Never So Few

1959

Drama / War

3
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Spilled 33%
IMDb Rating 5.9 10 2554

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2hr 5 min
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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Spikeopath 6 / 10

Nothing in this war makes sense. Why you expect it to make sense now?

An allied guerrilla unit led by Capt. Tom Reynolds (Frank Sinatra) deals with the Japanese army and warlord controlled Chinese troops out in the Burma jungle.

"In the hills of North Burma, gateway to the vast prize of Asia, less than a thousand Kachin warriors, fighting under American and British leadership of the O.S.S., held back 40,000 Japanese in the critical, early years of World War II. It has been said NEVER have free men everywhere owed so much to SO FEW".

Killer Warrants and The Unprecedented War.

Directed by John Sturges and featuring Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Peter Lawford, Brian Donlevy, Gina Lollobrigida, Richard Johnson and Paul Henreid. Never So Few it's fair to say has a iffy reputation, originally conceived as a rat pack war film, it has some great strengths and some annoying weaknesses. The story itself is great, a part of the war that deserves to have been portrayed on the big screen, but why the makers didn't exorcise the whole romantic thread remains not just a mystery, but nearly a film killer.

As lovely as Miss Lollobrigida is, her whole character arc, and the relationship with Sinatra's stoic Reynolds, is surplus to requirements. It serves absolutely no purpose to defining other characters or for narrative invention. This strand of the story carries the film to over two hours in length, without this strand it's a film of 90 minutes focusing on the brave souls who fought in the Burmese conflict. Which is what it should have been.

When dealing with the conflicts, both outer and inner, the film does excite. The wily Sturges knows his way around an action scene and all the efforts here are gripping. Cast are fine and dandy, with McQueen dominating his scenes, Johnson the class act on show, while Sinatra, once he gets rid of the fake beard, shows his knack for tortured emotion to the point you just can't help but root for him even when he's being pig-headed (not a stretch for old blue eyes of course).

Tech credits are mixed, the studio sets are easily spotted, but conversely so are the real and pleasing location sequences filmed in Ceylon. The Panavision photography (William H. Daniels) is beautiful, a Metrocolor treat, but Hugo Friedhofer unusually turns in a lifeless musical score. All told it's not hard to see why it's a film that divides opinions, it's very episodic and that romance drags it something terrible. But still strong merits exist and it at least gets the core of the real story out in the public domain. 6/10

Reviewed by Bill Slocum 3 / 10

Something Stupid

"Never So Few" fails in so many ways; as a treatment of the Burma campaign in World War II; as a tough-nosed action picture; as an involving melodrama; and most especially, as a vehicle for star Frank Sinatra.

Sinatra was too busy playing soldier and practicing his cool look to bother constructing an interesting character; a strange bitter vibe hangs over his performance. Oddly, it was another actor who managed to take the little "Never So Few" had to offer in the way of career advancement: Steve McQueen. Up to this point, he had done "The Blob" and TV, but his comfortable natural bearing around Sinatra's star wattage shows he could hold his own with the big boys, even when the script gave him little to work with.

McQueen is Sgt. Ringa, a jeep driver who finds himself drafted for more dangerous duty when commando leader Tom Reynolds (Sinatra) takes a shine to his street-smart ways. Reynolds leads a small band of Kachin fighters in the hilly jungles of Burma, continually harassing a Japanese force many times its size.

"A regular Abe Lincoln in North Burma" is what rich merchant Nikko Regas calls him. Regas is part of the other story in "Few", the man whose girl (Gina Lollabrigida) Reynolds wants. The exotic Lollabrigida and the world-weary chain-smoking Sinatra are clearly meant to invite comparisons to Rick and Ilsa, and Paul Henreid cements the impression by playing Nikko as much the same character he was in "Casablanca".

