The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Friday, January 30, 2009

Never So Few

After reading a bio on director John Sturges the last couple of weeks, I thought I'd go back and watch some of his movies, starting with 1959's Never So Few starring Frank Sinatra and Gina Lollobrigida. The basic story is a good one that hasn't been dealt with in many WWII movies. Sinatra is Capt. Tom Reynolds, an OSS volunteer leading a group of Kackins, Burmese guerillas, in Burma in 1942-43. I can only think of two other WWII movies that even deal with that part of the war, Objective, Burma, a great action movie with plenty of flag-waving, and Merrill's Marauders, the story of 3,000 US volunteers trekking across Burma to take out a Japanese airfield.

When I first saw the movie a few years back, I was glad I found because of the subject matter. But when I saw what a great all-around cast was in it, I started to wonder how it'd slipped through the cracks since its release. I figured it out quick enough, it's an average war movie that's pulled down by a completely unnecessary love story. The story of Reynolds and his Kachin guerillas is the high point of the movie with some impressive action sequences, an ambush on a bigger Japanese force, a surprise attack on the Kachins' Xmas party, and an assault on a heavily guarded Japanese airfield.

Too bad of course the love story was added. It doesn't work for any number of reasons. For one, Sinatra and Lollobrigida had little to no actual chemistry. Two, it takes far too long to develop. The movie opens with an ambush and the aftermath and then spends most of 45 minutes to an hour with Reynolds and his 2nd in command, British officer Danny DeMortimer, back in civilization as Reynolds and Lollobrigida's Carla meet.

Having said all this, I did buy the DVD so there must be something positive, right? Sinatra is pretty good as Reynolds, although he does sport a ridiculous goatee early in the movie. Richard Johnson as DeMortimer has some funny moments and is a great character, a good counter to Reynolds. The whole supporting cast is good, Charles Bronson, Peter Lawford, Dean Jones, Brian Donlevy, Phillip Ahn, and Robert Bray. But most of them aren't given much to do because so much of the story's focus is away from the OSS volunteers and the Kachins.

The main reason to see Never So Few is a pre-stardom Steve McQueen. The 29-year old actor had been in several movies and was fast becoming a TV star as Josh Randall on "Wanted: Dead or Alive," but in a supporting role here as Cpl. Bill Ringa, McQueen steps above the material to show what he can do with very little. It's a relatively small part, but Ringa is what I came away from the movie remembering. He's cold-blooded, and a natural fighter, ready for anything if it helps the group. It was definitely a sign of things to come as McQueen teamed with Sturges again a year later in The Magnificent Seven in a somewhat similar role.

So overall, an average movie that could have been better, but it's a guilty pleasure for me. Worth checking out, but don't expect a classic.

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