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Gunga Din

By Jack Purdy | Posted

Douglas Fairbanks Jr. died May 7 at the age of 90. Although he never achieved the fame of his father--the first, and perhaps still the greatest, action hero in moviedom--Fairbanks Jr. had a long if sporadic acting career, stretching from 1921 to 1986 and highlighted by Gunga Din, the rousing action-adventure yarn released in Hollywood's finest year, 1939. Joining Cary Grant and Victor McLaglen as comrades defending the British Raj in India against dastardly members of the cult of Thuggee, Fairbanks was every inch a loyal soldier of the crown. Directed by George Stevens and loosely based on the Rudyard Kipling poem of the same name, Gunga Din is a hymn to enlightened colonialism, one of many pro-British films Hollywood produced as the fascist threat to Europe grew more dire in the late 1930s. Fairbanks went on to battle that threat directly, earning many decorations and commendations for his Navy service during World War II. (One volume of his memoirs had the ringing title A Hell of a War.) In the early '50s, the Anglophile actor moved to England, where he numbered among his close friends Elizabeth Windsor, aka the queen. Ironically, Fairbanks, who could never match his romantic-hero dad on the screen, wound up playing the role to the fullest in real life.

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