On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: four guerrilla Kachin
“Never So Few” is a WWII movie set in Burma in 1943. It was directed by John Sturges (“The Great Escape”) and released in 1959, one year before his vastly superior “Magnificent Seven”. It is loosely based on OSS Detachment 101 which operated behind enemy lines in Burma and made use of the anti-Japanese Kachin warriors. The unit was tasked with ambushing patrols, rescuing downed pilots, and setting up landing strips. The movie is highly fictionalized, however.
The film has a recognizable cast led by Frank Sinatra as the unit leader, Capt. Reynolds. The movie gets a head-scratching start as the men lounge around in a jungle camp even though they are warned that the Japanese are sneaking up on them. Supposedly they are luring the enemy into a trap, but one character is still reading a comic book when the Japanese open fire. They then proceed to dash into the foliage and then counterattack. Wouldn’t they have been waiting in concealment? WTF The movie makes no attempt to recover from this perplexing opening. One theme is established as Reynolds puts his caddy (the Kachin that is tasked with handing Reynolds an appropriate weapon in combat) out of his stomach-wound misery even though he is unconscious and not screaming in pain or begging to be killed. We now know Reynolds is a bad-ass who doesn’t care what his wimpy subordinates want.
Reynolds makes a trip back to civilization (well, India anyway) so we can get an exotic locale and some romance in the form of Clara (Gina Lollobrigida). She waltzes in on the arm of a three-finger cigarette smoking rich snob and proceeds to stomp on Reynolds tongue which happens to be lying on the floor. She is so brutally condescending to the Yank that you can be sure they will hook up by the end of the film. Lucky for anyone hoping to see some acting in this movie, Reynolds meets Cpl. Ringa (Steve McQueen) and enlists him to bring some life into the film.
From here the movie drunkenly sways from Old School combat action of the no blood, no enemy wounded variety to Old School romantic interludes between Reynolds and Clara. These interludes are like speed bumps. The feisty Clara is frosty until she suddenly isn’t. She is always well-dressed and well-coiffed, but so is Sinatra. There is a scene where Reynolds is wounded and is gleeful when it is suggested he return back to India (John Wayne, he ain’t).
The big set piece is a raid on a Japanese base. The action is ridiculous with drive-by shooting via trucks and Reynolds tossing jerry cans that explode on contact. There are plenty of gasoline barrels to make for pretty explosions in the night. Hollywood! Reynold’s old Kachin liaison gets a good death scene (this comes on the heels of the Japanese killing Reynold’s monkey during a Christmas ambush – Jap bastards!).
Reynolds defies orders by infiltrating China to track Chinese bandits who ambushed an Allied convoy. They sneak up on the camp in broad daylight because all the enemy are sleeping. When Reynold’s BFF Danny is treacherously gunned down, Reynolds orders the execution of all the prisoners. When he returns he faces court-martial. Guess who is waiting for him? Hint: well-coiffed. She’s like a big-breasted bad penny. Queue the swelling music.
This is a typical Sinatra war movie. It’s all about him. He gets to spend half the movie romancing Lollobrigida because he could. The movie has a low ratio of macho to smoochie. The combat, when it sporadically arrives, is poorly staged and unrealistic. The acting is average which allows McQueen to stand out. Sinatra plays himself which means Reynolds is a jerk and a poor leader. The theme of leaders having to make tough decisions is diluted a bit by Reynolds’ decision to commit a war crime. But they’re just Chinese bandits. Note the year of the movie’s release to figure out why the Chinese are bigger villains than the Japanese. Another flaw is that for a movie dedicated to the Kachin, there is little lauding going on.
Good Christmas viewing? Only if you would like to see a monkey get killed at a Christmas celebration – you sick bastard!
P.S. Look at the poster. "Kiss by kiss the time ran out and never so few were the moments left for love." If that got you into the theater, I hope you were a female.
Grade = D