Gunga Din (1939)

107 or 115 mins | Adventure | 17 February 1939

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HISTORY

A written prologue after the opening credits reads: "Those portions of this picture dealing with the worship of the goddess Kali are based on historic fact." A 1934 news item in FD notes that Reliance Pictures was planning on producing Gunga Din in 1934. According to a 1938 memo contained in the RKO Production Files at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, Howard Hawks was originally to have directed this film. A HR news item from Oct 1936 announced that Edward Small was producing the Hawks production. Modern sources claim that Hawks lost the job when RKO's 1938 comedy production of Bringing Up Baby went over schedule. Budget details in the Production Files note that William Faulkner, Lester Cohen, John Colton, Vincent Lawrence, Dudley Nichols and Anthony Veiller worked on various treatments and screenplays for the project. News items in HR as well as the Production Files add that the film was shot on location at Mount Whitney and Lone Pine, CA. Over six hundred extras were employed in the Mount Whitney scenes and eight makeup artists were dispatched by Jim Barker, the head of RKO's makeup department, to the Lone Pine set, where they worked for six weeks. News items indicate that some additional location shooting took place near Yuma, Arizona. Telegrams contained in the Production Files note that a character based on and called Rudyard Kipling originally appeared in the film, but when the Kipling family objected in Mar 1939 after viewing the film in England, RKO removed the scenes because the studio feared that the family could win an injunction that would prevent ... More Less

A written prologue after the opening credits reads: "Those portions of this picture dealing with the worship of the goddess Kali are based on historic fact." A 1934 news item in FD notes that Reliance Pictures was planning on producing Gunga Din in 1934. According to a 1938 memo contained in the RKO Production Files at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, Howard Hawks was originally to have directed this film. A HR news item from Oct 1936 announced that Edward Small was producing the Hawks production. Modern sources claim that Hawks lost the job when RKO's 1938 comedy production of Bringing Up Baby went over schedule. Budget details in the Production Files note that William Faulkner, Lester Cohen, John Colton, Vincent Lawrence, Dudley Nichols and Anthony Veiller worked on various treatments and screenplays for the project. News items in HR as well as the Production Files add that the film was shot on location at Mount Whitney and Lone Pine, CA. Over six hundred extras were employed in the Mount Whitney scenes and eight makeup artists were dispatched by Jim Barker, the head of RKO's makeup department, to the Lone Pine set, where they worked for six weeks. News items indicate that some additional location shooting took place near Yuma, Arizona. Telegrams contained in the Production Files note that a character based on and called Rudyard Kipling originally appeared in the film, but when the Kipling family objected in Mar 1939 after viewing the film in England, RKO removed the scenes because the studio feared that the family could win an injunction that would prevent the picture from being shown. Later, Howard Hughes, who owned a controlling interest in the studio from 1948-55, cut twenty-five minutes from the film so that it would fit into a double bill. Thus, many existing prints run 95-98 minutes rather than the original 117 minutes. A news item in HR adds that the film's anticipated release date of Dec 1938 was postponed for retakes.
       Modern sources add that the film cost over two million dollars to produce, and at the time of its production, it was one of RKO's most expensive films. According to modern sources, producer Pandro Berman wanted to make an earlier version of the film starring Ronald Colman and Spencer Tracy. Modern sources also note that Cary Grant was originally offered the role of Ballantine, but preferred the role of Cutter which, at the time, was though to be a secondary role. Sam Jaffe has said that he patterned his portrayal of Gunga Din after the Indian actor, Sabu. M-G-M's 1951 film Soldiers Three , directed by Tay Garnett and starring Stewart Granger, Robert Newton and Cyril Cusack, was also inspired by the Kipling poem, as well as the film Gunga Din . Robert Coote, who portrayed "Higginbotham" in the 1939 film, appeared in another role in the 1951 picture. The 1962 film Sergeants 3 starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr, was also inspired by the Rudyard Kipling poem. The 1962 film, which updated the story to the American frontier, was directed by John Sturges, who worked as one of the film editors for the 1939 film. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
25 Jan 39
p. 3.
Film Daily
4 Oct 34
p. 2.
Film Daily
25 Jan 39
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Oct 36
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
18 May 38
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jun 38
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Jun 38
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Jul 38
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Jul 38
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Nov 38
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Jan 39
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Jan 39
pp. 5-16.
Motion Picture Daily
25 Jan 39
p. 1, 4
Motion Picture Herald
30 Jul 38
p. 42.
Motion Picture Herald
28 Jan 39
p. 32.
New York Times
28 Jan 39
p. 19.
Variety
25 Jan 39
p. 11.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
Pandro S. Berman in charge of production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
Story
Contr wrt
Contr wrt
Contr wrt
Contr wrt
Contr wrt
Contr wrt
PHOTOGRAPHY
Cam op
Cam op
Cam op
2d cam
2d cam
Asst cam
Cam effects artist
Asst cam, camera effects
2nd cam, camera effects
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir assoc
FILM EDITORS
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dresser
MUSIC
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Photog eff
Photog eff
Photog eff
Photog eff
Photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Makeup
Makeup
Makeup
Makeup
Makeup
Makeup
Makeup
Makeup
Makeup
Makeup
Makeup
Makeup
SOURCES
LITERARY
Inspired by the poem "Gunga Din" in Barrack Room Ballads by Rudyard Kipling (London, 1892).
DETAILS
Release Date:
17 February 1939
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles premiere: 24 January 1939
Production Date:
24 June--19 October 1938
Copyright Claimant:
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
27 January 1939
Copyright Number:
LP8625
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Victor System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
107 or 115
Length(in feet):
10,453, 10,523
Length(in reels):
12
Country:
United States
PCA No:
4452
SYNOPSIS

