(1962)3Bruce EderSad to say, Sergeants Three is one of John Sturges's lesser movies from a period in which the director was making generally superb films, including several notable westerns. It could have been a better picture than it is, given its source material (lifted from Gunga Din) and a cast that included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Peter Lawford -- and plot with all kinds of topicality, dealing with the struggle of one man (Davis) for dignity and a place where he could call himself a man on the American frontier. But it's more of a fun romp than anything else, with the cast members, apart from Davis, having more of a good time than they are putting their acting muscles to serious work; and the comedic aspect is the flattest part of the picture, a fatal flaw in a movie that wasn't taking itself too seriously at any stage of production. Sturges could do serious movies about as well as anyone in Hollywood, as his early films such as Mystery Street and The People Against O'Hara demonstrated. And starting eight years earlier, with Bad Day At Black Rock (1954), actually a kind of modern western with a strong story at its center about racial prejudice with deadly consequences, he'd been making important movies, even under adverse conditions -- witness Gunfight At The OK Corral (1957), a picture on which he was only a hired director, but which was filled with powerful scenes and superb acting; and Last Train To Gun Hill (1959), about as finely acted and structured a western as you could hope to find; and then, from there, come the mega-hits The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Great Escape (1963), on which he was the producer as well as the director, and all of the huge productions that followed on from there. But Sergeants Three fails because it is, at heart, a comedy, and comedy was one area that Sturges never succeeded at -- look at The Hallelujah Trail (1965), a gargantuan misfire, to see how much he was not a comedy director. Sergeants Three is less dire than that later work, but its flat where the jokes should rise to the fore, and too light where the serious sides of the plot see the light of day. All of which doesn't mean it isn't fun to see Frank, and Dean, and Peter, and Sammy (and Jjoey Bishop) -- just don't expect anything too substantial.
The 1939 adventure classic Gunga Din is transferred from British India to the American West, courtesy of Frank Sinatra's "Clan." Sinatra, Dean Martin and Peter Lawford play three cavalry officers, always ready for a brawl but willing to die for each other if need be. Sammy Davis Jr. a cavalry bugler who has aspirations of being a combat soldier. The three officers and the bugler take on a Napoleonic Native American chief, who plans to unify all the tribes and kill every white man in sight. Davis does his "Gunga" bit by blowing his bugle and warning the approaching cavalry that they're riding into a trap. About all that isn't pilfered from Gunga Din is the death of the noble bugler; Davis survives being shot up by the Indians with little more than a flesh wound! Sergeants Three also stars another Sinatra crony, Joey Bishop, playing the role originally essayed in Gunga Din by Robert Coote.