Friday, August 9, 2013

173 of 1001 Movies: Gunga Din (1939)

Gunga Din is a movie that couldn't be made nowadays. There were just things about it that wouldn't fly now. Anyways, George Stevens puts me a bit in mind of a very early epic, adventure storyteller. Indiana Jones actually put me in much mind of this movie. The thing is Gunga Din takes a while to get to where the plot is going. It also uses a premise that over time hasn't become too popular in the minds of people, and that is then the movie was perceived as the British helping the Indians colonize their land and become more "civilized" when the Indians themselves were okay with their own societal workings. Also, you have Cary Grant speaking in an American accent the whole time while being in the British army, and everyone else has British accents.

Summary: It's 19th century India, and three men have proven to be very successful at their British army service in India. When one man, Cutter, runs away to find gold though he discovers a plot to murder his fellow men. He sends his waterbearer, Gunga Din, to warn them, but it may be too late before the Thuggee cult that is plotting gets far enough to enact their plan.

Acting: You have three big leads in the movie, Cary Grant, Victor McLagen, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. You also have Sam Jaffe who plays the lead that the movie is named after, Gunga Din. Too bad they didn't consider putting his name on the cover. He was probably one of the most known character actors there was of classic movies. Cary Grant plays Cutter, and Grant for some reason just seems to have been in his weakest role in this one. He seemed like he was playing too young for the age he looks. Also, while he is British his accent in this felt very forced. I think he had begun losing the flare of his accent at this point. His fascination with the gold, and his facial expressions were just too over the top. The other two actors worked much better. Victor McLagen was MacChesney, and while not as bad as Grant he was okay. The strongest was Douglas Fairbanks Jr as Ballentine. He just seemed to have the look and personality for the part that made him the most interesting to watch. His girlfriend in the movie was Joan Fontaine, who really didn't have enough spotlight in the movie.

Filming: The movie is set in California, which is understandable considering movies at this time did not have the budget to film on location. They work with the scenery very well though, and unless you've been to this part of India you should be fine watching the movie. It looks very desert and suits the atmosphere well. This movie also cost over $1 million to make, and ended up losing money. Most films that featured the action and modern vibe couldn't make back what they did then because it was way more than people would spend at the theater. This movie did set the path for many more movies in the future to follow in the same route of action capturing though.

Plot: As said, the plot takes way too long to get started. We spend about an hour it seems just dancing around with the characters, and the lead Gunga Din, never gets the focus he does. The movie also mixes in some screwball humor, which I'm just not a personal fan of. I think it interrupts the intense nature of the movie as well. Finally at an hour the movie kicks into gear and Cutter kick starts the story by heading out to find the gold that will set things into motion. I guess if anything the first hour doesn't explain that well to me what it should. We should have a better grasp as to why the British are there, and what the Indians don't like about it, but instead it feels vacantly glazed over.

Gunga Din is one of the earliest action adventure movies there is. It takes a subject that feels like it should be more serious though and mixes it in with screwball humor, and some acting that just doesn't make sense. By the hour being in it hooks you a bit, but the flow of the movie has disconnected you enough that you don't feel quite connected to the key characters you should.

Rating 5 of 10.

Gunga Din (1939) on IMDb

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