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Gunga Din (1939)

Approved | | Adventure, Comedy, War | 17 February 1939 (USA)
Trailer
2:12 | Trailer
In 19th century India, three British soldiers and a native waterbearer must stop a secret mass revival of the murderous Thuggee cult before it can rampage across the land.

Director:

George Stevens

Writers:

Joel Sayre (screenplay), Fred Guiol (screenplay) | 3 more credits »
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Popularity
3,094 ( 10,345)
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 1 win. See more awards »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Cary Grant ... Sergeant Archibald Cutter
Victor McLaglen ... Sergeant MacChesney
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. ... Sergeant Thomas Ballantine
Sam Jaffe ... Gunga Din
Eduardo Ciannelli ... Guru
Joan Fontaine ... Emmy
Montagu Love ... Colonel Weed
Robert Coote ... Sergeant Higginbotham
Abner Biberman ... Chota
Lumsden Hare ... Major Mitchell
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Storyline

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 <jlvogel@comcast.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

Out of the stirring glory of Kipling's seething world of battle they roar -- red-blood and gunpowder heroes all!...The stalwart, lusty, swaggering Sergeants Three...Rash and reckless battalioneers, who'd rather fight than and the lips they're always seeking!...Like towering giants astride the bristling hills that hide the bandit hordes of India...Headlong through the terrors of the Temples of Tantrapur...Onward pushing the thin red line of Empire through a land the white man rules, but never conquers!...It's big!...It's grand!...It's glorious!...No wonder it was more than a year in the making!...No wonder it taxed all Hollywood's resources to give the screen a sweep and a scope and an emotional blaze that it never had before!...DON'T LET ANYTHING KEEP YOU FROM SEEING IT! (ad appears to have word or phrase missing: ...who'd rather fight than [missing word or phrase] and the lips they're always seeking!) See more »

Genres:

Adventure | Comedy | War

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the 400 movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies. See more »

Goofs

Ballantine's bandolier is empty every time it is shown until its last scene, when it's full. See more »

Quotes

Colonel Weed: [speaking over Gunga Din's body] And here's a man of whom the regiment will always be proud. According to regulations, he had no actual status as a soldier. But those of us who had the privilege of serving with him today, knows that if ever a man deserved the name and rank of soldier, it was he. So I'm going to appoint him a corporal in this regiment. His name will be written on the rolls of our honored dead. And I...
[falters, clears throat]
Colonel Weed: Let me see that last part again, will you Mr. Kipling?
[...]
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Crazy Credits

The credits appear on a gong. Standing next to the gong is a Hindu man, and every time he strikes the gong, the credits change. See more »

Alternate Versions

German theatrical version was cut by approx. 12 minutes. This version was later shown on TV but never released on any home media format. Only in 2018 the film was released on DVD, with approx. 4 minutes restored. See more »

Connections

Referenced in Mr. Belvedere: The Outcasts (1985) See more »

Soundtracks

Blue Bonnets Over the Border
(uncredited)
Traditional
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User Reviews

 
The White Man's Burden
27 June 2007 | by bkoganbingSee all my reviews

For years I thought this knockabout service comedy was a product of John Ford, especially with Victor McLaglen as one of the leads. It certainly has the same rough house humor that Ford laces his films with.

To my surprise I learned it was George Stevens who actually directed it. Still I refuse to believe that this film wasn't offered to John Ford, but he was probably off in Monument Valley making Stagecoach.

Victor McLaglen along with Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., play three sergeants in the Indian Army who have a nice buddy/buddy/buddy camaraderie going. But the old gang is breaking up because Fairbanks is engaged to marry Joan Fontaine. Not if his two pals can help it, aided and abetted by regimental beastie Gunga Din as played by Sam Jaffe.

The Rudyard Kipling poem served as the inspiration for this RKO film about barracks life in the British Raj. The comic playing of the leads is so good that it does overshadow the incredibly racist message of the film. Not that the makers were racist, but this was the assumption of the British there at the time, including our leads and Gunga Din shows this most effectively.

The British took India by increments, making deals here and there with local rulers under a weak Mogul emperor who was done away with in the middle of the 19th century. They ruled very little of India outright, that would have been impossible. Their rule depended on the native troops you see here. Note that the soldiers cannot rise above the rank of corporal and Gunga Din is considerably lower in status than that.

Note here that the rebels in fact are Hindu, not Moslem. There are as many strains of that religion as there are Christian sects and this strangling cult was quite real. Of course to those being strangled they might not have the same view of them as liberators. But until India organized its independence movement, until the Congress Party came into being, these people were the voice of a free India.

But however you slice it, strangling people isn't a nice thing to do and the British had their point here also. When I watch Gunga Din, I think of Star Trek and the reason the prime directive came into being.

Cary Grant got to play his real cockney self here instead of the urbane Cary we're used to seeing. Fairbanks and McLaglen do very well with roles completely suited to their personalities.

Best acting role in the film however is Eduard Ciannelli as the guru, the head of the strangler cult. Note the fire and passion in his performance, he blows everyone else off the screen when he's on.

Favorite scene in Gunga Din is Ciannelli exhorting his troops in their mountain temple. Note how Stevens progressively darkens the background around Ciannelli until all you see are eyes and teeth like a ghoulish Halloween mask. Haunting, frightening and very effective.

It was right after the action of this film in the late nineteenth century that more and more of the British public started to question the underlying assumptions justifying the Raj. But that's the subject of Gandhi.

Gunga Din is still a great film, entertaining and funny. It should be shown with A Passage to India and Gandhi and you can chart how the Indian independence movement evolved.


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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

17 February 1939 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Gunga Din See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$1,910,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

RKO Radio Pictures See more »
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Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (reissue)

Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Victor System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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