|Cutter (Cary Grant), MacChesney (Victor McLaglen), Ballantine (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.)|
I love it when you watch a movie and recognize a cinematic technique. Then you remember the movie you saw it in and look it up to find that the two films are directed by the same person. In this case it’s George Stevens, who was first a cinematographer and brings lots of interesting camera work to Gunga Din, including the following shots that I recognized:
They are just like the voyeuristically close dance shots between Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in A Place In The Sun, also directed by George Stevens.
The film is about three friends in the British army serving in India who face down a resurgence of the Thuggee cult. MacChesney is a career officer, Cutter is a goofy adventuresome officer, and Ballantine is on his way out of the army. The film opens with a fairly large onslaught upon the three and some others by Thuggee that feels like a precursor to the action sequences of spaghetti westerns like My Name Is Trinity. Cary even has a Bud Spencer moment after having chair broken across him. After surviving the attack and reporting it, Cutter decides to check out a crazy tip about a city of great wealth and promptly goes missing. Despite being on his way out of the army and going into a marriage, Ballantine joins with MacChesney to find Cutter. Unfortunately they don’t just find Cutter, but what Cutter found, a temple with many Thuggee waiting to kill.
Along for the ride is an Indian water boy named Gunga Din who is the unofficial fourth to their three musketeers. He brings them water, plays the horn, and thinks of himself as a part of the army. Together they fight the Thuggee cult and prevent them from ambushing their rescue party.
To me this is very much a guy movie in the sense that the characters and their relationships are forged through shared activities, not through conversation or shared secrets. When Cutter goes missing, Ballantine doesn’t have to think whether he needs to go to help instead of getting married. He just makes sure he can still leave the army afterwards and away he goes. What makes the film so good is that we feel like a part of the gang, sharing in their laughs, their scares, and their friendship.
Cary Grant’s body is tall, dark, and handsome, but anyone who has watched his movies knows that there is actually a goofy geek stuck in that body. In this movie, he is at his goofy geek best complete with his trademark squeal/moan/happy noise. Having recently watched several of Douglas Fairbank’s films, it’s uncanny how much Fairbanks Jr. channels his fathers adventurous physicality. Still, he dials it back perfectly to come across as human rather than the thief of Baghdad. Together they play perfectly next to Victor McLaglen’s rock of an officer.
The film has a good mix of humor and action with a lot of beautiful cinematography. Pure fun action adventure, I highly recommend it.