At a British army post in India, native water carrier Gunga Din dreams of becoming a soldier. When the regiment learns that the telegraph wires to one of their outposts have been cut, Sergeants Cutter, MacChesney and Ballantine are sent to investigate. The three sergeants find the compound in the hands of a fiendish band of killers known as the Thugges, members of a fanatic religious order that worships the goddess Kali and has sworn to annihilate the British in India. The sergeants fend off the fanatics' attack, and upon their triumphant return to the post, Ballantine announces that he is foresaking the army to marry Emmy Stebbins and take a job in a tea company. His announcement is met with consternation by his pals, who immediately begin to scheme to keep their buddy in the service. Meanwhile, Gunga Din leads Cutter, who is obsessed with discovering hidden treasure, to a temple of gold, which, they discover, is the holy shrine of the Thugges. As he decoys the Thugges, Cutter sends Gunga Din to the post for reinforcements. MacChesney uses Cutter's dangerous position to trick Ballantine into reenlisting in the rescue mission, and the two ride out, leaving Ballantine's sweetheart behind. The sergeants have misunderstood Gunga Din however, and believing that Cutter is being held captive by priests, arrive with no reinforcements. Captured by the Thugges, the three sergeants watch helplessly as the Scottish troops march in to the fanatics' ambush. Then Gunga Din, imbued with the soldier's spirit, realizes his dream by sounding the bugle to warn the troops, heroically sacrificing his life for his sense of duty. Saved ... +


At a British army post in India, native water carrier Gunga Din dreams of becoming a soldier. When the regiment learns that the telegraph wires to one of their outposts have been cut, Sergeants Cutter, MacChesney and Ballantine are sent to investigate. The three sergeants find the compound in the hands of a fiendish band of killers known as the Thugges, members of a fanatic religious order that worships the goddess Kali and has sworn to annihilate the British in India. The sergeants fend off the fanatics' attack, and upon their triumphant return to the post, Ballantine announces that he is foresaking the army to marry Emmy Stebbins and take a job in a tea company. His announcement is met with consternation by his pals, who immediately begin to scheme to keep their buddy in the service. Meanwhile, Gunga Din leads Cutter, who is obsessed with discovering hidden treasure, to a temple of gold, which, they discover, is the holy shrine of the Thugges. As he decoys the Thugges, Cutter sends Gunga Din to the post for reinforcements. MacChesney uses Cutter's dangerous position to trick Ballantine into reenlisting in the rescue mission, and the two ride out, leaving Ballantine's sweetheart behind. The sergeants have misunderstood Gunga Din however, and believing that Cutter is being held captive by priests, arrive with no reinforcements. Captured by the Thugges, the three sergeants watch helplessly as the Scottish troops march in to the fanatics' ambush. Then Gunga Din, imbued with the soldier's spirit, realizes his dream by sounding the bugle to warn the troops, heroically sacrificing his life for his sense of duty. Saved by Gunga Din's warning, the British defeat the Thugges. Later, Ballantine decides that his place is in the army, and Gunga Din is appointed a corporal in the British army and is buried with military honors. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.