Soldiers Three (1951)
Directed by Tay Garnett based on Rudyard Kipling’s novel with a screenplay co-written by Tom Reed (Night People (1954)) 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 (Separate Tables (1958)). 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 (Granger) Sykes (Robert Newton who finished Treasure Island (1950) the year before and still hadn’t shaken his Long John Silver routine) and Malloy (Cyril Cusack). 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 (Frank Allenby) and his first in command Major Mercer (Robert Coote). 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 (Greta Gynt) otherwise the mission is a failure serving only to embarrass the Colonel who pleads with Pindenny to go help Groat instead. I should mention that the soldiers burned a merchant’s store just because he’s suspected of having the guns and then they’d ridden bulls while dressed in women’s clothing … hardee har har. Predictably given Granger’s star power the other two soldiers all but disappear in the film’s final third.
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 (Michael Ansara) 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. He even captures Govind-Lal (Richard Hale) in the process the Indian leader the British desperately wanted. Oops I probably just spoiled it. Actually you knew Brunswick made General already and I didn’t tell you exactly how it happened anyway.