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Based loosely on the poem by Rudyard Kipling, this takes place in British India during the Thuggee uprising. Three fun loving sergeants are doing fine until one of them wants to get married and leave the service. The other two trick him into a final mission where they end up confronting the entire cult by themselves as the British Army is entering a trap. This is of the "War is fun" school of movie making. It has the flavour of watching Notre Dame play an inferior high school team. Written by
John Vogel <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A trio of buddies, sergeants all in the British Army, carouse & brawl their way across Imperial India. Intensely loyal to each other, they meet their greatest & most deadly challenge when they encounter the resurgence of a hideous cult & its demented, implacable guru. Now they must rely on the lowliest servant of the regiment, the water carrier GUNGA DIN, to save scores of the Queen's soldiers from certain massacre.
Based more on The Three Musketeers than Kipling's classic poem, this is a wonderful adventure epic - a worthy entry in Hollywood's Golden Year of 1939. Filled with suspense & humor, while keeping the romantic interludes to the barest minimum, it grips the interest of the viewer and holds it right up to the (sentimental) conclusion.
It is practically fruitless to discuss the performance nuances of the three stars, Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen & Douglas Fairbanks Jr., as they are really all thirds of a single organism - inseparable and, to all intents & purposes, indistinguishable. However, this diminishes nothing of the great fun in simply watching them have a glorious time.
(It's interesting to note, parenthetically, that McLaglen boasted of a distinguished World War One military career; Fairbanks would have a sterling record in World War Two - mostly in clandestine affairs & earning himself no fewer than 4 honorary knighthoods after the conflict; while Grant reportedly worked undercover for British Intelligence, keeping an eye on Hollywood Nazi sympathizers.)
The real acting laurels here should go to Sam Jaffe, heartbreaking in the title role. He infuses the humble man with radiant dignity & enormous courage, making the last line of Kipling's poem ring true. He is unforgettable.
Montague Love is properly stalwart as the regimental major, whilst Eduardo Ciannelli is Evil Incarnate as the Thuggee guru. The rest of the cast, Joan Fontaine, Robert Coote, Lumsden Hare, are effective but have little to do. Movie mavens will recognize Cecil Kellaway in the tiny role of Miss Fontaine's father.
The film picks its villains well. The demonic Thuggee cult, worshipers of the hideous, blood-soaked Kali, Hindu goddess of destruction, was the bane of Indian life for 6 centuries, ritualistically strangling up to 30,000 victims a year. In 1840 the British military, in cooperation with a number of princely states, succeeded in ultimately suppressing the religion. Henceforth it would remain the stuff of novels & nightmares.
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