Sunday, November 28, 2010

SHOULD YOU READ IT? "Black Book"

     
“The Black Book” is a Dutch movie about the Resistance during WWII. It was directed with his usual flair for sex and violence by Paul Verhoeven. It is indisputably the greatest war movie to come out of Holland. It was released in 2006 and is well-respected among critics and audiences. It does have its haters, however.



  
Rachel Stein distracting some Germans


Ellis and Muntze and his stamps

       The film is the fictional story of Rachel Stein (played by the strikingly beautiful Carice van Houten). It is set in Sept., 1944 with the Allies in the process of liberating Holland. After her Jewish family is slaughtered in an ambush by a German patrol boat and she is the sole survivor, she hooks up with a Resistance cell led by Gerben Kuippers. Rachel changes her name and her hair color (all of it, as the movie titillatingly shows) so she can go, literally, undercover in Gestapo headquarters. She seduces an S.S. officer named Muntze and then they proceed to fall in love even though he deduces that she is Jewish (but does not realize she is a spy, at first). The movie manages to fit in some singing by van Houten which fits her characters previous career as a singer. During one of the parties she recognizes the number two man as the evil Nazi (Franken) who led the massacring of her family.

Hans and Ellis
      Rachel (Ellis) is quite the plucky heroine. She plants a bug in the headquarters. She helps chase down the Dutch collaborator who set up her family. Things turn sour for her after a raid on the basement of the headquarters to rescue Kuippers' son from torture fails bloodily because of a mole and she is cunningly fingered by Franken by way of the bug. Now she is wanted by the Resistance as a traitor.

she sings, but did she "sing"
       Muntze is also on the run because he is too humane for an S.S. officer. He tried to make a deal with the Resistance to stop reprisal and counter-reprisal now that the war is lost for the Germans. He and Ellis eventually get together, but they do not live happily ever after. The movie now becomes a whodunnit and a chase movie rolled into one. Turning off your brain would be advisable at this point because much of what occurs in the last hour is unrealistic and some of it draws unintended laughs. For example, Ellis is overdosed with insulin by the “guess who” villain, but when he or she goes on the balcony to the acclaim of the crowd, Ellis scarfs down a “we’ve been liberated by the Allies” chocolate bar to miraculously save herself. By the end of the movie everyone who deserves to die is dead, including some who did not deserve to die.

      When I finished watching this movie my first reaction was negative. The magical chocolate bar and the firing squad death of one of the main characters strained credulity beyond my tolerance. While the insulin scene is just your typical movie escape from death against logical odds, the execution of a German officer by German firing squad after the German surrender seemed at first glance to be absolutely ridiculous and inexcusable! I was not the only one who protested this historical inaccuracy, but a little research found a germ of truth in it. It seems the Canadians did allow the Germans to execute two deserters after their jurisdiction should have ceased. However, the movie character is not a simple deserter, but instead a German officer who undoubtedly would have been kept alive for interrogation value alone.

Ellis and Kuipers waiting for the villain to die

      This is also the kind of movie that when you look back at it, you see numerous big holes in the plot. You realize what amazing coincidences had to happen to advance the story. Also, to fool you as to who the real traitor is, he or she does things that are not consistent with the character.

With all that said, I recommend you read this movie. Enjoy it for its entertainment, not its historical accuracy. If nothing else, it will keep you thinking about its flaws for days after. Few movies have that kind of impact for good or ill. Oh, and did I mention that van Houten is hot and often unclothed?
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Friday, November 26, 2010

#82 - A Walk in the Sun


BACK-STORY: “A Walk in the Sun” is a faithful rendering of the novel by Harry Brown. It was released in 1946 and is in black and white. It is set in 1943 during the invasion of Salerno in the Italian campaign in WWII. Production began after actor Burgess Meredith (who served as the narrator in the film) urged that the book be made into a movie. The director was Lewis Milestone of “All Quiet” fame. The U.S. Army cooperated in production by providing weapons, including American weapons masquerading as Germans. The Army also vetted the script suggesting two minor changes. The movie was greeted positively by audiences and critics. It was rereleased in 1951 as “Salerno Beachhead”.


