Gunga Din (1939) Starring Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Carey Grant, Victor MacLaglen Director George Stevens
Synopsis (by MOster) Cutter (Grant) and his troupe of cutups are British soldiers in India in the late 19th century. After purchasing a map (largely believed to have been a scam) to a legendary city of gold, they begin to encounter members of a murderous cult of Indians (English actors in brownface, supplemented by the occasional non-speaking actual Indian). Eventually, Grant finds his treasure as well as the cult. Hijinks ensue, white people are superior, women are completely disregarded.
Woman granted you have to overlook the whole dated thing- i.e. the use of shoe polish for the indians, and the whole "the sun never sets on the british empire" long live queen victoria, "yes, but do you have a flag?" thing, but this was good. looking at cary grant for two hours helps too. there was a lot of inventive camera angles for the time, and the plot kept my interest. all in all it seemed to be a slight influence for "indiana jones and the temple of doom" which tends to disappoint my faith in steven spielberg once having original thought and vision. oh well. it does put us in a great mood to watch the rumored aberration that is the next indiana jones installment. stay tuned kids. it's coming soon. and subsequently, if you're in the mood for a good epic old movie this would be my recommendation. i would take cary grant over douglas fairbanks any day. just thought i'd throw that in there.
MOster Despite how I wrote that synopsis, there's a lot to like about this movie. The plot is the plot, but I'd be willing to bet that it was a whole lot more unique when it was released; and my general advice to those who undertake this movie is that you must take it with 70-odd years of salt. This covers the acting (I LOVE upper-crust Cary Grant's intermittent northern-English accent), the plot as mentioned, and the generally disgusting attitude that both the characters and the production staff take towards the Indians. A disclaimer in the beginning about the cult which is portrayed may or may not be true, but that doesn't change the overall condescension.
With all that said, the "things to like," can be broken into two categories. Firstly, the experience as a consumer of entertainment is actually fun. The acting of the three leads and the interactions of their characters are often giggle-inducing. And below (and through) the giggles you can really see the camaraderie they share and how deep (in my opinion too deep) their affection and bond go. Some of the secondary characters are just plain ridiculous, some really are offensive, but many pull their weight admirably among the giants.
From a technical perspective--and my own standpoint of ironically-hypocritical condescension) there are a lot of really interesting things going on here. Not being an actual film historian I can't really know how much of what they did was "new," but there are some really great shots and some actual camera movement which must have been quite difficult to execute. There are also a few spaces of editing which, while laughable by today's standards, are taken for granted in more modern undertakings. Similarly, there are many special effects which obviously influenced later works.
All in all, this movie is far above the median when compared with the cinematic feces through which we regularly wade.