Never so Few (1959)

 

 

 

Director:     John Sturges.

Starring:     Frank Sinatra (Capt. Tom Reynolds),  Gina Lollobrigida (Carla Vesari),  Peter Lawford (Capt. Grey Travis),  Steve McQueen (Bill Ringa),  Richard Johnson (Capt. Danny De Mortimer),  Paul Henreid (Nikko Regas),  Brian Donlevy (Gen. Sloan),  Dean Jones (Sgt. Jim Norby),  Charles Bronson (Sgt. John Danforth),  Philip Ahn (Nautaung),  Robert Bray (Col. Fred Parkson),  Kipp Hamilton (Margaret Fitch).

Kichan guerilla war against the Japanese

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"In the hills of North Burma, gateway to the vast prize of Asia, less than a thousand Kachin warriors, fighting under American and British leadership of the O.S.S., held back 40,000 Japanese in the critical, early years of World War II.   It has been said never have free men everywhere owed so much to so few."

An American plane drops supplies to the Kachin Rangers and its American leaders.  Sgt. Danforth is one of the first to grab for the cases containing liquor.  Captain Tom Reynolds tells Danforth to leave the booze alone.  They will ration it later.  Sgt. Jim Norby grabs a case and tells Hiawatha (Sgt. Danforth) to grab another.  Danforth really gets mad at Norby for calling him Hiawatha.  He is a Navajo code talker, not Hiawatha. 

The men carry the supplies away.  They are watched by the Japanese from a huge tree.  The Rangers return to their encampment.  In the main tent Norby calls Danforth "Hiawatha" again and this time Danforth socks him in the jaw.  Captain Reynolds and his British counterpart Capt. Danny De Mortimer have to pull Danforth away from Norby.  Reynolds asks him what his problem is?  Danforth says he doesn't like being called Hiawatha just because he's a Navajo.  And he doesn't like working with these "gooks".   Reynolds tells him not to call the Kachins "gooks". 

Since the Japanese know where they are, Reynolds sets a trap for them.  A Japanese force of over 200 men is headed their way and their progress is reported by walkie-talkies.  Part of the Kachin force stays at the encampment as decoys, while others hide out around the encampment.  The Japanese pass by a hidden group of Rangers.  As the enemy is about to open fire on the encampment, the hidden group pops up behind the Japanese and open fire on them.  As soon as the firing starts, the men in the encampment douse the lights, grab their weapons and start firing at the Japanese. 

The Japanese are gradually all killed.  A Ranger fighting alongside Reynolds is shot and killed without Reynolds realizing it.  The fellow is taken to the medic's tent.  The medic tells Reynolds that the fellow has been shot in the stomach and it's hopeless for him.  And there is no morphine for the pain.  Reynolds tells everyone to get out.  The men know he is going to put the Ranger out of his misery and they object to this.  Reynolds still tells them to get out.  They leave.  A little while later, a shot is heard. 

Reynolds is going to fly in to talk to his superior officer.  Waiting for him and Mortimer at the rough airfield is the jeep driver for Colonel Parkson known as Corporal Bill Ringa, who is quite the character.  The colonel can't meet with Reynolds until 8 o'clock tomorrow morning.  In the meantime, Ringa is going to show them around the area.  Reynolds asks Ringa if he knows a Red Cross lady named Margaret Fitch?  Ringa assures the captain that he will find her.

Ringa drops the two officers off at a nice nightclub, while he goes to find Fitch.  He finds her and brings her quickly to the nightclub.  She is very happy to see Reynolds and gives him a big kiss.  Danny wants to show off for the pretty redhead, so he has Tom hit him in the face in order to dislodge the monocle supposedly "stuck" over his right eye.  Tom obliges, but in doing so, findf himself and Danny flat on the floor of the nightclub.  And, wouldn't you know it, a beautiful Italian woman named Carla Vesari is right there to catch this crude display.  With her is her rich boy friend the dapper Nikko Regas and Tom's commanding officer, Colonel Parkson.  The newcomers sit with the three people.  Tom is very taken by Carla and he asks her to dance.  The boy friend gives his approval and the couple dances.  There's quite a bit of sexual tension between the two of them and they argue a bit.  She says he loves war and, at first, he denies it.  Carla tells Tom that she likes "mature" men who know how to behave in public.  She also tells him that he couldn't even afford her cook. 

