Gunga Din (1939) - Rotten Tomatoes

Gunga Din (1939)

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Though Rudyard Kipling's poem Gunga Din makes a swell recital piece, it cannot be said to have much of a plot. It's simply a crude cockney soldier's tribute to a native Indian water boy who remains at his job even after being mortally wounded. Hardly the sort of material upon which to build 118 minutes' worth of screen time-at least, it wasn't until RKO producer Pandro S. Berman decided to convert Gunga Din into an A-budgeted feature film. Now it became the tale of three eternally brawling British sergeants stationed in colonial India: Cutter (Cary Grant), McChesney (Victor McLaglen) and Ballantine (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). Ballantine intends to break up the threesome by marrying lovely Emmy Stebbins (Joan Fontaine), while Cutter and McChesney begin hatching diabolical schemes to keep Ballantine in the army (if this plot element sounds a lot like something from the Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur play The Front Page, bear in mind that Hecht and McArthur shared writing credit on Gunga Din with Joel Sayre and Fred Guiol; also contributing to the screenplay, uncredited, was William Faulkner). All three sergeants are kept occupied with a native revolt fomented by the Thuggees, a fanatical religious cult headed by a Napoleonic Guru (Eduardo Ciannelli). Unexpectedly coming to the rescue of our three heroes-not to mention every white man, woman and child in the region-is humble water carrier Gunga Din (Sam Jaffe), who aspires to become the regimental trumpeter. Originally slated to be directed by Howard Hawks, Gunga Din was taken out of Hawks' hands when the director proved to be too slow during the filming of Bringing Up Baby. His replacement was George Stevens, who proved to be slower and more exacting than Hawks had ever been!

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Cast

Cary Grant
as Sgt. Cutter
Victor McLaglen
as Sgt. MacChesney
Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
as Sgt. Ballantine
Sam Jaffe
as Gunga Din
Joan Fontaine
as Emmy Stebbins
Montagu Love
as Col. Weed
Robert Coote
as Higganbotham
Lumsden Hare
as Maj. Mitchell
Cecil Kellaway
as Mr. Stebbins
Ann Evers
as Girl at Party
Audrey Manners
as Girl at Party
Fay McKenzie
as Girl at Party
Roland Varno
as Lt. Markham
Charles Bennett
as Telegraph Operator
Frank Levya
as Native Merchant
George Ducount
as Thug Chieftain
Jamiel Hasson
as Thug Chieftain
George Regas
as Thug Chieftain
Bryant Fryer
as Scotch Sergeant
Clive Morgan
as Lancer Captain
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Critic Reviews for Gunga Din

All Critics (25) | Top Critics (2)

Stevens's deliberate pacing serves the comedy remarkably well, although the action scenes are blunted by too-careful compositions and artsy cutting.

Full Review… | November 13, 2007
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

This is a pretty spiffing adventure yarn, with some classically staged fights, terrific performances.

June 24, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

An entertaining, if antiquated feature made all the better by the three well-appointed leads.

Full Review… | June 9, 2011
Cinema Sight

One of the better adventure movies from the 1930s.

Full Review… | February 24, 2009
Antagony & Ecstasy

Classic George Stevens adventure starring Cary Grant, and great cast.

March 8, 2008
Video-Reviewmaster.com

As breezy as the pipe playing Seaforth Highlanders marching to battle without a care in the world.

Full Review… | April 1, 2006
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Audience Reviews for Gunga Din

½

Cary Grant and company ruin a lot of brown peoples' days, 1800s-style. Loosely based on the poem by Rudyard Kipling, follows three british military officers as they party and fight their way through Indian deserts. When they're not getting drunk and beating up each other, the three army pals are taking on the thugee cult, fist-pummeling dozens upon dozens of angry thugs. Gunga Din is a fun movie, and it was apparently a huge inspiration to Steven Spielberg, as it was a source of major inspiration for "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom".

Devon Bott
Devon Bott

Super Reviewer

½

This movie was better than I expected, and I loved Cary Grant in the movie, it was the ending that I liked best. The movie has some boring scenes, and the story is a bit silly. I wasn't sure what to rate this movie, you'll have to see it for yourself.

Aj V
Aj V

Super Reviewer

Rudyard Kipling's poem is translated to the screen by the pulsatile direction of George Stevens. The best thing about this classic adventure is the chemistry between the great actors involved in it, they are all charming and funny, a magnificent triumvirate formed by Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Victor McLaglen; with special mention to Sam Jaffe as their humble and valiant waterboy Gunga Din. Along with 'The man who would be king' this is probably the peak of the "colonial" adventure movies, in both are explored always relevant themes like greed, vital quest and the value of friendship. Sheer and unadulterated joy.

Pierluigi Puccini
Pierluigi Puccini

Super Reviewer

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