"Though I've belted you and flayed you / By the living God that made you / You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din."
Gunga Din, based very loosely on a poem by Rudyard Kipling, was the second highest grossing film of 1939 behind Gone with the Wind. Although not as epic and awesome as Gone with the Wind, Gunga Din is still an excellent film and I can see why it made so much money. It is a mix of drama, comedy, action, and suspense. Also it has an excellent cast with Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Joan Fontaine, Victor McLagen, and Sam Jaffe.
In Imperial India the British army is having issues with the resurgence of the evil Thugee cult who worship the blood goddess Kali and go on murderess rampages. A whole village was wiped out by this group. The colonel sends his best sergeants- Cutter, MacChesney, and Ballantine- to inspect the village. The sergeants are more like school children when we are first introduced to them. Cutter (Cary Grant) bought a map to some buried treasure but then found out they were swindled. MacChesney (Victor McLagen) and Ballantine (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) join in on the fight.
The three sergeants arrive at the village. All is quiet and eerily still. Soldiers that had been assigned to posts either on roof tops or cliff tops disappears by the hands of Thugee assassins. Ballantine finds a group of Thugees hiding in a building. At first everything is under control until more of the assassins come and a small battle breaks out. The three friends make it out of the battle unharmed.
Once back at headquarters Ballantine tells his friends that in a few days when his time in the army is over he is getting married and working in the tea business. MacChesney and Cutter are not happy about this news whatsoever and give Ballantine a very hard time. They see Ballantine being affectionate to his fiancé Emmy (Joan Fontaine) in the street and they just stare him down until they move around the building. At their engagement party Cutter and MacChesney get the replacement officer sick so Ballantine will have to go back to the village with them the next day. Their plan works and neither Ballantine nor Emmy is very happy.
On the last day of Ballantine’s duty as a soldier, Cutter is thrown into the brig when he tries to get MacChesney to follow Gunga Din (Sam Jaffe) to a palace made of gold. MacChesney went through the same thing before with the map and wants none of Cutter’s nonsense but Cutter is drunk and keeps annoying MacChensey so he gets thrown in the brig. Gunga Din is friends with Cutter and with the help of an elephant name Annie gets Cutter out of his cell. Din takes Cutter to the palace of gold which happens to be the headquarters for the Thugee cult. Cutter creates a distraction while Din gets away to tell MacChesney and Ballantine they found the Thugee’s leader and hide out.
Instead of bringing the whole cavalry only Ballantine and MacChesney arrive to save their friend. They are held hostage by the Guru of the cult on the roof top. He tells the three men that he is their shield without them they will die and also of his plans for when their regiment comes to rescue them. He plans a surprise attack by his highly skilled mountain fighters. The regiment draws closer and closer. Gunga Din and Cutter have been stabbed and MacChesney and Ballantine have had their mouths gagged. Gunga Din with the little strength that he has finds a bugle and sounds the signal for the regiment to get into fighting mode.
The English army winds the victory and puts an end to the cult. Gunga Din died when he was shot down on the tower as he was blowing the bugle. The colonel posthumously makes Gunga Din a corporal and gives him full military burial and recognition for his heroic deeds.
Grant, Fairbanks, and McLagen were excellent together. They were each funny and entertaining. Cary Grant was hilarious he put on his cockney accent and was such a nut. McLagen I do not believe I have ever in a film before this he was good but he was the tough guy who ran the regiment. Fairbanks was so handsome. I liked him as the straight man. Joan Fontaine was barely in the film but she was adorable. It is funny to see Fontaine in her early films in the thirties because she looks and sounds so much like her sister and after the thirties you cannot even tell they are sisters they changed so much in appearance (yet another parallel with the sisters: Olivia was in Gone with the Wind which was the highest grossing film of the year and Joan was in the second highest grossing film of the year). Sam Jaffe was of Jewish decent but he pulled off playing an Indian very well. His performance borders on the cute to the really creepy. The creepy coming from the brown makeup the makeup department put on him as well as some of his faces.
Gunga Din is a great entertaining film I enjoyed sitting through it so much. Gunga Din is without a doubt one of the best films to have been released in 1939.