Gunga Din

Gunga Din

5.0 3
Director: George Stevens, Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

Cast: George Stevens, Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

Though Rudyard Kipling's poem Gunga Din makes a swell recital piece, it cannot be said to have much of a plot. It's simply a crude cockney soldier's tribute to a native Indian water boy who remains at his job even after being mortally wounded. Hardly the sort of material upon which to build 118 minutes' worth of screen time-at least, it wasn't until RKO


Though Rudyard Kipling's poem Gunga Din makes a swell recital piece, it cannot be said to have much of a plot. It's simply a crude cockney soldier's tribute to a native Indian water boy who remains at his job even after being mortally wounded. Hardly the sort of material upon which to build 118 minutes' worth of screen time-at least, it wasn't until RKO producer Pandro S. Berman decided to convert Gunga Din into an A-budgeted feature film. Now it became the tale of three eternally brawling British sergeants stationed in colonial India: Cutter (Cary Grant), McChesney (Victor McLaglen) and Ballantine (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). Ballantine intends to break up the threesome by marrying lovely Emmy Stebbins (Joan Fontaine), while Cutter and McChesney begin hatching diabolical schemes to keep Ballantine in the army (if this plot element sounds a lot like something from the Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur play The Front Page, bear in mind that Hecht and McArthur shared writing credit on Gunga Din with Joel Sayre and Fred Guiol; also contributing to the screenplay, uncredited, was William Faulkner). All three sergeants are kept occupied with a native revolt fomented by the Thuggees, a fanatical religious cult headed by a Napoleonic Guru (Eduardo Ciannelli). Unexpectedly coming to the rescue of our three heroes-not to mention every white man, woman and child in the region-is humble water carrier Gunga Din (Sam Jaffe), who aspires to become the regimental trumpeter. Originally slated to be directed by Howard Hawks, Gunga Din was taken out of Hawks' hands when the director proved to be too slow during the filming of Bringing Up Baby. His replacement was George Stevens, who proved to be slower and more exacting than Hawks had ever been!

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Ed Hulse
There aren’t enough superlatives in the English language to adequately describe this classic 1939 adventure movie, arguably the best of its type. Nominally based on a poem by Rudyard Kipling (but actually spawned by the fertile imagination of screenwriter Ben Hecht), Gunga Din is a rousing yarn that takes place in 19th-century India, where the British struggle to contain an uprising led by fanatical Thuggee cultists. The true extent of the rebellion is determined following a skirmish with British troops headed by three raucous sergeants -- played to perfection by Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. -- who are subsequently captured by the cult’s leader (Eduardo Ciannelli). It’s difficult to imagine three Hollywood leading men who could have interacted better than this trio, but theirs are not the only noteworthy performances. Though improbably cast, Sam Jaffe brings humor, pathos, and courage to his portrayal of the titular character, a lowly water carrier who aspires to join Her Majesty’s Army. And Cianelli is properly blood curdling as the sinister servant of Kali, goddess of death. Producer Pandro Berman spared nothing to create the desired effect, actually building a huge temple and an entire village in the foothills of the High Sierras, which stood in for northern India’s rugged mountain country. Director George Stevens (Shane) infused the picture with exuberance from the first frame to the last, skillfully deploying hundreds of extras in sprawling battle sequences and encouraging his principal players to do the lion’s share of their stunts. And he didn’t overlook the script’s comedic potential, either: Grant in particular gets numerous opportunities to mug for the camera, and the techniques Stevens picked up in the early ‘30s while directing comedies for Hal Roach are plainly evident in the byplay between the soldiers and their water carrier. There’s a relatively minor romantic subplot (in which Joan Fontaine figures), but Gunga Din doesn’t spend a lot of time on “mushy stuff” -- this is a red-blooded, rip-roaring tale of adventure that captured the hearts of Depression-era moviegoers and continues to delight viewers today.
All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
George Stevens' Gunga Din was not only the best of Hollywood's forays into colonialist adventure yarns, it served as the blueprint for many action-adventure movies for years after its release. It is a tribute to Stevens' direction and the uniformly superb cast that the film was a rousing success upon its release, and has endured as a popular favorite for decades since. Americans have always had problematic relationships with stories of British colonialism, but we also love a good adventure yarn, and the usual Hollywood compromise is to ignore the particulars, hold one's nose at the worst elements of subjugation, and just tell the story. That was the approach of the five screenwriters (including Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur and the uncredited William Faulkner) involved in the project, and director Stevens adhered to their work to the letter in telling Rudyard Kipling's story of life, love, and adventure on the frontier of the Indian subcontinent. In the film, the British army is a peace-keeping force, protecting the native populace from a murderous cult of religious fanatics who kill anyone in their way, including their own people. If the paternalistic attitude of the British seems heavy-handed, the oversight is more than outweighed by the savagery of the characters they're fighting. The pacing includes room for ample roughhousing, some of it bordering on slapstick, and rich character development. The actors play their parts as though they were born for them: Victor McLaglen, in particular, cuts a surprisingly dashing figure as Sergeant McChesney; the actor was nearly a decade away from settling into the more comical and jovial character roles that he played in John Ford's films. Cary Grant displays a larcenous side to his screen persona which in many ways anticipates his most compelling dramatic performance, in None But the Lonely Heart. Ironically, for a film that introduced author Kipling to the mass public than any other adaptation of his work, Gunga Din ran afoul of the sensibilities of the author's widow, who objected to the scenes depicting an unnamed, Kipling-like journalist, and those shots were cut at her request after the first run of the movie. These scenes would remain unseen until the late 1980s, when they were restored under the auspices of Turner Entertainment, the company that purchased the RKO film library.

