Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actors: Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Sam Jaffe, Eduardo Ciannelli
Director: George Stevens
Genres: Action & Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Kids & Family, Military & War, Animation
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Alan Dean Foster | prescott, az | 04/28/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Possibly the best pure action film ever made and certainly the inspiration for many that have followed. Inspired by, rather than based on, a poem by Rudyard Kipling (who briefly appears as a character in the uncut version of the film in the guise of a journalist traveling with the British army) this tale of adventure, comedy, and action in 19th-century India under the British Raj has it all. Superb b&w cinematography (nominated for an Academy Award in Hollywood's greatest year). Perfect casting, with Cary "Archie" Grant as the cockney Sgt. Cutter, Victor McLaghlen as gruff Master Sgt. MacChesney, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. as the dashing Sgt. Ballantine, Sam Jaffee (in full body makeup) as the humble water carrier Gunga Din, and the scene-stealing Eduardo Cianelli as a ferociously intelligent villain who is far more frightening than any '30's movie monster.The setting, outside the small town of Lone Pine, in California's eastern Sierras, beautifully mirrors that of northwestern India. Filmed in 100 degree heat, the picture's sets and backgrounds have a look of sere authenticity rarely achieved by location filming in the '30's. The superb score borders on the operatic, with leitmotifs for characters as well as scenes. I vividly remember thinking as a child, when I first saw a grainy print on our b&w tv, that this was the first time I had seen a non-white person in a film who was obviously smarter than the Caucasian heroes. Yes, Cianelli's guru is a fanatic at the head of a cult of ritual murderers, but his discourse on what makes a good officer ("Great generals, gentlemen, are not made of jeweled swords and mustache wax. They are made of what is here [touches hand to head] and here [touches hand to heart]!") has stayed with me ever since. Not to mention, before throwing himself into the cobra pit so that his soldiers will move against the British, that "India is my country, and I can die for my country as well as you for yours".Of course, there is also his rousing speech in the temple to his devotees to "Kill for the love of Kali, kill as you yourselves would be killed, kill for the love of killing...kill, kill, kill!" that carries rather chilling relevance to all too many fanatical groups today (though not worshippers of poor slandered Kali, whose temple in Kolkata I have visited). And it's the bravery of a mistreated Hindu, Gunga Din, who saves the day, and British behinds. This is a film that functions on many levels and inspired far more than the forgettable remake (SOLDIERS THREE). Its lack of availability on DVD in a fully restored version, together with the accompanying George Stevens, Jr. documentary footage on its making (including color film shot on the location), makes it the number one omission in the current DVD catalog."
The best action movie ever
Steven Hellerstedt | 03/14/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The British Army battles a Thuggee uprising in colonial India.
There are action movies, there are good action movies, and there is George Stevens' 1939 GUNGA DIN, the greatest action movie ever filmed. It has it all, as the director's son George Stevens, Jr. reminds us in the recent `making of' feature bundled with this dvd - humor, action and humanity. Not - alas - romance (poor Joan Fontaine.) A disappointing, albeit beautiful, actress up to that point, Fontaine is nothing much than a plot device used to lure one of the film's soldiers three - Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. - away from the other two, Victor McLaglen and Cary Grant.
In that same feature are some circa 1985 interview clips of Fairbanks, who tells us that while filming some of the actors wondered if GUNGA DIN was dosed a little too liberally with humor. Indeed, few action movies this side of Indiana Jones are quite so persistently jaunty, few lean so close to slapstick. Grant has the lead comic role, but McLaglen and Fairbanks have their share of gags as well. It's not a comedy, but the humor adds essential air to the proceedings.
The bad guys in GUNGA DIN are malevolent, grim, Kali (the Goddess of Destruction) worshiping Thuggees. The Thuggees are a deadly threat who aren't allowed a slapstick moment. If GUNGA DIN'S humor adds a necessary lightness, the Thuggee menace adds essential weight. These guys are creepy, evil incarnate, and it's in the battles with them - especially the breathtaking grand battle at the end - that the movie generates its thrills.
We have only to account for that rarest of action movie qualities George Jr. mentioned - humanity. Of course, it's embodied in the title character Gunga Din, played by the then relatively unknown Sam Jaffe. Jaffe is pitch-perfect in the role of the beastie, or water-carrier, who dreams of becoming a soldier. Film historian Rudy Behlmer tells us on the commentary track that Jaffe modeled his performance on Sabu, the Indian actor who was the first choice but unavailable for the role. Jaffe, we're told, approached the role as if he were Sabu - a derivative approach who's only virtue is that it works. Jaffe's Din IS humanity - childlike, questing, capable of deeds that make hardened soldiers (and most of the audience, I wager), weep. Din's simple wish is to be accepted, and it is Din who is the soul of this movie.
