Sinatra stars as the American leader of a group of British-American regular troops and guerrillas fighting the Japanese in Burma during WW II. Hopelessly outnumbered (600 versus 40,000), Sinatra's men rely on stealth and surprise to combat the enemy. Operations are suspended briefly when
Sinatra and another captain, Johnson, are ordered to take a two-week leave in Calcutta to pick up a doctor, Lawford, and medical supplies to be brought back to the troops. Johnson develops malaria and is treated by Lawford, while Sinatra travels around Calcutta with his driver, McQueen. Sinatra
meets and falls for Lollobrigida, the mistress of mysterious arms merchant Henreid. The American captain attempts to romance the woman, but she is cool to his advances. Sinatra, Johnson, Lawford, and McQueen return to the front when their leave is over and arrive in time to celebrate Christmas
with the troops. Unfortunately, the Japanese launch a surprise attack during the party and Sinatra is wounded. In the hospital, Sinatra is visited by Lollobrigida, who has suddenly had a change of heart toward the soldier and welcomes his romantic overtures. Eventually Sinatra recovers and rejoins
his troops in an attack on a Japanese airfield. The campaign is successful, but the additional support Sinatra was promised never arrives. After the battle the guerrillas are shocked to discover that the reinforcements have been ambushed and slaughtered by Nationalist Chinese troops controlled by
a warlord. Outraged, Sinatra leads his men into China seeking reprisal. In a village the soliders have captured, they discover a cache of American supplies and learn that the Chungking government has been outfitting warlord troops to ambush Allied troops, confiscate supplies, and sell them to the
Japanese. When Johnson is killed by a wounded Chinese soldier, Sinatra turns savage and orders all the Chinese prisoners executed. During this bloodshed, Sinatra receives belated orders not to attack the village. The angry American sends a wire back to his superiors telling them to go to hell.
This action leads to a court-martial hearing for Sinatra. On his way to trial, Sinatra again meets Lollobrigida, who suggests that he plead battle fatigue as a defense. Sinatra rejects the idea, and also declines her offer to have Henreid pull some strings with the army command. The trial is very
tense, but in the end, Sinatra wins his superiors over, and the Chungking government is forced to take action against the warlords.
Based on a novel by Tom T. Chamales that posed tough questions about the nature of traditional command in guerrilla warfare, screenwriter Kaufman's script skirts some of the more difficult aspects of the story in favor of heroism and romance. Director Sturges did what he could with the material at
hand and managed to form a solid war film with the help of an outstanding cast. Aside from Sinatra, who was at the peak of his popularity, Sturges filled his cast with such tried-and-true performers as Donlevy and relatively new faces such as Bronson and McQueen. McQueen's role was originally
intended for Sinatra "Rat Pack" member Sammy Davis, Jr., but Davis and Sinatra had a brief falling out which cost Davis the role. Sturges had been keeping an eye on the young McQueen by watching episodes of "Wanted--Dead or Alive" on television and was impressed with the actor. While McQueen may
have won Sturges over, he still had to prove himself to the egotistical and frequently mischievous Sinatra. As McQueen himself said in William F. Nolan's book McQueen, "One afternoon on location...I was sitting there reading my script...and Frank crept up behind me and slipped a lighted
firecracker in one of the loops of my gunbelt. When that thing went off I jumped about three feet straight up. Which naturally delighted Frank. So I grabbed one of the Tommy guns we were using in the film and jammed in a full clip--fifty rounds. Sinatra was walking away laughing it up with his
buddies, when I yelled at him, `Hey, Frank!' He turned around and I let him have it, zap-zap-zap-zap, the whole clip." Blanks fired at close range can be quite painful and the whole set fell quiet while waiting to see what Sinatra's reaction would be. As McQueen stood there staring at Sinatra, the
star, "...just started laughing, and it was all over. After that, we got along fine. In fact, we tossed firecrackers at each other all through the picture." While NEVER SO FEW did little to enhance Sinatra's reputation as an actor, it did provide the needed spark for the careers of both McQueen
and Bronson. Director Sturges was fond of both actors and teamed them up again in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) and THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963), which were massive hits and catapulted both McQueen and Bronson to stardom.
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