Gunga Din 4-3-13

Several people lament that Gunga Din was not shot in color. A little movie history context here – first of all, the first full length feature film shot in color had only been done 4 years earlier, secondly three-strip technicolor was outrageously expensive in 1939 (only one other movie was shot that year in technicolor and it didn’t start making back its costs until the late 1960’s) and the few features shot prior to that year in color had failed miserably to make back their production costs. And finally, the studios had no faith in color (just as they had resisted “talkies” a decade earlier) – they were in business to make money, not experiment with an innovation that had not yet been accepted and proven to bring in a bigger audience. Also, there was a comment about the graininess of the B&W cinematography of GD – that’s because 99% of the present day viewers are seeing multi-generation copies that have been played to death! Get a fresh, first generation copy to see the B&W shading in its true brightness, focus and clarity and that objection will go away. BTW – the colorized version of GD is abysmal – faded coloring effects and indistinct edges make it look like a sloppy water color painting!

This is one of the great “entertainment” movies ever made – the reason to go to the movies I thought? It has everything – a good script, a good story, epic sweep, fantastic acting, inter-character chemistry, charisma, pacing and coherency. How many movies can you say that about? And kudos to those who see this movie for what it is, not what they want it to be!

Obviously a film that has had great influence not only on the buddy genre but action genre as well. George Lucas had to be a fan of this flick as so much of his Star Wars series seems to a homage to Gunga Din. The characters that Grant, McLaglen, and Fairbanks play are just precursors of Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Chewbacca. Even Sam Jaffe’s Gunga Din morphed into C-3PO and R2-D2 and like him or not: Jar Jar Binks.

Today this film is viewed as non PC but there is a speech by Eduardo Ciannelli as Guru the leader of the Indian opposition to the British raj that could can be echoed in the sentiments of many today.

‘Gunga Din’ is the kind of film you cherish after the first viewing and then want to revisit from time to time. It stays in the memory and for valid reasons–the casting is perfect with the three buddies entering into the spirit of the whole thing–the perfect buddy movie. Cary Grant gave many fine performances on film but this is one of his greatest–heroic and funny at the same time. Sam Jaffe is excellent as the water carrier who eventually saves the regiment in what has to be one of the most thrilling endings ever conceived for an action movie. Today some of it is politcally incorrect but this is a minor flaw in a great movie. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Victor McLaglen and Eduardo Ciannelli are all perfectly cast. Joan Fontaine has a couple of brief scenes as the only femme in the story–but fails to ignite any interest in her bland role. Based on the famous Rudyard Kipling poem, it deserves a place at the top of the list of great adventure films produced in the 1930s. I’d love to see a technicolor version today with someone like Brendan Fraser leading the “musketeers”. A real gem.

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