GUNGA DIN is the best action movie ever, bar none. Strongest recommendation for this essential movie.
An unbeatable adventure...and a killer comedy
Alan Dean Foster | 04/12/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This 1939 adventure classic rivals the Swiss Army knife for sheer utility: under director George Stevens' sure hand, "Gunga Din" spins a heady mix of adventure, comedy, and (dare I say) drama from the few strands of a Kipling poem, and establishes a hugely influential model in the process. It's a movie that rewards both the serious cineaste and the Saturday matinee escapist, a prototype for the Lucas and Spielberg adventure epics of the '70s, and an enduring model for the classic buddy picture. Why, then, does it remain in home video exile?Having grown up watching this on New York's "Million Dollar Movie," then airing on an RKO-owned TV station and thus dominated by the erstwhile studio's earlier hits, I was oblivious to the abrupt edits and grainy image quality already creeping into the televised prints. It was enough to savor Cary Grant's loopy, comic performance (as Archibald Cutter, arguably the closest he ever got onscreen to his true working class identity as Archie Leach), Doug Fairbanks, Jr.'s virtuous elegance, Victor McLaglen's signature bluster, and Sam Jaffe's soulful valor. By the time the veddy British colonel (Montagu Love) recited Kipling's title poem as an elegy for a fallen hero, you couldn't be sure if the print really had gotten that murky, or if your vision was blurred by the tears unleashed by the shameless (and highly effective) sentiment of the scene.Flash forward to the '70s and Los Angeles, when the feisty Z Channel, a cable upstart actually programmed by movie buffs, wanted to air the movie. They approached the director's son, George Stevens, Jr., about finding a better print, perhaps one closer to the original release. Stevens the younger reportedly gave them more than they could have dreamed for--access to the director's own print, which included footage never theatrically exhibited. Turns out that Stevens had shot footage that violated a curious proviso, imposed by the Kipling estate, that no attempt be made to dramatically portray the writer himself.What to do, then, with the several key shots, during the exposition and again during that final, tear-jerking scene, with the mustachioed, bespectacled 'journalist' who, while unnamed, was clearly intended to be ol' Rudyard himself? Sadly, the only practical solution was the cutting room floor or, in the case of that final shot, which showed the Kipling figure shoulder to shoulder with the surviving principals, to blow up the negative and crop the offending character from the frame.With the loan of the director's print, however, the Z Channel and its subscribers got to see a version of "Gunga Din" that solved the narrative hiccups that had plagued the movie for 30 years. Stevens' beautifully-shot, sun-drenched images of his reimagined sub-continent were immaculate, convincingly conjuring its desolate beauty in Southern Californian locations (largely in the Simi Valley, if memory serves). The fluid editing, terrific stuntwork, and, of course, rapid-fire wisecracks of Grant, Fairbanks, and McLaglen underline an early fight sequence (an ambush by Thugs while the soldiers are searching a seemingly abandoned village) as THE blueprint for Indiana Jones, Butch and Sundance, and the "Lethal Weapon" pictures. (As for racial stereotypes, script writers Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur weren't reactionaries; their fanatical assasins, based on historical fact, seem less far-fetched in the context of recent fundamentalist radicalism than they may have 20 years ago, while the title character, as portrayed by Jaffe, anchors his comic naivete with the gravity of his devotion and glimmers of fatalism.)I managed to tape an airing on my Beta machine, and subsequent viewings made clear to this older, presumably more film-savvy buff what had been intuitive to the wide-eyed eight-year-old. This was, and is, a wonderful movie. In a year famously regarded as the high water mark for Hollywood's "golden age" of studio-produced magic, "Gunga Din" still stands as a worthy peer to the year's better-served, more easily obtained classics. Whatever legal hurdles presently block its release, "Din" almost certainly survives in a superb print. Now, who's going to have the taste, not to mention commercial wisdom (and it would be that) to bring this back to life on DVD? You might even tempt no less a light than Spielberg to 'fess up and salute the source, much as Lucas did for the Criterion edition of Kurosawa's 'The Seventh Samurai.' Come to think of it, perhaps Criterion would be the logical candidate to restore a '30s adventure masterpiece to vivid glory."
James Mcfarland | Texas | 01/07/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This copy has one major fault: Too strongly edited. The opening scene with the character of Rudyard Kipling riding in a railway coach has been entirely omitted. The scene with the British Elephant squads setting up their artillery has been severely edited, and one misses the awesomeness of the pachyderms executing the drill of unloading the pieces as no other artillery unit in the world could do. And for what? So mediocre trailers and other trivia could be included on the DVD? I paid 11 cents at a Saturday matinee to see the original, and those scenes have been with me all these years. Would be pleased to have you offer an edition with the scenes restored."