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Film: Gunga Din
Gunga Din is a 1939 adventure movie inspired by the works of Rudyard Kipling. It stars Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as a trio of English soldiers stationed in 19th-century India, with Sam Jaffe as the native servant Gunga Din.

It's the height of The Raj, and telegraph wires are the most important tool in maintaining order and keeping everything shipshape. So when telegraph wires to a remote outpost have been sabotaged — under mysterious circumstances, no less — it's up to a troublemaking trio of officers to investigate. Although hot-blooded and perhaps impetuous, Cutter, McChesney, and Ballantine are recognized for having a lot of smarts, plenty of courage, and a good gut instinct between them. So they're sent off in service of Queen and Country. But there's a time limit on this adventure, as Ballantine has to get married, and possibly end their camaraderie for good. So, obviously, Cutter and McChesney have to stop him!

Along the way, they'll meet with a slightly petulant elephant, cultists as mysterious as they are deadly, and an Untouchable native named Gunga Din, who, despite all odds, cherishes a dream of being a noble soldier.

A classic of the adventure genre. William Goldman cites this film as one of his all-time favorites in the prologue to The Princess Bride.

This film provides examples of:

  • Billing Displacement: Sam Jaffe is billed fourth, despite playing the title character.
  • California Doubling: Set in Northern India, filmed in the same stretch of California where many a movie cowboy fought the other kind of Indian.
  • City of Gold: Much of the action is propelled by Cutter's greed for the gold topping a Hindu temple.
  • Cultural Posturing: The Guru of the cult proclaims that "India was a mighty nation while Englishmen still dwelt in caves and painted themselves blue."
  • Hijacked by Jesus: In Gunga Din, the villains are worshipers of Kali, who is described as "the goddess of blood," who smiles at warfare, torture, and human sacrifice. Her cult that murders indiscriminately, as many as thirty thousand people per year! To rub in the salt, the movie is prefaced with a line saying that the depiction of her and her worship is "based on historical fact." When in fact, Kali has a terrifying aspect, but she is just another aspect of a greater feminine deity, and her realm is time and natural change as much as righteous destruction.
  • Historical-Domain Character: The young journalist Rudyard Kipling shows up near the end, to be told what's been up and be inspired to write about it, though at least one re-release of the film edited him out after complaints from Kipling's family.
  • Jungle Opera
  • Religion of Evil: The Thuggee cult, worshipers of Kali, "the goddess of blood."
  • A Taste of the Lash: Happens to Cutter.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: There's a caption at the beginning of the film claiming that "Those portions of this picture dealing with the worship of the goddess Kali are based on historic fact". This should be trusted about as much as the one claiming that the plot is based on Kipling's poem "Gunga Din".
  • You're Insane!: Cutter says as much to the Guru of the cult, who retorts that all the great conquerors of history have been told the same.


Gulliver's TravelsFilms of the 1930sThe Hunchback of Notre Dame
My Man GodfreyNational Film RegistryThe Shop Around the Corner

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