Gunga Din (1939)

 

 

Director:    George Stevens.

Starring:    Cary Grant (Sgt. Archibald Cutter), Victor McLaglen (Sgt. 'Mac' MacChesney), Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (Sgt. Thomas 'Tommy' Ballantine), Joan Fontaine (Emaline 'Emmy' Stebbins), Sam Jaffe (Gunga Din), Eduardo Ciannelli (Guru), Montagu Love (Col. Weed), Abner Biberman (Chota), Robert Coote (Sgt. Bertie Higginbotham), Lumsden Hare (Maj. Mitchell). 

 

Story based on Rudyard Kiplin's famous poem.  This comic adventure story deals with three soldier buddies doing battle with a group known as the Thuggee cult.  The robbing and murdering cult in India of the 1820s worshipped a six-armed goddess called Kali. It is said that the cult was responsible for killing over two million people.  They were finally wiped out by the cooperation of the British and the Indian government.

Good movie.  Members of the Thugee cult set a trap for a British patrol.  They tell the patrol that they are pilgrims going home to the hills and begged to follow behind the patrol for safety.  At night, the "pilgrims" attack the sleeping men. 

At the British Army Post at Muri, the commanders are worried.  There has been no word from the Markham patrol.  And as they were trying to telegraph the village of Tantrapur, 15 miles to the north, the wire suddenly goes dead.  Command decides to send three buddies at the head of patrol to Tantrapur to check out what happened to the telegraph wire.  The three buddies are Sargeants Archibald Cutter, "Mac" MacChesney and Thomas 'Tommy' Ballantine. 

When the detachment arrives in Tantrapur the men find it a little too quiet.  But they soon run into the thugs who killed the Markham patrol.  And, even worse, they suddenly find themselves surrounded by hundreds of thugs.  The sergeants escape by jumping from the cliffs into the river below.  They and the other survivors of the encounter have to wall back to the Post at Muri. 

Sgt. Cutter realizes that the water boy Gunga Din wants desperately to be a soldier and starts to work with the man to help him accomplish his dream.  

Back at the Post, the sergeants learn exactly what is the Thugee Cult.  The post commander says it is a murder cult based on the religious worship of Kali, the goddess of blood.  At one time there were some 10,000 cult members in India, killing about 30,000 people a year.  The cult loved to use strangulation as the means of death and they would dig the graves of the victims prior to their actual killings.  The commander is surprised that the thugs are having a resurgence, since it has been 50 years since the cult had been successfully put down. 

Sgt. Ballantine is getting married and is going to leave the army service soon.  But his buddies have other ideas for him.  They waylay Ballantine's supposed replacement, thereby forcing Ballantine to go with them back to Tantrapur. 

Many more adventures await the sergeants in Tantrapur as they find the center of the Thugee Cult with thousands of adherents nearby. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:.

 

Thuggee was an Indian religious cult that was active from the 1200s to the 1800s, whose members became known as Thug (the origin of the English word thug).  Its members engaged in robbery and murder (by strangulation).  The cult was divided into a northern and southern section, separated by the Nerbudda River. 

The cult had Muslim, Hindiuand Sikh members. The Hindu members worshiped the goddess Kali. 

1790-1830  --  gang leader Behram was responsible for some 931 killings (125 of which he personally strangled). 

1830ss  --  the British, led by William Sleeman, suppressed the Thuggee cult.  They used profiling, good intelligence, and executions. A special department was created to focus on the extermination of the Thuggee cult.  He later cooperated with the British to capture his former gang members. 

1904  --  the special Thuggee Department was replaced by the Central Criminal Intelligence Department.

 

 

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