AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
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Gunga Din
Director: George Stevens (Dir)
Release Date:   17 Feb 1939
Premiere Information:   Los Angeles premiere: 24 Jan 1939
Production Date:   24 Jun--19 Oct 1938
Duration (in mins):   107, 115, 117 or 119
Duration (in feet):   10,453-10,523
Duration (in reels):   12
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Cast:   Cary Grant ([ Sergeant Archibald] Cutter)  
    Victor McLaglen ([Sergeant] MacChesney)  
    Douglas Fairbanks Jr. ([Sergeant Thomas] Ballantine)  
    Sam Jaffe (Gunga Din)  
    Eduardo Ciannelli (Guru)  
    Joan Fontaine (Emmy [Stebbins])  
    Montagu Love (Colonel Weed)  
    Robert Coote ([Bertie] Higginbotham)  
    Abner Biberman (Chota)  
    Lumsden Hare (Major Mitchell)  
    Cecil Kellaway (Mr. Stebbins)  
    Reginald Sheffield (Journalist)  
    Ann Evers (Girl at party)  
    Audrey Manners (Girl at party)  
    Fay McKenzie (Girl at party)  
    Charles Bennett (Telegraph operator)  
    Les Sketchley (Corporal)  
    Frank Leyva (Merchant)  
    Olin Francis (Fulad)  
    George Ducount (Thugge chieftain)  
    Jamiel Hasson (Thugge chieftain)  
    George Regas (Thugge chieftain)  
    Bryant Fryer (Scotch sergeant)  
    Lal Chand Mehra (Jadoo)  
    Roland Varno (Lieutenant Markham)  
    Clive Morgan (Lancer Captain)  
    Bruce Wyndham    
    John Alban    
    Joe McGuinn    
    Major Sam Harris    
    Carlie Taylor    
    Alan Schute    
    Tom Tamerez    
    Art Mix    
    Joe De La Cruz    
    Paul Singh    
    Tom Metzetti    

Summary: 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. 

Production Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.  
Production Text: Pandro S. Berman in charge of production
Distribution Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.  
Director: George Stevens (Dir)
  Edward Killy (Asst dir)
  Dewey Starkey (Asst dir)
Producer: George Stevens (Prod)
Writer: Joel Sayre (Scr)
  Fred Guiol (Scr)
  Ben Hecht (Story)
  Charles MacArthur (Story)
  Anthony Veiller (Contr wrt)
  William Faulkner (Contr wrt)
  Lester Cohen (Contr wrt)
  John Cotton (Contr wrt)
  Vincent Lawrence (Contr wrt)
  Dudley Nichols (Contr wrt)
Photography: Joseph H. August (Photog)
  Leon Turen (Cam op)
  Joe Zaslove (Cam op)
  Charles Davis (Cam op)
  William Whitaker (Cam op)
  Charles Burke (2d cam)
  Edwin Pyle (2d cam)
  Charles Straumer (Asst cam)
  Joseph H. August Jr. (Asst cam)
  Mario Larrinaga (Cam effects artist)
  William Collins (Asst cam, camera effects)
  Clifford Stine (2nd cam, camera effects)
  George Marquenie (Gaffer)
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase (Art dir)
  Perry Ferguson (Art dir assoc)
Film Editor: Henry Berman (Ed)
  John Lockert (Ed)
  John Sturges (Ed)
Set Decoration: Darrell Silvera (Set dec)
  Claude Carpenter (Set dresser)
Costumes: Edward Stevenson (Gowns)
  Ray Camp (Ward)
  Bill Rabb (Ward)
  Harry Lawrence (Ward)
  Fred Starns (Ward)
  Wesley Trist (Ward)
  Harold Clandening (Ward)
  Bill Durant (Ward)
  Pat Williams (Ward)
Music: Alfred Newman (Mus)
Sound: John C. Grubb (Sd)
  Kenneth C. Wesson (Sd)
  Fred Rodgers (Sd)
  S. G. Haughton (Sd)
  Arthur C. Robbins (Sd)
  Jack Mark (Sd)
  Eric Meisel (Sd)
  Gordon McLean (Sd)
  Cecil Shepherd (Sd)
  Aubrey Lind (Sd)
  George Emick (Sd)
  John E. Tribby (Rec)
  James [G.] Stewart (Rec)
Special Effects: Vernon L. Walker (Spec eff)
  R. Sherman (Photog eff)
  H. Hulburd (Photog eff)
  P. Brook (Photog eff)
  G. Swartz (Photog eff)
  M. Zamora (Photog eff)
Make Up: Howard Smit (Makeup)
  Jim Barker (Makeup)
  Al Senator (Makeup)
  Irving Berns (Makeup)
  Harry Pringle (Makeup)
  Joe Hadley (Makeup)
  Walter Hermann (Makeup)
  Ben Libizer (Makeup)
  Dick Johnson (Makeup)
  Bill Woods (Makeup)
  Charles Gemora (Makeup)
  Louis Sainty (Makeup)
  Dan Berns (Makeup)
  Russell Drake (Makeup)
  Abe Haberman (Makeup)
  Armand Triller (Makeup)
  Layne Britton (Makeup)
Production Misc: Sir Robert Erskine Holland (Tech adv)
  Captain Clive Morgan (Tech adv)
  Sergeant Major William Briers (Tech adv)
  Major Sam Harris (Tech adv)
  Hilda Grenier (Tech adv)
  Tom Clement (Grip)
  P. Bernard (Grip)
  C. Noren (Grip)
  H. Brendon (Grip)
  F. Reed (Grip)
  Earl Gilpin (Grip)
  W. Norton (Grip)
  William Record (Grip)
  T. Connolly (Grip)
  H. Barrett (Grip)
  Gene Rossi (Props)
  Ken Marstella (Props)
  James Lane (Props)
  Nate Barrager (Props)
  Max Henry (Props)
  Thomas Grady (Props)
  Thomas East (Best boy)
  Alex Kahle (Still photog)
Stand In: Phoebe Campbell (Stand-in)
  Mal Merrihugh (Stand-in)
  Art Bruggerman (Stand-in)
  Gordon Clark (Stand-in)
Country: United States

Source Text: Inspired by the poem "Gunga Din" in Barrack Room Ballads by Rudyard Kipling (London, 1892).
Authors: Rudyard Kipling

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. 27/1/1939 dd/mm/yyyy LP8625

PCA NO: 4452
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: RCA Victor System

 
Genre: Adventure
 
Subjects (Major): English in foreign countries
  Great Britain. Army
  India
  Religious cults
  Rescues
  Self-sacrifice
  Soldiers
 
Subjects (Minor): Bugles
  Burial
  Engagements
  Friendship
  Gold
  Massacres
  Sabotage
  Telegraph
  Temples
  Treasure

Note: 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. 

Bibliographic Sources:   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.

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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.
 
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