Thursday, February 9, 2012

128. Gunga Din

Gunga Din
Directed by George Stevens

This movie is based on a poem by Rudyard Kipling so you know you are in for a real politically correct treat. I think some time last year I popped in The Jungle Book to bring back fond childhood memories and was so disgusted by the "I Want To Be Just Like You" scene that I had to turn it off.

This movie is just as offensive.  Just look at the premise. There is a massive cult uprising in British India and it is up to the British soldiers (who all have American accents) to quell it.  Indians are treated as horrible savages.  Strangely enough, this is easier to watch then when the soldiers (including Cary Grant) have a patronizing friendship with a "water bearer".

This is an adventure story.  I usually love swashbuckler movies and escape literature.  I love feeling like I am seeing characters live their lives to the limit.  This movie, however, was cringe-worthy and boring.  Part of the 1001 journey, I think, is to place yourself in another time period and place.  Still, in 1939 we were not that far away from the Indian Independence Movement.  Skip it!

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Howard Hawks was going to be the director of this film until Bringing Up Baby did terribly at the box office and he was fired.

Sam Jaffe, who played Gunga Din, was actually a Jewish-Russian American.  So pretty close!

Joan Fontaine fell in love with George Stevens during filming.  At least something good came out of this.

Only Gone With the Wind earned more money at the box office in 1939.



  1. I think I saw this movie when i was younger. I will not watch it again, but I am so glad you included the trailer. It was actually kind of funny. Oh, and Cary Grant looked so young! Great review.

  2. I thought Cary Grant's accent was so cute, but yeah, the treatment of the Indians was pretty cringe-worthy.
    Could you imagine pitching a movie about this today? A terrorist uprising but it's not a gritty, realistic one, it's a funny one! Yikes

  3. Thank you Diana!

    Haha yes Rachel I would really want to be a part of that pitch meeting. And everything Cary Grant does is cute.

  4. Wow, it is hard to place myself in 1939 mindset. Did people really think like that? So sad. Yet, I lived in China for a while and among westerners there there is a very similar outlook.
    This movie is mostly interesting because the second Indiana Jones movie reference it extensively.

    1. I haven't seen the second Indiana Jones movie in forever. Probably before I watched this. Perhaps a revisit is in order but I might cringe too much.

  5. Yes, people certainly still do think like that, including in China.

    There are different layers of racism here and it's important to separate them. There's the real racism in the setting of India at the time and I'm not sure the film itself can be blamed for that. If anything it goes too far in glossing over it a little bit. Then there's the racism in the core tale, which again I'm not inclined to criticise too much. Kipling just described what was happening at the time and whilst those attitudes are out of date now, he wasn't all bad. In his original Gunga Din story, for example, the whole point was that Din was a better man than the British soldiers who discriminated against him.

    The problem is with the film itself. The nobility of Din which is crucial to underpin the story is somewhat undermined by him being played by a white guy doing a music hall impression on an Indian whilst covered in body paint. I can see why it was well intended at the time and that audiences in 1939 probably wouldn't know just how unrealistic the blackface looked, but it has dated too much for me to enjoy properly now.

    1. Agreed. There are certain scenes in these old movies that make me cringe, but I don't think they was any malicious intention in their creation. And then there are situations like Mr. Yunioshi...