Monday, May 27, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Never So Few (1959) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

Most years I try to watch a combat film during Memorial Day weekend, and this year that film was NEVER SO FEW (1959), available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive.

Frank Sinatra leads a starry cast in this tale of American and British intelligence operatives and soldiers leading native Kachin warriors against the Japanese in Burma. Although outnumbered approximately 40,000 to 1,000, the Kachin successfully disrupt Japanese operations, culminating in taking out a Japanese airfield.

When Sinatra's Captain Tom Reynolds isn't in the jungle, he's trying to romance Gina Lollobrigida away from wealthy and mysterious Paul Henreid.

The plot is fairly simplistic, not amounting to much more than is described above, other than when it leaves the jungle to deal with murky American-Chinese political machinations near the end.

Objectively speaking this film really isn't all that good, with any number of things wrong with it. Director John Sturges has surely made a number of films which are far better, as have various cast members. Despite that, I didn't dislike the movie and found it rather entertaining, despite its issues. While I can't precisely recommend it, a film fan could do far worse than spending a couple of hours with this cast.

The film's problems begin with something as small as the fake-looking goatee Sinatra wears in the opening scenes, which fortunately disappears after he leaves the front for a trip to headquarters. More significantly, one can't help feeling much could have been done to give the script and characters more depth. There's a lot of screen time, 125 minutes, yet the movie doesn't go much of anywhere or delve very far into any character other than Sinatra's.

The film derives its strength from a strong cast, including the up-and-coming Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson. Bronson is unfortunately underused as a Navajo code talker, which could have been really interesting if elaborated on more deeply; McQueen has more of a chance to shine as a young man who shares Sinatra's daring temperament and receives a battlefield commission.

Dean Jones is appealing as the group's communications man, and Peter Lawford has a few scenes as a doctor who's conscripted into the unit. (His horror when learning he'll have to parachute into the jungle is pretty funny.) Whit Bissell, who sometimes seems as if he was in every other film released in the '50s, plays a psychiatrist trying to save Sinatra's character from a court-martial.

Best of all, Brian Donlevy swoops in to the last 15 minutes or so of the movie and wakes the film up as a general who does the unexpected.

The Sinatra-Lollobrigida romance feels fairly perfunctory, and there's a certain "ick" factor with Sinatra romancing her while she's Henreid's mistress. I usually like when women are cast in a war film, in part as it provides a break from the tensions of combat scenes, but in this case the story feels tacked on to the rest of the movie just so the film could boast Lollobrigida among the cast; her bathtub scene feels particularly gratuitous. I suspect the studio marketing team had a field day using stills of Lollobrigida in the tub to help sell the movie!

There are a couple other scenes which may leave the viewer feeling queasy, including a moment early on when Sinatra kills one of his own mortally wounded men to put him out of his misery. The film is tonally all over the place, going from a disturbing scene like that to Sinatra and pal Richard Johnson comically brawling for laughs just minutes later.

The cast also includes John Hoyt, Philip Ahn, Kipp Hamilton, Robert Bray, Irene Tedrow, and Ross Elliott.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray is a terrific print showing off William H. Daniels' widescreen photography. The sound quality is also excellent. The disc includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

2 Comments:

Blogger Margot Shelby said...

I couldn't agree more. There are a lot of good war movies out there, this is not one of them. First, the goatee! Why? Sinatra and Gina have zero chemistry together. She looks fantastic but what is she doing in this movie?

Unfortunately a wasted opportunity.

7:37 AM  
Blogger Brittaney said...

With such a great cast, it's a shame this film isn't better than it is. I was so distracted by Sinatra's facial hair I almost turned it off, but I'm glad I didn't. I wish they had delved into the American-Chinese conflict a bit more. That part was very interesting.

8:13 AM  

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