Product Details

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Original Release:
Warner Home Video
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Special Features

Making of documentary on location with Gunga Din; Commentary by historian Rudy Behlmer; Vintage Porky Pig Looney Tunes cartoon The Film Fan

Related Subjects

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Cary Grant Archibald Cutter
Victor McLaglen Sgt. MacChesney
Douglas Fairbanks Sgt. Ballantine
Sam Jaffe Gunga Din
Eduardo Ciannelli Guru
Joan Fontaine Emmy Stebbins
Montagu Love Colonel
Robert Coote Higginbotham
Abner Biberman Chota
Lumsden Hare Maj. Mitchell
George Ducount Actor
Ann Evers Actor
Olin Francis Fulad
Jamiel Hasson Actor
Frank Levya Native Merchant
Fay McKenzie Girls at Party
Lal Chand Mehra Jadoo
David Niven Actor
George Regas Thug Chieftain
Audrey Manners Actor
Charles Bennett Telegraph Operator
Cecil Kellaway Mr. Stebbins
Clive Morgan Lancer Captain
Reginald Sheffield Journalist
Leslie Sketchley Corporal
Roland Varno Lt. Markham
Jim Horne Actor

Technical Credits
George Stevens Director,Producer
Joseph H. August Cinematographer
Henry Berman Editor
Pandro S. Berman Producer
Harry Berman Editor
Russell A. Cully Special Effects
William Faulkner Screenwriter
Perry Ferguson Art Director
Fred Guiol Screenwriter
Edward Killy Asst. Director
John Lockert Editor
Charles MacArthur Original Story
Alfred Newman Score Composer
Van Nest Polglase Art Director
Joel Sayre Screenwriter
Darrell Silvera Set Decoration/Design
Howard Smit Makeup
Dewey Starkey Asst. Director
Edward Stevenson Costumes/Costume Designer
James G. Stewart Sound/Sound Designer
John E. Tribby Sound/Sound Designer
Vernon Walker Special Effects

Scene Index

Side #1 --
1. Credits [2:17]
2. Gone Bad [4:22]
3. Sergeants Three [3:59]
4. Arrival at Tantrapur [4:23]
5. Playful Subjects [4:00]
6. Your Graves are Dug [3:57]
7. Dynamite Fight [4:07]
8. Sign of the Thuggees [4:31]
9. Very Regimental [3:57]
10. Daddy's Girl [3:06]
11. Punching up the Punch [5:29]
12. Down Higginbotham's Hatch [2:57]
13. Reassigned [2:36]
14. Make Way for the Expedition [5:43]
15. Jailbreak Tool [3:51]
16. Playing Bridge [2:06]
17. Cult of Kali [5:25]
18. Cutter's Gambit [3:25]
19. Signing On [7:04]
20. Temple Trap [2:33]
21. Snake Pit [4:47]
22. Superior Strategy [2:05]
23. Golden Targets [2:31]
24. Guru's Madness [7:53]
25. For Faith and Country [2:56]
26. March Toward Ambush [3:47]
27. Warning Bugle [1:58]
28. Turnabout Victory [4:56]
29. Honored Dead [3:14]
30. A Better Man [1:34]
31. Cast List [1:13]


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Gunga Din 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is my favorite movie of all time. I watched the butchered version many times on TV while growing up in the 60's. I got a VHS copy on my 30th birthday, but it broke about 18 months ago. I was shocked that Gunga Din wasn't available on DVD, and pleased to no end when it was released in December. I received a DVD copy from my daughters for Christmas, I only hope you enjoy it as much as I have throughout the years!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Gunga Din is one of my all-time favorites.Great action and humor, and lead by a great cast, to name a few Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and Sam Jaffe. It's a great story. I can watch this over and over and yet still over again. If you haven't seen 'Gunga Din', you need to. I'm sure you will like it as much as I do.