Tuesday, February 06, 2007


This adventure film feels like a recycling of ideas, characters, and elements from lots of other films in the Gunga Din/Beau Geste genre: stories of a gallant group of men fighting against the odds (and rebellious natives) in an exotic setting. GUNGA DIN is more "romplike" than this one, with some of the stars not surviving to the final fadeout. Based very loosely, I presume, on historical events, this is set in the Phillipines in 1906, as U.S. Army troops, left in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, are set to go home. A handful of men are being left behind to make sure that the native troops can handle the Moro terrorists living in the jungles just outside the village. The head of the Moros, Alipang, is an almost legendary figure who strikes fear in the hearts of the natives; his men are fanatic suicidal assassins who wield their machetes with the promise of heaven waiting (shades of present day terrorists). Getting the troops to get beyond their fear and to realize that Alipang and his men are only human and can be fought like any other enemy is the main chore of our ragtag band of heroes: soldiers David Niven and Broderick Crawford, who train the troops under the supervision of Reginald Owen, and doctor Gary Cooper. As in all these "boy's adventure" movies, there is a half-hearted romance (involving Andrea Leeds, Owen's headstrong daughter) and a non-military crisis (a cholera epidemic) that allows people to show their mettle. Alipang (Tetsu Komai) keeps trying to get the troops to come to him in the jungle where he has the advantage, and tension grows between Owen, slowly going blind, who wants to wait out the Moros, and Cooper, who is instrumental in inspiring the troops and is certain that they are ready to fight. Eventually, the Moros dam up a river crucial to the village and the ailing Owen has no choice but to essentially let Cooper take over on his terms. The final battle is a doozy, with machetes swinging, guns firing, and Moros catapulting themselves over the walls of the village. Supporting players include Henry Kolker as the general who is behind the initial troop withdrawal, Russell Hicks as a doomed captain, Kay Johnson as Hicks' wife, and Vladimir Sokoloff as a "good" Moro who may not be so good after all. Overall, the movie is fine, though I wish that Niven had more to do; I don't think it's a spoiler to note that when we hear Niven pining away for an island of his own to retire on, it's a sure sign that he's a goner. The doldrums of the middle of the movie (as all such movies are prey to) are overcome by the action of the last twenty minutes. A must for Cooper fans, though he comes off better in the same year's BEAU GESTE. [TCM]

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