After the dance the three newcomers go to have dinner.  Tom, Danny and Margaret leave the joint.  Ringa waits for them in his jeep.  The military police try to pick him up for drinking, but he knocks out both of the policemen.  The officers and Margaret come out and see this.  Ringa puts the two unconscious men in his jeep and takes off to drop them somewhere.  After a short wait, Ringa comes back and picks up Tom, Danny and Margaret. 

In the morning Ringa drives Tom and Danny to see Col. Parkson.  Tom asks the colonel for a doctor for his men.  The colonel tells Tom and Danny to find themselves an unassigned doctor and they can have him.  Also they will get morphine and other medical supplies.  The guys want to know what is being done to relieve the pressure on the Kachins?  Forty thousand Japanese are rolling down on them from the Ubachi Air Field.  The colonel says a strike on Ubachi has already been scheduled.  Parkson then tells the fellows he is sending them on a two week rest in the Himalayas.  Tom says no, but the colonel says it's an order.  Tom says they will do it if the Kachins can be sent to a rest area and they can have the colonel's driver Bill Ringa.  The colonel agrees. 

The guys head up to a beautiful place known as Kawagar that is owned by none other than Nikko Regas.  The guys settle in and then come down to the party that Regas has invited them to.  Tom sees Carla playing pool and he goes in to talk to her.  Again there is tension in the air.  She tells Tom that she lives with Nikko in this place, so why doesn't he go back to playing with his popguns?  Tom asks her to go horse-back riding with him tomorrow. 

In the morning Tom, Danny and Carla go riding.  On the trip Danny becomes ill.  They take him back to the hotel.  The military doctor tells Danny he has typhus, but Danny says what he has is cerebral malaria.  The doctor says the tests will tell.  When the doctor returns, he agrees that Danny has cerebral malaria. 

Regas tells Carla that she must watch out for American men because they are insidious.  He also says that he is a bad loser.  Carla says if she stays with him, it's not because she's afraid of him. 

Carla gives a monkey to Tom.  Tom says he "hankers" for her.  She doesn't see much of a chance for a future with Tom because he is going back to the jungle and because her future would involve living above the hardware store in Indianapolis, Indiana. 

Tom tells Dr. Captain Grey Travis that he is going to the jungle with them.  They will bail out over the Kachin Hills.  The doctor doesn't like the idea of parachuting into a jungle.  Tom goes to see Carla.  She is in her bath and tells Tom to come in and sit down.  Tom feels a bit awkward.  He says:  "I better stay in the jungle.  It's a lot simpler there."  He starts to leave.  Carla stops him.  Tom kisses her and she kisses him back.  So he kisses her again. 

Tom and Carla go out on a boat ride.  They play around talking about a future for them in the USA.  Later he has to say goodbye to Carla.  He tells her he will miss her.  In fact, Tom says he thinks he is falling in love with her.   He even says he is going to marry her.  

Tom, Danny, Bill and the doctor jump out of the plane.  They attend a Christmas party once they get down on the ground.  Norby introduces a pretty, new native woman to the captain.   Just then the Japanese open fire on the party.  The captain is wounded in the back.  After a short fire-fight, the Kichans drive the Japanese away.  The monkey that Carla gave the captain has been killed.  Bill Ringa takes his shirt off to bandage up Tom. 

Ringa reports that their Japanese prisoner of war talked.   A Kichan named Billingsley betrayed his people to the Japanese. His partner was the new, pretty native woman, the Shan girl.  The girl will be shot and Billingsley will be put in the circle tomorrow.  This upsets the doctor, who says this is murder.  A shot is heard. 

Tom is shipped to the base hospital at Assam.  He gets out of bed to go see the man in charge.  As he passes by the beds of the Kichan soldiers, they all complain about the hospital food that is making their systems all upset.  Tom says he will complain to the man in charge.  The Kichans get out of bed to go with him.  The top nurses tries to stop them.  Tom won't listen to her, so she reports him to the colonel.  Tom and the Kichans follow her.  The colonel says he will report Tom.  That is, until Tom explains that the food the Kichans are receiving is giving them all dysentery.  The Kichans are brought up on pure red peppers and when they can't get the peppers, they get dysentery.  They also eat lots of rice. 

Colonel Parkson tells Tom that as soon as he gets back with his men, he is to attack the air field at Ubachi.  Tom says he only has a force of 324 men to attack the air field.  Parkson says it's just a token force at the airfield and Tom will be supplied by trucks from the Chinese border.  Moreover, Tom and the Kachins are the only ones available to do the job.  Tom agrees to do the job.  Parkson tells him he has a visitor.  It's Carla.  She runs to him.  They hug and kiss.  Tom sneaks out of the hospital to be with her. 

