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:

  • California Doubling: Set in Northern India, filmed in the same stretch of California where many a movie cowboy fought the other kind of Indian.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Ballantine's re-enlistment papers.
  • City of Gold: Much of the action is propelled by Cutter's greed for the gold topping a Hindu temple.
  • Cultural Posturing: The Guru proclaims that "India was a mighty nation while Englishmen still dwelt in caves and painted themselves blue."
  • The Dandy: Ballantine, at least compared to his friends. They routinely rib him for it. Higgenbotham could also qualify, being even more prim and proper than Ballantine.
  • Discretion Shot: We don't actually see what happens to the Guru after he leaps into the Snake Pit.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: Cutter kills a Thug so Din can dress in his robes and slip away unnoticed.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Gunga Din blowing his bugle to alert the British troops to danger, at the cost of his own life.
  • Hijacked by Jesus: 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.
  • In-Series Nickname: Ballantine repeatedly calls McChesney "McCheesecake."
  • Jungle Opera
  • Papa Wolf: McChesney where Annie is concerned. When he thinks the Thugs have kidnapped her (actually it was Cutter and Din) he flies into a furious rant and rallies the troops, vowing to "breaking every Thug's back in India" if they've hurt his beloved elephant.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Cutter pretends to be drunk and stumble into the middle of the Thuggee ceremony, declaring that everyone is under arrest. Turns out it's just a distraction so Din can escape.
  • Religion of Evil: The Thuggee cult, worshipers of Kali, "the goddess of blood."
  • Snake Pit: There's a pit full of scary cobras in the Thug temple.
  • A Taste of the Lash:
    • Happens to Cutter.
    • McChesney gets it, too, but manfully withstands it.
  • Team Pet: Annie the elephant.
  • 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".
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: The three main characters, but especially Ballantine and McChesney.
  • 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.