OPENING SCENE: In an unorthodox use of credits, we are introduced to the main characters by face and name. The narrator tells us a little about each in a folksy way.  They are members of the Texas Division.  They are from all over the United States, however.  The platoon includes an Italian-American, a factory worker, a minister's son, a farmer, a Southerner, and, of course, a guy from Brooklyn. Then to make things more intriguing, the ballad begins and will reappear periodically throughout the film. The men are on a landing craft heading for Salerno.  We get our first taste of what’s to come as the men engage in typical soldier conversations. The big incident is the mortal wounding of their lieutenant as he incautiously looks over the side of the craft. The men take this setback in stride indicating both the enlisted/officer divide and the hardened attitude of combat veterans.

SUMMARY: The platoon lands on a quiet stretch of beach and digs in. The audience craving for action and violence is introduced to the reality of battles – there are large stretches of boredom and individual soldiers (and even small units) are usually clueless about what is going on elsewhere on the battlefield. Anyone expecting the talking to end at this stage of the movie is quickly disabused of that hope. However, the conversations are fascinating and feel like they come out of the mouths of G.I.s, not a Hollywood screenwriter trying to imagine what soldiers would talk about. We get a lot of 1940s slang so for those of you are not old enough here is a glossary of just a few of the terms:

loving = stands in for the "f word" (this is a 1946 war movie, remember)

take a powder = relax

hit the dirt = get down (used mostly when strafing is possible)

sure as little apples = very sure

hoist tail = get up

shake it = move quickly

take ten = take a break

doughfoot = soldier (variation of doughboy)

in the pink = healthy

And the term that was used at least ten times – “butt”. This refers to a cigarette as in “butt me” if you want one. This being a 1940s war movie, be careful of second hand smoke because these actors smoke every chance they get. The unit even has a pet phrase – “nobody dies”. This serves as a hoped for self-fulfilling prophecy. Audience, do not fear – it is not an accurate prediction of the upcoming events. By the way, the phrase eerily foreshadows “Hamburger Hill” and its “It don’t mean nothing”.

     The plot is simple. The unit is sent on a mission to destroy a bridge and take a farm house.  They are not told why. The rest of the movie is a series of action scenes interspersed with bouts of conversations. The soldiers talk about home, their futures (one keeps predicting that they will be in the Army all the way through the “Battle of Tibet”), food (one dreams of eating an apple), etc. Thankfully, no one pulls out a picture of his future wife, thus avoiding certain death. The men have developed an admirable small unit comradeship which allows them to constantly joke and provoke. My favorite exchange is when one of the privates asks Sgt. Tyne (Dana Andrews) if he can smoke. Tyne’s one word response is “Burn”.

     They meet two Italian (“Eyties”) deserters. They are portrayed in typical Hollywood fashion as amiable dupes of Mussolini. This being a small unit war movie, there is of course an Italian-American in the heterogeneous platoon who can interrogate them. In a nod to “the fog of war”, they don’t know much about what the platoon will be facing up ahead. Soon after, the unit is strafed by a T-6 Texan playing a ME-190. They jump into a ditch in a scene reminiscent of the French jumping into the German trench in “All Quiet”. (I wonder if Milestone sued himself).

     More marching, talking, and smoking. The comedy team of Friedman (George Tyne) and Rivera (Richard Conte) have the following typical exchange. Friedman: “When I run out of butts, you’ll be in a fine mess.” Rivera: “I’ll find a new friend”. Their leader Sgt. Porter is a victim of what they called “combat fatigue” back then - post-traumatic stress disorder to us. The men take it in stride and are understanding if not very sympathetic. Windy Craven (John Ireland as the soldier who composes letters home in his head) says “you don’t have to be bleeding to be wounded…. He has built a foxhole in [his mind].” Sgt. Tyne takes over because a guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do.

