I’m not generally a fan of old action/adventure flicks. Like the action films of today, they’re generally too contrived, too over-the-top, for me to really enjoy them. I guess I decided to rent Gunga Din (1939) mostly because Cary Grant is in it. Despite being one of the most famous men in Hollywood at the time, and a sex symbol, he had an unmistakable sense of humour about himself and his image. Like Elizabeth Taylor, he was able to laugh at himself despite his god-like image, and that’s a very attractive quality.
In fact, for this film, Grant was originally offered the more romantic part of Ballantine, but he insisted on playing the character with more personality – the smart-alec, adventure-loving, gold-obsessed Cutter. Not only is Cutter the more humorous character, he’s the one who bonds with Gunga Din, and who witnesses his sacrifice at the end of the film.
I was expecting a typical action flick about three buddies in the military getting up to all kinds of hijinks as they save the world from evil forces. What I got was something more, and with George Stevens at the helm (the director of A Place in the Sun, Woman of the Year and Giant) I should have known it would be a film with substance.
The title character is the water-bearer for British troops stationed in India. Din admires the British soldiers and longs to be one of them. He and Cutter strike up a friendship that gets them into all sorts of trouble, including breaking Cutter out of the stockade using an elephant. In their search for gold, the two of them end up stumbling into the headquarters for a murderous cult.
[SPOILER ALERT] The cult manages to imprison Cutter and his buddies and Din, as they wait for the rest of the British troops to walk into their trap to be slaughtered. It is Din, already injured, who climbs to the top of the temple spire to play the trumpet to warn the British of the trap. Din is shot down as his friend Cutter – also seriously wounded – watches. It’s a moving scene, but even more moving is Din’s funeral, where the last lines of Rudyard Kipling’s poem (upon which the film is based) are read aloud. [END SPOLER ALERT]
Joan Fontaine has a couple of brief appearances as Ballantine’s love interest, but her character is pretty vacant and serves only as the plot element that makes Ballantine decide to leave the service. His two buddies decide to do everything they can to make him change his mind, which leads to many of the comic scenes.
The movie has everything you could want in an action flick: gunfighting, fisticuffs, jumping off cliffs into the water, a snake pit, an evil and violent tribe that has to be stopped. I suspect a lot of the ideas for the original Indiana Jones film were taken directly from Gunga Din.
In other news, I recently watched the 1944 version of Jane Eyre, so I’m that much closer to writing my promised comparative post. I actually took notes as I watched it, so then I went back and watched the 2011 version again to takes notes. I was hoping to watch the 1996 version on Netflix, but when I hit play, the 2011 version came on. It enjoy the 2011 version, but when another version is advertised, that’s what I expect to see. It has been like this for several weeks now. Seriously Netflix, get your shit together.
[Note: It took me three weeks to write this post, so I apologize if it’s disjointed and flows poorly. It’s actually gotten to the point where I swore I wouldn’t watch any more classic movies until I had finished writing about this one. That didn’t last long.]