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You seem to think warfare an English invention.


Gunga Din
(1939)

Stirring tale of a middle-aged Jewish guy in blackface with dreams of being the perfect English soldier. 

This Kipling poem-inspired tale of the Thuggee uprising has been cited by many as an influence on Spielberg and Lucas when they made Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom (right down to hacking away at a rope bridge over a chasm). Whatever that film's crassness with regard to racial stereotypes, at least they cast actors of the correct ethnicity and went further afield than California to add a bit of authenticity to proceedings. 

Apparently this was RKO's most expensive film up to that point, so it seems strange to see Republic serial-esque sped-up action accompanied by one of the most inappropriate, drama-puncturing scores imaginable (it becomes less so as it progresses but it's still a deal-breaker).

The scenes that hold up best involve the comic antics of the trio of sergeants set on bringing down the fiendish cult; Cary Grant (cast against type, and in Cockney mode, he shows his great timing but you can't help conclude he's better at being suave - later he endures very un-Cary lashing, shooting and stabbing), Victor McLaglen (very funny) and Douglas Fairbanks Jr (barely registers). 

I suppose you could at least claim that Eduardo Ciannelli's machiavellian "Guru" is the most erudite and intelligent character in the film, but an examination of political landscape in India during that period is the last thing on the makers' minds. Indeed, it's not hard to see why protests over the caricatures on display resulted in the withdrawal of the film there. 

As in the later (and vastly superior) The Man Who Would Be King, the character of Kipling makes a cameo (and you thought authors appearing in their fictions only began with John Carter). There's a sense of randomness to the lurches from comedy to torture to pitched battles, and I'm sure Howard Hawks (who was fired after Bringing Up Baby bombed) would have made a better fist of things than George Stevens. That said, it's not without its moments.

**1/2

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