     In a cool scene, they ambush a German armored car by throwing what seems like fifty grenades and hammering it with the M-60 until it crashes into a tree. One of the men sprays Thompson bullets through an opening resulting in a dead hand protruding. You are left to imagine the inside of the vehicle. Rivera, the heavy machine gunner, is exhilarated which is an accurate depiction of combat adrenaline.

     They reach the farm house which looks serenely threatening. Tyne sends a patrol which promptly reveals the house is occupied by Germans, to the mortal detriment of two of the men. The scene does accurately reveal the American army’s tactic of sending humans to discover an enemy position by exposing themselves to enemy fire. It also reflects the randomness of combat deaths. It is pure luck who survives.

     Tyne develops a plan suggested by Windy.  Being a good commander, he is open to suggestions.  When the plan is outlined one of the men comments: “There are 3 ways to do things: the right way, the wrong way, and the Army way.”

FINAL SCENE: Sgt. Ward (Lloyd Bridges) leads a squad that wades upstream to blow the bridge with grenades. At a synchronized time, Rivera’s M-60 machine gun rakes the farm house as the rest of the platoon launches a frontal assault. The movie realistically tallies up the death toll, but the deaths are old school (bloodless, arms flying upward when hit = cliché #29). When the last bullet is fired, mission accomplished. Craven adds the post script: “Dear Francis, we just blew a bridge and took a farm house. It was so easy, so terribly easy.” The ballad swells.

RATINGS:

Action – 5

Acting – 8

Accuracy – N/A

Realism – 7

Plot – 8

Overall – 8

WOULD CHICKS DIG IT? I doubt it. There is not even a whiff of a woman in it. I would think most women, especially modern women, would find the conversations either perplexing or boring. However, if your significant other likes talking, there is certainly enough to satisfy anyone. Be prepared for the “why don’t you communicate with me like they do?” line. This movie has a lot of bromance before the term was coined.

CRITIQUE: I have to admit I have a soft spot for this movie. Since teachers can not show R-rated movies even in a Military History class, this movie is in my rotation. It fits one of the themes of my class: how soldiers behave. “Walk” does an outstanding job giving my students an idea of how soldiers talk and interact. Few war movies are truer to the sense of humor of American G.I.s. It also accurately portrays the “hurry up and wait” nature of combat. Most war movies spend way too much time on the fighting and way too little on the waiting.

     The second theme I use the movie for is small unit tactical decision-making. Before we watch the last scene, the students imagine what their plan would be. Although the movie depicts the West Point solution to the problem, you can debate if a frontal attack is the best approach.

     The acting is good throughout the ensemble. No one hams it up. Even Huntz Hall (of Bowery Boys fame) is impressive. He gets to argue that a human is more complex than a leaf. (That sounds silly, but is actually deep.) Dana Andrews as Tyne is the reluctant, but dutiful leader. He is not heroic and makes mistakes. In one shockingly bad decision, he allows the medic to scout ahead and he promptly gets killed. He wears the mantle of command uncomfortably, but ably.

     There is not a lot of action and the violence is far from graphic, so modern audiences may find it boring. My students do not really appreciate it. It is also the most talkative war movie I can think of. With that said, the talking is often humorous and revealing of what soldiers actually think about. The thoughts are true to nature, but this being a 1940s movie some censoring has occurred. Vietnam War soldiers did not coin the “loving” f-word, after all.

ACCURACY: The movie is not based on any actual incident. The invasion of Salerno did start out as a “walk in the sun” as depicted in the movie. I have already commented on the accuracy of the soldier talk and behavior. The tactics also ring true. The seeming lack of emotions in dealing with fallen comrades is probably exaggerated to match the mood of the film, but battle-hardened men could conceivably be callous at this point.

