Okay, I have a confession. I need to whisper it though. Lean in close. Clooooser. Okay. Until now, I had never seen "Gunga Din". Yes, I consider myself quite the Cary Grant fan. Yes, I have had the movie on DVD for years. So, why haven't I seen it? Honestly, I think it is because I didn't want to watch all the Cary Grant greats at once. I like the idea of knowing I still have some that I can watch for the first time and get that rush of the first viewing experience. There are actually quite a few I still have left to see, but that is a discussion for another time. MacChesney (Victor McLaglen) and Ballantine (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr) - are the best of friends. Watching each other's back, terrorizing anyone that crosses them and generally having a great adventure. It soon becomes evident that the Thuggee cult is on a killing spree and the British Army's new mission is to try to find them and stop them from wiping out everyone in sight. Cutter befriends a native water bearer, Gunga Din (Sam Jaffe), who desperately wants to be a soldier and accidentally finds the Thuggee temple while searching for gold for his new friend. One of them gets captured, the other has to bring help and the audience is on the edge of their seats anticipating a showdown.
I have to say, this movie didn't disappoint even though I delayed my viewing gratification for years. And if you will excuse me for a second while I swoon, OMG - Cary Grant looked smokin' HOT in this one. He always looks great, but, this was over-the-top-hottie-on-screen goodness. Of course, I think I experience that almost EVERY time I watch a Cary Grant movie I either haven't seen before or it has been a long time since I have seen it. The magnetism is always .... (fanning myself) overwhelming, if you will.
And yes, I do have to focus even more on Cary. There are so many wonderful scenes in this one. I loved the beginning, that wonderful innocent, naughty little boy look he pulls in the beginning when Higginbotham tells him to let go of that man and he does, right out a window. He looks like, "You told me to let him go - it isn't my fault he fell out a window. Just following orders." Along the same lines, I also loved the scene where he is pouring the elixir into the punch and trying to hide what he is doing and just look like he is enjoying the party. Then the scene immediately following where he drags Higginbotham to the punch bowl and is pantomiming to MaLaglen that they should give Higginbotham the punch is hilarious. Just that quick, raised eyebrows and mischievous looks tells McLaglen everything he needs to know. AND, I loved hearing the cockney accent coming from Cary's mouth instead of the ultra-refined one he, well, refined instead.
I think, by far though, my favorite Cary moment in the movie is in the Thuggee Temple when he has to draw attention to himself so he marches around singing an English Pub song and ends it with "Now, you are all under arrest. The whole bunch of ya. And you too, (pointing to the leader) and you know why! Her Majesty is very touchy about having her subjects strangled."
All in all, this is a wonderful movie. It reminded me of a version of "The Three Musketeers" but set in India. The interplay between the three leads is wonderful throughout. Cary was tops for me, of course, but all three had wonderful scenes. I had a hearty laugh when Victor and Cary's characters were bickering and they called out for Douglas to intercede. He looked disappointed and sad, never looked at them and just said, "You displease me greatly and I ignore the both of you." Just ... perfect delivery and setup.
If I had to make a complaint about the movie - if I had to - it would be one that classic movie enthusiasts groan when they hear. The movie is dated a little, I think, and only because of the fighting style. I know George Stevens was going for a high adventure and high fun romp - so it make sense - but some of the early fight scenes in this look more like keystone cops taking on Thuggees than anything else. They just aren't very realistic - Grant can take on 8 men at once and lay each one out with just a quick punch. He seems immortal too - not flinching when hit with a chair and later, taking a bayonet in the back and a gunshot in the leg and still smiling and laughing at his friends carrying on while he is laying in the floor supposedly in too much pain to move. But, I add these in only because it is supposed to be a "balanced" movie review. I honestly thought the fight scenes were so much fun - I didn't give a hoot if they were realistic or not.
My last point before wrapping this one up is how wonderful Sam Jaffe was as Gunga Din. He played the character with such dignity and grace. I thought about how I approach my own job/life and how much enthusiasm he brought to just bringing water to everyone. A job most people would think beneath them, he makes it a most noble and important one. He really is wonderful.
So, I highly recommend not waiting years to see this one. It is wonderful beginning to end. I especially enjoyed noticing how many scenes/story lines/themes have been used in later movies as homages to this. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, for example, used many scenes as homages to this wonderful film. Who knew? Well, you did if you weren't a dork like me and had already seen this!