(director: John Sturges; screenwriter: W.R. Burnett; cinematographer: Winton C. Hoch; editor: Ferris Webster; music: Billy May; cast: Frank Sinatra (Sgt. Mike Merry), Dean Martin (Sgt. Chip Deal), Sammy Davis, Jr. (Jonah Williams), Peter Lawford (Sgt. Larry Barrett), Joey Bishop (Sgt.-Major Roger Boswell), Henry Silva (Mountain Hawk), Richard Simmons (Col. William Collingwood), Ruta Lee (Amelia Parent), Richard Hale (White Eagle), Buddy Lester (Willie Sharpknife); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Howard W. Koch/Frank Sinatra; United Artists; 1962)
“It’s one of those questionable camaraderie pics where the actors seem to be having a better time than the viewers.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A stiff reworking of the British classic film Gunga Din (1939) by the Rat Pack, who turn Rudyard Kipling’s epic poem from British-colonial India to the American West in the 1870s. It’s a Rat Pack follow-up to their box office success in Ocean’s Eleven. Writer W.R. Burnett hands in a tongue-in-cheek screenplay that acts as a parody of the much superior Gunga Din, and when the action fades we’re stuck with the trite dialogue and the smug crudeness of the Rat Pack characters that prevents the pic from making its own statement. It’s high-spirited, filled with sight gags and Dean Martin making grimaces throughout (he’s the only Rat Pack member loose enough to get into the irreverent mood their parts called for). Though initially bearable, it soon becomes a drag. It’s one of those questionable camaraderie pics where the actors seem to be having a better time than the viewers. Noted Western filmmaker John Sturges (“Gunfight at the O.K. Corral”/”Bad Day at Black Rock”/”The Magnificent Seven”) directs as if he can make a go of this tiresome tale by an overkill of exciting action scenes and beautiful scenery shots (the exterior shots were in Canab, Utah at the Bryce National Park), but that effort proves to be more exhaustive than successful.
Three fun-loving, brawling U. S. Cavalry sergeants, Mike (Frank Sinatra), Chip (Dean Martin), and Larry (Peter Lawford), close friends who are so loyal they’re willing to die for each other if need be, are stationed in Indian Territory in the Wild West frontier. The adventurous boys are determined to stop Larry from leaving them and breaking up their merry trio to marry the attractive Amelia Parent (Ruta Lee), as Larry says he will not reenlist at the end of his tour.
At a rowdy bar, the three whore-mongering sergeants befriend an ex-slave bugler Jonah (Sammy Davis, Jr.), who is being harassed by the patron rednecks and save him from their bigoted actions. Jonah aspires to be a trooper, and latches onto the three sergeants.
When a tribe of renegade Indians go on the warpath in 1873 and terrorize the Medicine Bend area with deadly raids, the headstrong Chip is captured by the Indians when he goes only with Jonah to capture the chief. Jonah escapes and tells Mike and Larry. Since Larry’s hitch is up, Mike makes him reenlist before they go on the rescue mission. He promises to tear up the paper after the mission. The trio, however, are also captured by the Indians. Meanwhile the Cavalry rides into a trap, but in the nick of time Jonah warns the troops of the attack by blowing his trumpet. With that, the troops beat off the Indians and the three sergeants are decorated. For his part, Jonah is made a trooper. The big joke at the end is that Mike fails to keep his promise to tear up the reenlistment paper and Larry is forced into doing another tour of duty. It sounds like a Bush administration trick to keep soldiers for the Iraqi War.
Joey Bishop plays the straight sergeant major role originally played in Gunga Din by Robert Coote. Despite mostly lousy reviews, the film did a decent box office.
REVIEWED ON 5/23/2008 GRADE: C- https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/