Directed by Tay Garnett, based on Rudyard Kipling’s novel, with a screenplay co-written by Tom Reed, this action adventure comedy evokes memories of Gunga Din (1939), though it’s strictly a “B” quality movie except for some notable members of its cast: Stewart Granger, 2-time Best Actor Oscar nominee Walter Pidgeon, and David Niven. The story concerns the British Empire’s defense against hostile natives in India, without delving into the political concerns nor taking anything all that seriously. Unfortunately, with no real danger to provide a contrast, the attempts at light humor & comic relief mostly fall flat, making the best part of this picture the brief action battle sequence in the film’s final third. Even these, however, suffer from a lack of imagination, or an inadequate budget, such that only a fan of these actors might enjoy it.
The film begins at an officer’s club in London during the latter stages of World War I, with the attendants praising their Generals in absentia. “Poppycock and balderdash” is what the older man seated on the couch remarks. “But General”, they say, to which Brunswick (Pidgeon) responds “did I ever tell you how I got to be a General?”. He then tells a story about his travails as a Colonel in India with three of the most undisciplined goof ball Privates to ever wear the uniform: Ackroyd, Sykes, and Malloy. The three soldiers, ranging in height from Ackroyd down to Malloy, served under Brunswick’s command for 18 years. Niven plays Captain Pindenny, the Colonel’s right hand man and sometime buffer for their antics, none of which are particularly funny and mostly involve getting drunk, brawling, or going A.W.O.L. (Absent WithOut Leave), or all three. They know that the worst that can happen to them is “28 days in the ‘brig’”, which apparently isn’t enough of a punishment to alter their behavior.
After several of the three soldiers’ “comic” exploits are related, the real action begins when Colonel Brunswick and his men are placed under the command of a cavalry Colonel Groat, and his first in command Major Mercer. Of course, this is a great insult to Brunswick, who takes it better than Pindenny does. Determined to break up the three trouble makers, who are seen as the cause of this demotion, Brunswick & Pindenny decide to promote one of them, Ackroyd, to the rank of Sergeant. This naturally causes some conflict among the three. Then, some native Indians lead their cows through the tent camp and 20 guns disappear in the incident. Pindenny hatches a plan to retrieve & return the weapons before dawn to either save Brunswick’s reputation or enhance it. This gives Granger a brief opportunity to do one of the things he does best, exhibit his physique and charm a lady, otherwise the mission is a failure, serving only to embarrass the Colonel, who pleads with Pindenny to go help Groat instead. Colonel Groat soon gives orders to Brunswick to select his 25 best men, to go with his 25 best cavalry soldiers, to go protect a fort from capture by the natives. Though Brunswick protests, seeing this as a suicide mission since the fort is old and remote, he follows orders sending Pindenny, Sykes, and Malloy, among others. Groat sends Mercer to lead his men. Soon, the natives under the command of Manik Rao have pulled a “Trojan horse” type gag on the British troops and surrounded (and locked) them in the (gun)powder hut. Ackroyd, who hadn’t been assigned to this mission and went A.W.O.L. to be part of it, arrives in time to figure in the fort’s reclamation by Brunswick, who disobeyed Groat’s orders to be somewhere else. —Classicfilmguide.com
Tay Garnett (born William Taylor Garnett 13 June 1894 – 3 October 1977) was an American film director and writer.
Born in Los Angeles, California, Garnett served as a naval aviator in World War I and entered films as a screenwriter in 1920. He was a gagwriter for Mack Sennett and Hal Roach, then joined Pathé and began to direct films in 1928. Among his films are One Way Passage (1932), China Seas (1935), Eternally Yours (1939), Seven Sinners (1940), Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941), The Cross of Lorraine (1943), and Bataan (1943). He is best known as the director of the 1946 thriller The Postman Always Rings Twice with John Garfield and Lana Turner. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1949) with Bing Crosby and Rhonda Fleming was also well-received. Garnett also worked in radio as a writer, director and narrator. He created a show titled “Three Sheets to the Wind”(1942) which starred John Wayne as Dan O’Brien, an American private eye posing as a drunk on a luxury liner… read more