Carla talks of their future together, but now Tom seems cautious.  She says that he is brave in battle, but afraid of life.  She wants him to take a chance on love and life.  She walks out. 

The Kichan troops are waiting for the arrival of the Chinese trucks.  Tom decides to hit Ubachi without waiting any further for the Chinese trucks.  Danny advises him to wait, but Tom rejects the idea of waiting.  Tom gets his troops into position and then they wait for nightfall.  The troops take out the Japanese sentries.  They then pour gasoline all over the planes and the ammunition and fuel dumps.  They light the gasoline and attack the Japanese troops.  Some of the Japanese are able to man the machine gun posts and inflict a lot of damage on the Kachins.  The native leader of the Kachins, Nautaung, dies taking a machine gun nest.  The Kachins take the airfield and destroy the Japanese planes. 

On their way back Tom and his men find the Chinese trucks.  The Chinese under the warlords ambushed the supply convoy and killed the drivers and other men.  This makes Tom very mad and he decides to march his troops into China and inflict great damage on the troops of the warlords.  Many of the troops, sensing no danger, are drunk and sleeping.  The Kachins surround the troops of the warlords.  Most of the troops are captured without a fight.  Tom and his men find all the goods meant for the Kachins.  They also find 34 dog tags of American dead.  In addition, Tom finds orders from the Chinese government to the warlords giving them permission to protect the borders of China.  It seems the government is in cahoots with the warlords.  The warlords share the loot 50-50 with the government. 

The Americans are now mad at Tom.  The Chinese have filed a complaint with the highest American authority about the Kichan border crossing into China.  They also expect Tom to apologize for the border crossing to the Chinese government.  Tom and Danny talk about what Tom should do next.  As they talk, a wounded Japanese soldier grabs an automatic weapon and shoots Danny.  Tom kills the soldier with his pistol.  Danny is dead. 

Tom gives Ringa the order to shoot all the Chinese prisoners.  Now Tom tells Norby to radio all the bigwigs to tell them to go to hell.  The prisoners are all killed.  Tom now gives Ringa a field commission as a second lieutenant.  Ringa will be in charge as Tom goes back to face the charges against him.  A plane flies him back to Assam.  Tom is put under house arrest.  The good news is that Carla is there to see him.  Tom ignores her at first.  Carla is afraid that Tom is in big trouble. She also tells Tom that they as a couple are still very much together.  Tom is happy to hear this. 

A bunch of officers now traipse in to speak with Tom.  Col. Parkson and General Sloan come in.  Tom shows the men the warlord agreement with the Chinese government.  The general says the Chinese Gen. Chao is waiting for Tom's personal apology.  Tom says he will not apologize.  General Sloan says there is an investigating team from headquarters just waiting to chew Tom up.  Tom picks up a case and throws the dog tags and wallets of the Americans killed by the Chinese warlord troops onto a coffee table.  Tom wants to stop the agreement between the warlords and the Chinese government.  Gen. Sloan goes and gets the investigation team.  One of them is a psychiatrist.  He will evaluate Tom to see if he is still fit for command.  The psychiatrist seems to want to say that the stress of the job was too much for Tom and he acted as he did because of this stress. 

Gen. Chao comes to get his apology from Tom.  But the investigating team and Gen. Chao did not count on the wisdom and common sense of Gen. Sloan.  He shows the Chinese general the agreement between a warlord and the Chinese government.  He says Tom has more examples of these documents hidden away.  Because of the warlord agreement, American soldiers have been killed.  The blame for what happened must fall on the warlord who misused his authority to kill Americans and not on Tom Reynolds.  He sums up:  "So there will be no apology."  The American general now criticizes the two men of the investigation team, saying that Captain Reynolds is saner than either of the team members.  He then tells Gen. Chao to go to hell.  Chao leaves, followed by the investigating team. 

Sloan tells Tom he could nail him and make it stick on a whole host of charges, but he owes Tom a debt of gratitude.  He had forgotten how good it feels to do what you think is right.  He also says the Chinese government is looking into the behavior of the warlords along the border and want Captain Tom Reynolds cleared of all charges against him.  The document to that effect is signed by Chiang Kai-shek. 

Tom is free to go.  He goes walking with Carla.  Carla is already planning how her house in Indiana will look.  Tom tells her:  "Anything you say, cara mia."  They hug and kiss.