CONCLUSION: “A Walk in the Sun” is unique in some respects. I know of no other war movie that has narration plus a ballad throughout the film. By the way, this approach predates “High Noon”. Granted, the song is very corny, but it is different.

     The dialogue is memorable. Several lines are brilliant. Tyne: “It’s a funny thing how many people you meet in the army that cross your path for a few seconds and you never see ‘em again.”

     "A Walk in the Sun" does not have the reputation of many other circa WWII movies, but it is one of the best.  It is not amped up with action like most other movies from that time.  It is also not as in your face patriotic, but it is also not pacifistic.  It has more natural humor than a vast majority of the John Wayne type features.  In some ways it is unique which makes it more interesting.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

CRACKER? "The Dam Busters"

    
      Does the film "The Dam Busters" belong in the Top 100?  It is the true story of Operation Chastise - the attempted breaching of three Ruhr Valley dams during World War II.  The Royal Air Force cooperated with the film, including providing Lancaster bombers.  The movie is basically two parts: the development of the bombs by Barnes Wallis (Michael Redgrave) and the training for and carrying out of the mission led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson (Richard Todd).
Redgrave as Barnes Wallis
     The first half is your typical "brilliant scientist bucks the bureaucracy" cliche.  By the way, the screenwriters exaggerate the road blocks placed in his way and piles on the credit on Wallis' back when in reality he did not do it alone.  The development of the bomb with its trial and error aspects is interesting and Redgrave is good as the obsessive, eccentric inventor.  He eventually convinces "Bomber" Harris to green-light the project with the enthusiastic support of Churchill.
Todd as Guy Gibson
     The second half covers the selection, training, and execution of the mission.  Todd plays Gibson, who had flown 173 combat missions.  He is your typical British officer as seen in countless movies.  Upper class, stoical, stiff upper lip, etc.  Gibson has a black dog with the cringe-inducing (but accurate) name of "Nigger". (He gets to ride in the front of the car because this is England.)  At the crew briefing they are told the mission will shorten the war, was top secret, and would be dangerous (flown at extremely low level).  Every air mission movie has to have the briefing where those three points are made. We get montages of low level flying and killing time.
a Lancaster as a Dam Buster
     The mission begins at the 1:26 minute mark.  There is realistically little dialogue.  The flight cinematography is good, including shots through the front of the bombers.  The flak is decidedly fake, however.  When they reach the dams, we see each of the bombers go in one at a time.  The tension builds as the first four fail until the fifth creates the breach that floods the valley.  The second dam is similar.  The effects are pretty good for 1955.  One more montage of the survivors (8 bombers did not make it back) returning.  Wallis and Gibson have the obligatory "they knew it was risky" conversation and then Gibson walks into the sunset as patriotic music swells.
     The movie had a great influence on the attack on the Death Star scene in the first Star Wars movie (episode IV).  Even some of the dialogue was used.  Speaking of which, Peter Jackson is apparently planning a remake.  Why? Wasn't "King Kong" enough of a lesson in redundancy?
     Does it crack the Top 100?  I doubt it.  It is historically accurate in the main points.  It is pretty realistic for its time.  It was a huge hit in England, helped by the thrilling opening theme.  It glamorizes the RAF like "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" recruited for the U.S. Air Force.  The two parts are both interesting and the raid itself is thrilling.  However, it is definitely old school in its quaintness and Peter Jackson's version should be much better, although unnecessary.

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SHOULD YOU READ IT? "YOJIMBO"

