Oscar-winning sound designer, editor and mixer Ben Burtt (“Star Wars,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial”) and Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor Craig Barron (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) literally went on an archaeological dig for their “Academy Conversations” presentation coming Sunday of the 1939 adventure comedy “Gunga Din” at the TCM Classic Film Festival.
“We actually did go to the location -- the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine -- where the sets were,” said Burtt. “The principal locations are still untouched. You can literally go to the same rock and sit where Douglas Fairbanks Jr. sat or where they built the sets of the village or the temple. There are parts of the temple set you can still dig up, little bits of plaster.”
For the record
March 28, 8:23 a.m.: An earlier version of this post mistranscribed a remark by Ben Burtt, who said that he had returned to the "Gunga Din" shooting location in Lone Pine, not Lonesome Pine.
“Gunga Din” marks the third time Burtt and Barron have screened an iconic film and offered fun facts and insights into the making of a classic from Hollywood’s Golden Era.
“Their shows are great,” said Charles Tabesh, TCM’s senior vice president of programming. “People come out of the shows raving about them. They are having so much fun up there and yet people are learning at the same time and they see a great movie. “
Burtt and Barron felt it was necessary to go the extra mile for the TCM program at the Egyptian Theatre set for Sunday afternoon. Six years ago, they had presented “Gunga Din” at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
“Like any good research project, new revelations come to light,” said Barron. “So we are revising our ‘Gunga Din’ presentation based on new materials and research.”
The two will talk about everything from the unique credit sequence of a gong that ripples when it was struck to the special rifle shots that were recorded on location.
Loosely based on the famed Rudyard Kipling poem, “Gunga Din” was directed by George Stevens and starred Cary Grant, Fairbanks and Victor McLaglen as three British army buddies who must fight a brutal religious sect in Northern Indian. Sam Jaffe played their faithful and brave Indian water boy. (Yes, this movie is definitely from a pre-politically correct era).
Stevens, who was a hot director at RKO, wasn’t the original choice for “Gunga Din.” Howard Hawks was set to direct but then he ran over schedule and budget on the studio’s 1938 screwball comedy “Bringing Up Baby” with Grant and Katharine Hepburn. Stevens was given the job. A perfectionist, the shooting schedule went from 64 to 104 days and the budget swelled.
“I think it was the most expensive film RKO had ever produced up to that point,” said Burtt.
Both men have loved “Gunga Din” since they were youngsters. “It is in my top five favorites,” said Burtt. “It’s a wonderful adventure movie that still holds up really well. It combines serious action adventure and comedy in the same movies.”
“It’s an action picture that reminds us very much of some of the things we got to work on later like ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ where there is a sense of adventure and action, but everything is a little tongue in cheek,” noted Barron.
For more information go to filmfestival.tcm.com.