications of colonialism and racism.  Even with the title character - Gunga Din is supposed to be the hero of the piece, but he just comes off as a puppy dog.  Stupid and loyal and eager to please.  And they're all just so patronizing to him, it's kind of awkward.  Of course, I'm willing to entertain the possibility that this just isn't my kind of movie.  You can't like everything.

Thanks for reading, and come back tomorrow for American Graffiti!

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Luke said...

I love Gunga Din, such a fun adventure flick (the original Temple of Doom!) I'd love to see a modern version with Philip Glenister in the Victor McLaglen role.

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