     
      This is part of my series of possible Top 100 movies that appear in my "Video Hound's War Movies" guidebook that received 4 "bones".  Is it worthy of viewing even though it has subtitles?
      The director is the acclaimed Akiro Kurosawa, who also made "Seven Samurai".  It is based on two stories by Dashiell Hammett.  Although not a true story, it is set in 1860 during the period after the fall of the Tokugawa Dynasty in Japan.  The samurai were unemployed now that their royal employers were no longer in power.  Many became "ronin" which were warriors who wandered around selling their services. "Yojimbo" means "bodyguard".
      The movie opens with a ronin named Sanjuro (meaning "Mulberry Bush") tossing a stick in the air and then heading in the direction that it points to.  He enters a town which is seemingly deserted.  He realizes this is his kind of place when a dog walks by with a severed hand in its mouth!
      The town is divided between two gangs of "gamblers" (subtitle translation error?) which are led by loathsome brothers.  Sanjuro befriends an innkeeper and decides to play the two sides against each other.  He proves his prowess by quickly dispatching three villains.  He is good.  The film moves back and forth as he schemes with each faction.  The dynamics change when the son of one of the gambler-leaders returns to town sporting a revolver.  He is a psycho named Unosoke.  The firearm symbolizes the omenous future for the sword-wielding samurai.
      Sanjuro gets captured and tortured after aiding a woman who was a sex slave to Unosoke.  He kills six guards in a bloodless, but violent scene and reunites her with her family.  It seems Sanjuro has a heart of gold and is one tough dude.  He survives the torturing and of course gets his revenge.
     It was remade as "A Fistful of Dollars" and if you have seen that Clint Eastwood movie, you definitely should see "Yojimbo".  It is fascinating to see the parallels - especially the final showdown.  I kept trying to see if Sanjuro had a iron plate under his kimono.  I have to admit that I prefer Leone's movie.  And by the way, "Yojimbo" is much more in the western genre than the war movie genre (mysterious stranger comes to town, dusty streets, townspeople hiding indoors, showdowns, etc.) .  For this reason, I will not be considering it for entry into my Top 100.
     I recommend this movie.  Sanjuro is one cool dude.  Toshiro Mifune (one of my favorites) does a great job as the anti-hero.  Kurosawa is his usual brilliant self.  Lots of stationary, wide screen shots.  Interesting characters, if a bit clownish.  The humor is cartoonish and a little out of place.  It is a good history lesson about a Japan in transition and a warior class growing obsolete. 
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Monday, November 15, 2010

#83 - "Sahara"

BACK-STORY: “Sahara” was released in 1943, two months after the surrender of Italy. It is dedicated to the IV Armored Division which was training in the Borego Desert of California where the movie was filmed. The Army provided equipment for the production including the M3 Lee tank. Most of the Germans are played by American tankers. The movie is based on an incident in the Soviet photoplay “The Thirteen”. It earned three Oscar nominations – Sound, Cinematography, and Supporting Actor (J. Carrol Naish).


OPENING SCENE: In the Libyan desert, a lone tank named “Lulu Belle” gets a radio message to retreat southward in the face of the German (Rommel) breakthrough after the fall of Tobruk. “Good luck and scram!” They come under realistic artillery fire. The engine breaks down (cliché alert - #25), but being Americans they fix it with a wrench. The tank crew is led by Sergeant Joe Gunn (Humphrey Bogart) and he loves his tank saying that Lulu Belle is “like a dame, if you don’t feed her she doesn’t go anywhere”. They head south.

SUMMARY: They encounter the survivors (five Englishmen and a Frenchman) from a field hospital who decide to go with them. The movie now becomes a “who will survive?” suicide mission war film. At one stop, to change the fuel mixture, a young Lloyd Bridges shows off a picture of his girlfriend (cliché #1). Guess who is the first to die? They pick up a Sudanese soldier named Tambul (Rex Ingram) who has an Italian prisoner (Naish). Gunn is unmoved by the Italian’s pleading and showing of pictures of his family. They leave him behind, but Gunn changes his mind soon after (cliché #18).

A German plane strafes them, but misses the tank on all four passes. They fire once and shoot him down! The pilot is captured. He is your stereotypical arrogant jerk Nazi. He does not want the black guy to frisk him because he is inferior. (Could this foreshadow something? Stick around) Guess who is mortally wounded by the strafing? Hint: his pretty girlfriend will be very sad.

