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Patrick Schoenmaker

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Gunga Din

Released by Radio Pictures Inc. - 1939

Directed by: George Stevens
Based on a poem by: Rudyard Kipling
Story by: Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur
Screenplay by: Joel Sayre & Fred Guiol
Produced by: George Stevens

Cary Grant .... Archibald Cutter
Victor McLaglen .... 'Mac' MacChesney
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. .... 'Tommy' Ballantine
Sam Jaffe .... Gunga Din
Eduardo Ciannelli .... Guru
Joan Fontaine .... Emaline 'Emmy' Stebbins


While it is well known that the serials and adventure films of yesteryear inspired the Indiana Jones series, the film Gunga Din falls into a very unique place in the library of movies that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg used as templates for Indy's adventures. Certainly, Gunga Din was a major influence on the films, but it is the only film that can boast to being a prequel to the Indiana Jones adventures as well.

Yes, you read correctly. A prequel. While it cannot officially claim to be said prequel, there's enough evidence in the story itself to justify such a claim. In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the British captain tells Indy at dinner about the decimation of the Thuggee cult by the British army some years before. Well, Gunga Din is essentially the story of that first encounter with the cult of Kali.

The story takes place in late 19th century India. Three fun-loving, fist throwing members of Her Majesty's army, Archibald Cutter (played by Cary Grant), Tommy, and Mac, are sent with their commanding officer to a remote village where they find the entire population has vanished. They find an axe and identify it as a Thuggee weapon. Just as they realize that the evil Thuggee cult is behind the destruction of the villagers, the forces of Kali attack. A frantic battle ensues, but Archibald and his friends manage to fight off the Thuggees with the help of their Indian soldiers and a particularly brave servant named Gunga Din.

Gunga Din tells Archibald of a great temple hidden in the mountains made of gold. Archibald, obsessed with finding the gold, steals off into the night with Gunga Din to find the treasure. When they arrive at the temple, they find the Thuggee waiting for them instead. So begins a great, harrowing adventure with spirited hokey lines and crazy action, much like Temple of Doom.

The similarities to the second installment of the Indy series are so obvious you'd have to be asleep to miss them. The film opens with a man banging a gong, exactly like Temple of Doom. There are the Thuggees, who make time out in the film to worship Kali while Archibald and Gunga Din look on, much like Indy and Shorty do in the "future". The next striking similarity is the leader of the cult, who looks exactly like an ancestor of Mola Ram. He is bald with ceremonial robes, a creepy gaze, and that eerie, cryptic, threatening voice. Near the temple in the film is a rickety rope bridge, much like Temple of Doom. Cutter even has a debacle of a scene with an elephant, which reminded this writer of Willie's own difficulties with those pesky packederms.

With all of these obvious similarities, what amazed me the most about how Temple of Doom paid homage to this thirties classic was the parallel between the attitudes of Archibald Cutter and Indiana Jones in these films. Archibald has a "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" attitude throughout the film. He risks everything to find the golden temple, even risking the lives of his friends all for, dare I say, "Fortune and Glory". In Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones is similarly after the fortune and glory of the quest. Indy does not actually have to go find the stones and risk the lives of Willie and Shorty, but he does for the sake of self-satisfaction. Luckily, for both Jones and Cutter, they also manage inadvertently to put a stop to the Thuggee during their adventures, with a little help from the British Army.

If you are in the mood for an adventure film in the spirit of Indiana Jones, then look no further than Gunga Din. The movie spins an excellent yarn of three gung-ho soldiers against the evil of the Thuggee. Cary Grant, for lack of a better term, is a hoot in this film, and reminds me of a cross between Indiana Jones' more reckless persona in Temple of Doom and Jack Burton (Kurt Russell's character) in Big Trouble in Little China. Archibald Cutter reeks of manly bravado and fearless fervor, while at times it is plainly and humorously obvious he has not a clue what he has stepped in. His introduction in the beginning of the film is priceless in and of itself.

The film is filled with action of the highest caliber that 1930s cinema could deliver. The fight in the village alone makes this film worth watching.
If you are an Indy fan, and especially if you are a Temple of Doom fan, see this film! You'll be doing yourself a favor. (MF)


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