 

Good movie about the Burma Campaign and the involvement of the Americans and British with the Kachin people against the invading Japanese.   Most of the story is fictional, but there were plenty of brave men who did fight in the Burma Campaign against the Japanese.  See the Historical Background below.  Sinatra did a pretty good job, but he looked a little thin for the role of the hero.  Gina Lollobrigida wasn't a good fit for the role.  She didn't convince me that she would give up her wealthy life style to live a middle class life in Indiana, USA.  Sinatra seemed to spend more time at the main base rather than in the jungle.  It's like he was always commuting back and forth to the war from his base.  The Kachin people deserved more credit in the film.  Their roles were pretty unsubstantial. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 


Historical Background:

 

The Jingpho people are an ethnic group largely inhabiting the Kachin Hills in northern Burma's Kachin State.

In British colonial Burma, Kachin people were categorized as separate different "races" or "tribes" according to languages, including: Jingpo, Gauri, Maru, Lashi, Azi, Maingtha, Hpon, Nung (Rawang), Lisu,and Khamti(Shan). Other officials, missionaries and the local administration, however, recognized them as a single ethnic group.

The current Myanmar government views the Kachins as a "major national ethnic race". They comprise the Jingpo, Lisu, Trone, Dalaung, Gauri, Hkahku, Duleng, Maru (Lawgore), Rawang, Lashi (La Chid), Atsi, and Taron as distinct ethnic nationalities.

During World War II, the Kachin people, including those organized as the Kachin Levies, provided assistance to British, Chinese, and American units fighting the Japanese.  The Northern Kachin Levies were a British special force made up of members of the Kachin people under the command of British officers. They fought in the jungles of north Burma.

 

1942 the Japanese invade Burma. Some of the retreating soldiers of the British/Indian Burma Garrison remained in the area around a remote British Military outpost in northeastern Burma known as Fort Hertz.

1942 (summer) military authorities in India have no direct contact with Fort Hertz during most of the summer.

1942 (July 3) troops are parachuted into Upper Burma. They are led by Captain I.O.M. Roberts of the 153rd (Gurkha) Indian Parachute Battalion. They march 150 miles north to Fort Hertz.

1942 (August) Captain Roberts reaches Fort Hertz. The landing strip there is unusable.

1942 (August 13) a party led by Captain G.E.C. Newland of the 153rd Indian Parachute Battalion parachutes into Fort Hertz with engineering supplies.

1942 (August 20) the airfield is repaired. Lt.-Colonel Gamble arrives as the new commander of the area. He is followed by a company of the 7/9th Jat Regiment. (Captain Roberts and his men are taken out of the area.)

Fort Hertz is defended by the British Indian Army and the Northern Kachin Levies. The Fort became an isolated Northern post of the Allied Armies engaged in the Burma Campaign.

1942 (December 1) British General Sir Archibald Wavell agrees with American General Stilwell to make the Ledo Road an American NCAC operation.

The Japanese forces cut the Burma Road in 1942. 

1942 (December)  --  start of the building of the 1,079 miles (1736 km) Ledo Road (from Ledo, Assam, India to Kunming, Yunnan, China) as an alternative to the Burma Road. (It was later renamed the Stilwell Road after General Vinegar Joe Stilwell of the U.S. Army.)  When General Stilwell's Chinese X Force started the advance to cover the building of the Ledo Road, forces from Fort Hertz advanced on Stilwell's left flank and captured Sumprabum. They also captured Tiangup and eventually linked up with the X Force.

1942 and 1943 the route north from Japanese-held Burma to Fort Hertz is defended against a series of minor attacks.

1943 and 1944 Fort Hertz gathers intelligence and covers an emergency airstrip for planes flying the Hump from India to China over the eastern end of the Himalayas.

1943 (August) the start of large-scale official training of the Kachin Levies. An American advisory team of eight officers and 40 sergeants (radiomen, cryptographers and medics) flies into Fort Hertz.

1944 (April 14)  the Americans raise their own Kachin force in a Myitkyina area. They become known as the Kachin Rangers.  Detachment 101 of the Office of Strategic Services operate in the China Burma India Theater of World War II. The Kachin Rangers are under the command of Carl F. Eifler.

1945 (January 12)  --  first convoy of 113 vehicles, led by General Pick, departed from Ledo and reached Kunming, China on February 4, 1945.

1946 (January 17) Detachment 101 of the Office of Strategic Services is awarded a Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation by Dwight Eisenhower.

 

 

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