They plunge on to take refuge at the ruins of an old water hole through a realistic sand storm. This is possibly the driest movie ever. Make sure you have water handy while watching it. There is a well at the ruins, but it has only a slight drip of the precious liquid. They collect it in mess tins and each gets three swallows, including the prisoners (message: we are humane no matter what). We get the typical soldier talk about back home.

They ambush a German scout car capturing two Germans and Joe bribes the weaker with water to reveal an entire battalion is heading their way desperate for water. (Guess what his fanatical Nazi comrade does to him when he gets a chance?) Should they commit suicide by staying to defend the no-water hole against 500 Germans or turn tail and run? Gunn argues for staying. He insists that the audience will feel short-changed if there is not a big fight with lots of Germans getting killed. Just kidding. He actually plays the patriotic card by mentioning London, Moscow, Bataan, and Corregidor. (If you don’t recognize these references, a 1943 audience sure did).

Waco (Bruce Bennett) goes off in the scout car to get the cavalry. Meanwhile, our heroes prepare for the siege by digging in and placing German mines. The Germans come swarming forward and don’t even have to step on the mines for them to explode. They are forced to retreat. Gunn offers to trade water for food and later water for weapons in order to buy time and fool them on how much water they have. In one of the lulls, the German pilot (blonde, blue-eyed Kurt Krueger) argues with Giuseppe. The Italian claims that Italian soldiers only wear the uniform, they don’t give their souls. He speaks passionately about the evils of Hitler and the enslavement of his people. The German stabs him, naturally. He tries to escape but Tambul kills him in an appropriate way (in actual filming Ingram almost killed Krueger before “cut” was called).

The siege continues including mortar fire from the Germans. One by one, the good guys go down as we approach the over/under number. Joe keeps spirits up with statements like “we are doing it because we are stronger than them…They have never known the dignity of freedom.” Occasionally we cut away to the now on-foot Waco gamely pressing on.

FINAL SCENE: The Germans launched their last assault that will overwhelm the only two survivors (one is Bogart, of course), but instead of attacking they throw down their weapons and beg for water! Too bad there is no water. But wait, it turns out that a mortar explosion opened up a vein of water and it is now gushing out. The cavalry finally arrives. The movie closes with Joe reciting the names of the dead heroes as sappy music swells. A reference is made to the British holding at El Alamein.

RATINGS:

Action - 6

Acting – 9

Accuracy – 7


Realism – 6


Plot – 8


Overall – 8

WOULD CHICKS DIG IT? Not if they insist on female characters. The acting is good. It stars Humphrey Bogart as Humphrey Bogart. It has moments of talkiness. It is not non-stop killing. In general, I would have to say it does not have a lot of appeal to modern females.

CRITIQUE: “Sahara” is very much a product of its times. It is a classic black and white, made during WWII war movie. It fits solidly into the “small unit fighting against great odds” sub-genre. It is also a good example of a siege movie (similar to “The Alamo”). Although it was filmed at a time that the Allies were still unsure of victory, it is not heavy on propaganda. It does have its preachy moments and certainly taps into patriotism, but it is not heavy-handed.

One of the fascinating aspects of “Sahara” is the Italian character Giuseppe. One wonders if the timing of the movie (it was filmed during the Italian army’s collapse in North Africa and just prior to Italy’s surrender) led to the rather sympathetic treatment of Italians. It appears that the film-makers realized that the Italians were no longer a threat and the healing process could begin with this movie. Contrast the fanatical Nazis who are robotic followers of Hitler to the pitiable Italian who was merely a dupe of Mussolini. Naish’s nomination as Best Supporting Actor is also a statement about attitudes toward Italians in 1943. Another intriguing character is Tambul. Here we have a black man portrayed in a positive light. He is intelligent and brave - rare for a 1940s movie. Kudos to the screenwriter.

