In 19th century Colonial India, lowly water carrier Gunga Din (Jaffe) longs to be part of the British Army he serves. He is especially loyal to three soldiers: Sgt. Cutter (Grant), Sgt. Ballantine (Fairbanks), and Sgt. MacChesney (McLaglen). While Ballantine dreams of marrying his sweetheart (Fontaine) and Cutter dreams of finding buried treasure, MacChesney dreams of stopping them both. When Cutter and Din venture into a golden temple, they stumble upon a cult ceremony of native Thuggees, who are planning a rebellion. Cutter gets captured, so it is up to Din to rally his friends and save the day.
When Steven Spielberg revived the action/adventure genre with his Indiana Jones films, he was tipping his hat to this classic from the golden age of Hollywood. With writers Ben Hecht and William Faulkner on hand, action, comedy and heart co-exist seamlessly. Loosely inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s poem of the same name (the poet makes a brief appearance at the end of the film), “Gunga Din” still resonates today with its themes of soldierly love, military occupation of a foreign land, and unfortunate jingoism. Grant, Fairbanks and McLaglen are terrific as the hijinks-loving buddies, with Grant providing comic relief. Jaffe (in full body make-up) stepped in when Indian actor Sabu was not available, and his performance is sure to put a lump in your throat. Shot on location in California, the Oscar-nominated cinematography is stunning, with the final battle rising to spectacular heights. It’s true what they say…. “They don’t make ‘em like they used to!”