He Did It His Way
The best thing about "Never So Few" is Steve McQueen, not only does he give the most entertaining performance but whilst he'd already made a few movie and appeared on TV this was the movie which in many ways made him an A-list star. Aside from Steve McQueen well "Never So Few" is actually disappointing, the storyline is weak, the direction is routine and sadly it seems that with this being a Frank Sinatra movie he had things his way and not always for the best. There are moments where it works, fleeting moments where director John Sturges shows his brilliant eye for action, but far too often it just ends up wrong.
With his skilled group of O.S.S. operatives Captain Tom Reynolds (Frank Sinatra - Pal Joey) are in the middle of the Burma jungle training Kachin natives to fight the Japanese. But it is much harder that Capt. Reynolds can imagine as a lack of medical supplies and a doctor continually causes problems forcing Reynolds to have to make some tough calls. And he is also forced to make a tough call when he discovers Chinese rebels are murdering American soldiers and he takes the decision to lead him men across the border despite knowing he will be severely reprimanded for doing so.
There are basically two sides to "Never So Few", we have the story of Captain Tom Reynolds and his O.S.S. men in Burma training the Kachin natives to fight the Japanese and in doing so discovering trouble with Chinese rebels. And then there is a romantic storyline which sees Reynolds falling for Carla Vesari when he returns to the City despite her already being with the wealthy Nikko Regas. To put it simply whilst these two storyline do connect they end up so separate it feels wrong. After some brief action in the jungle we have Reynolds returning to the city and meeting Carla, what follows is basically Tom trying to woo her and the whole war element is almost forgotten about. It makes half of "Never So Few" a romance and not exactly an interesting one although at the same time we are introduced to the character of Ringa played by Steve McQueen.
Once all the nonsense over the romance is dealt with, and sadly it does keep on cropping up, we do get what is really a routine war movie where we have the men fighting in the jungle. Some of this is good, director John Sturges delivers some fleeting moments of great action and those which feature Steve McQueen are some of the best with them being full of action yet with a dose of humour. But so much of this action is routine, marching through the jungle, blowing things up and people get shot and dying. And to be honest it is a shame as the ending of "Never So Few" is very good as we have Reynolds in trouble for crossing into China with his men despite having good cause to.
The thing about "Never So Few" is that it feels like Frank Sinatra whilst the star also had control of the whole movie. It is well documented that after Sammy Davis Jr. annoyed him that Sinatra dropped him from the role of Ringa which thankfully gave us Steve McQueen. But the whole romantic sub plot seems to have been drawn out because it allowed Sinatra to share the screen with the stunning Gina Lollobrigida. And then there is the rather strange beard which Sinatra sports during the first 10 minutes or so, everything feels like Sinatra was controlling things and it doesn't always turn out right for it.
And to be honest whilst Sinatra was the star of "Never So Few" he is outshone by so many of his co-stars. Richard Johnson is brilliant as his friend Capt. Danny De Mortimer delivering the humour of being a bit of an eccentric Brit down perfectly. And the tension between Danforth and Norby played by Charles Bronson and Dean Jones adds some humour things as well. Add to that the beauty of Gina Lollobrigida and Steve McQueen giving such a confident performance and Sinatra ends up being outshone by so many.
What this all boils down to is that "Never So Few" is really a bit of a mess because for a war movie half of it is a love story and not that great a one to take up so much time. And whilst there are fleeting moments of exciting action for the most it is all rather ordinary. But the best thing about "Never So Few" is that it helped turn Steve McQueen into an A-list star and it is McQueen's performance which is simply the best thing about the movie.