One flaw in the movie is the numerous clichés. (See my post on war movie clichés.) I found six classics in this movie. Some cannot really be faulted because they were so ingrained in old-school war movies that thinking outside the box would have been highly unorthodox. For example, having soldiers get shot with no bullet hole or blood is just the way it was in 40’s movies. Asking for the actors to sweat realistically in the desert is another pipe dream. (I read about how the make-up artist gave them a sweaty look, but I saw little evidence of this on the screen.) Hell, the actors in “The Thin Red Line” are not sweating on tropical Guadalcanal and that movie was made in 1998!

ACCURACY: The movie is loosely based on the fact that in June, 1942 a small detachment of American tanks joined the British 8th Army to get experience in desert warfare. I doubt any got into any combat implied by the opening of the movie. But when I saw the movie I assumed Hollywood had forced an American tank into the British army, so I was pleasantly surprised to find there was some justification for the scenario.

Since the siege was not based on an actual battle, I have no complaints about it. It is highly unrealistic, however. A very small group holding off 500 (equipped with mortars) can only happen in Hollywood. Also, I would assume any competent German commander would have maneuvered his force in a way that would have made it impossible for a few men to defeat attacks at several points. I admit that if enemy commanders used this common sense tactic, there would be no “siege against great odds” movies. That would be a shame because it is an interesting sub-genre.

CONCLUSION: “Sahara” is the rare made-during-wartime war movie that holds up years later. Its strengths are in the acting and the plot. It does not go overboard in patriotism and propaganda. The characters are interesting, if a bit stereotyped. Gunn’s trickery in faking the German commander into thinking they have plenty of water is fun. Although unrealistic in the outcome of the siege, most of the good guys don’t survive which is logical. Joe Gunn is a good role model for leadership. He is strict, but not stubborn.

I do not know where “Sahara” will end up on my list, but I think Military History magazine was justified in including it in the top 100. It is well worth the watching.


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Next:  #82 - A Walk in the Sun

Monday, November 8, 2010

CLASSIC OR ANTIQUE? "Gunga Din"

    
    "Gunga Din" was the second biggest box office hit of 1939, coming in behind only "Gone with the Wind".  It was based on the poem by Rudyard Kipling.  (Students, use Cliif's Notes instead).  It is the tale of a trio of British officers in India circa 1880.  We meet them brawling in a village which establishes that they are BFFs.  The leads (Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Victor McLaglen) are attractive and seem to be enjoying themselves immensely.  Gunga Din is an Indian water-boy (played creepily by 47 year old, decidedly non-Indian Sam Jaffe) who has aspirations of being a British soldier.  You could wear black-face in a 1939 movie as long as you were not playing a black, apparently.

      The movie features stirring music and beautiful scenery.  The plot revolves around an uprising by the Thuggee cult  ("the most fiendish band of killers in history").  This allows for lots of action including old-fashioned fisticuffs.  A typical action-filled scene ends with our heroes escaping by diving into a river.
      Being best buddies, Cutter (Grant) and McChesney (McLaglen) naturally go about sabotaging Ballentine's (Fairbank's) marriage and subsequent retirement from the military.  They know what's best for him!  He tries to do the logical (right) thing, but when Cutter goes off and gets himself captured by the Thuggees, he joins McChesney on a rescue mission to the Thuggee temple.  Cliche alert: a warrior will always choose his best buds over any woman, even his fiance.
     The chief priest at the temple is a typical 1930's villain.  He is imminently hissable which goes a long way toward deflecting attention from the fact that the Thuggees are rebelling against foreign occupiers.  But then again, Gunga Din is a servant of those colonialists and he is the hero of the movie!  Don't let these facts get in the way of your enjoying the movie. 
      This is a good old-fashioned action film, but it is not really a war movie although there is a huge chaotic battle at the end.  There is lots of humor and some it holds up.  Most of it comes from Grant, but give the forgotten Victor McLaglen some props.
     In spite of the paternalistic and racist overtones, I would have to classify "Gunga Din" as still a classic.  Watch it and then watch "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and let me know what you think. 

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