None of this comes together, though. In fact, the two parts fail to co-exist at all. You get 20 minutes of war followed by 40 minutes of earnest love talk, then back to the war. The war scenes are about as competently directed as an episode of "The Rat Patrol", with idiotically sequenced insert shots (like soldiers shooting up at people we then see falling in a river) and noble, servile Kachin dying with meek apologies to "Dua" Reynolds. War is hell for Tom, who loses both his monkey and his favorite gun caddy, a faithful Kachin who hands him a new automatic every time Reynolds empties a magazine on the enemy.

The romance is even worse. Sinatra and Lollabrigida have no chemistry, she can't act, and director John Sturges' idea of story advancement is to focus on her bustline and hope you don't notice the dialogue. And what dialogue!

Him: "I hanker for you alone."

Her: "Why don't you go back to the hills and play with your popguns!"

Henreid warns Lollabrigida he won't let her go then disappears for the rest of the movie, leaving Lollabrigida and Sinatra to kiss like dead fish in front of bad process shots.

The film generates a bit of interest an hour or so in, when Reynolds and his men discover the Japanese are not the only force they have to fight. But the resolution of this angle is both trite and ugly, involving the wholesale slaughter of captured prisoners while the camera focuses on Sinatra, looking so sad his previously disapproving medic (Peter Lawford, better than usual here) has to pat his shoulder to let him and the audience know it's alright.

McQueen at least mines his on-screen time to showcase his talents as an action man, and occasional scene stealer with the aid of handy props, like a slice of watermelon or a mortar. Competing with Charles Bronson, Brian Donlevy, and Richard Johnson as Reynolds' monocle-wearing British pal, McQueen hardly has to break a sweat.

The worst performance here is Sinatra's, who just drips with self-importance, whether wearing an ugly goatee (Mitch Miller must have really got to him) or trying to sound like Hemingway with stiff lines like: "You have tasted the pain of wound in combat." Sinatra was not just good but great in parts where he allowed himself to project insecurity. But too often, when permitted to coast, he gave performances like this one, showcasing the boor he could be in life from time to time.

"Never So Few" drags for more than two hours, long enough to listen to four of his Capitol albums. Guess which is a better investment of your time.

Reviewed by bkoganbing 7 / 10

Dealing With Warlords With Warrants

Never So Few finds Frank Sinatra as co-commander with Britisher Richard Johnson of a behind the lines detachment of Kachin native tribesmen, conducting harassing actions against the Japanese in the China-Burma- India Theater of World War II. Sinatra is working out of the Office of Strategic Services which in this case is run by General Brian Donlevy playing William J. Donovan in all, but name.

Sinatra keeps the hipster persona down to a minimum and delivers a good performance as the rather unorthodox commander of native troops. Of course he's confronted with a rather unorthodox situation when warlords with warrants from the Chinese Nationalist government in Chungking massacre Americans and Kachins for their supplies. Purportedly these were our allies.

In all of this Sinatra finds time to romance Gina Lollabrigida the kept woman of Paul Henreid a most mysterious person of influence and nurse Kipp Hamilton. Gina is a most entertaining diversion, but the real story is about the Chinese actions in World War II.

During the Fifties Chiang Kai-Shek was a godlike creature, a noble exile from Communism on Taiwan running the government we still recognized. Never So Few was a daring film for its time, fresh from the McCarthy years for daring to suggest the Nationalist Chinese were less than noble.

Actually what is described in Never So Few, independent warlords making deals with both sides is old business in the Orient. It was something our culture couldn't grasp, still can't in many ways.

Never So Few boosted the careers of three men in Sinatra's and Johnson's command. Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, and Dean Jones all of whom went on to substantial careers. For McQueen it was his first role of substance in a major motion picture.

I recall reading years ago that Hedda Hopper who always boosted Steve McQueen's career when she could in her column, claiming that while this was a good career move, he should avoid dependence on Frank Sinatra for his employment. McQueen being an independent sort of fellow anyway, probably would have come to that same conclusion on his own. Nevertheless he certainly did carve his own legend out in film history.

Never So Few is a decent war film of a little known theater of war for Americans and should be seen.

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