Destination Gobi

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Destination Gobi
Destination gobi poster.JPG
Directed by Robert Wise
Produced by Stanley Rubin
Written by Everett Freeman (screenplay)
Edmund G. Love (story)
Starring Richard Widmark
Don Taylor
Casey Adams
Murvyn Vye
Narrated by Richard Widmark
Music by Sol Kaplan
Cinematography Charles G. Clarke
Edited by Robert Fritch
20th Century Fox
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
March 20, 1953 (1953-03-20)
Running time
89 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,340,000[1]
Box office $1.2 million (US rentals)[2]

Destination Gobi is a 1953 Technicolor war film in which Sam McHale (Richard Widmark) heads a group of US Navy men, sent to Mongolia for weather observation. McHale must lead his men across the treacherous Gobi desert to the freedom of the seacoast. Rescued from the Japanese by a Mongolian chief (Murvyn Vye), the men are compelled to repay their rescuer by securing enough saddles for his sixty horses. A flummoxed Pentagon okays the requisition, and the chieftain leads Widmark's band to Okinawa.

After the picture's opening credits, a written foreword reads:

"In the Navy records in Washington, there is an obscure entry reading 'Saddles for Gobi.' This film is based on the story behind that entry--one of the strangest stories of World War II."

The unit involved was part of the Sino-American Cooperative Organization.[3]


In November 1944, Chief Boatswain's Mate Sam McHale (Richard Widmark) is aghast to learn that he is being transferred from the USS Enterprise, his beloved aircraft carrier, to Argos 6, a Navy-operated weather station in Inner Mongolia's Gobi Desert. Capt. Gates (Willis Bouchey) explains to McHale that accurate weather forecasts are crucial to the Allies' success in the Pacific theater, and that his practical experience is required by meteorologist Commander Hobart Wyatt (Russell Collins) and his crew of technicians: Jenkins (Don Taylor), Walter Landers (Max Showalter), Wilbur "Coney" Cohen (Darryl Hickman), Elwood Halsey (Martin Milner), Frank Swenson (Earl Holliman) and Paul Sabatello (Ross Bagdasarian). Despite his longing for the ocean, McHale adjusts to life in the desert during the following six months, although Wyatt is bemused by McHale's dependence on the military's strict chain of command.

In July 1945, three weeks before they are to be relieved, the crew learns that Japanese cavalry is scouring the desert for the weather stations, and McHale starts work constructing defenses for the outpost. The group is also baffled by the arrival of a tribe of nomadic Mongols, who camp at the station's oasis. After determining that the Navy men are not interested in the oasis' grass, the Mongols' leader, Kengtu (Murvyn Vye), expresses no further interest in them until Elwood attempts to take photographs of the tribe. The Mongols react with hostility, but McHale gains Kengtu's respect when he shows him how the camera works. Observing the Mongols' horsemanship, former cowboy Jenkins muses that they would make an excellent cavalry. The next day, Kengtu orders his people to return the many things they have stolen from the station, although McHale allows them to keep his own cap and Wyatt's dress uniform. Later that day, the Navy men learn that due to increasing pressure from the enemy, they will not be relieved. Hoping to persuade the Mongols to help them defend the station, McHale requisitions sixty saddles, and although the order is met with bewilderment, the saddles soon arrive and the delighted Mongols begin training with Commander Wyatt, who dubs them the "1st Mongolian Cavalry, U.S. Navy."

Before long, however, the camp is bombed by Japanese planes. Wyatt and several Mongols are killed. The radio is also destroyed, and McHale is disappointed when the Mongols disappear, leaving them alone and defenseless. Rather than walking 300 miles to the nearest weather station, which might also have been attacked, McHale decides that the team travel 800 miles to the sea. The men are skeptical, but McHale orders the evacuation in his authority as commander of the team. Hoping to reach north China, and from there sail to Okinawa, captured by US forces, McHale drives the team onward, and they stop at an oasis at which some Chinese traders are camped. Also at the oasis are Kengtu and his people, and McHale confronts the chief for failing to help the navy as promised. Kengtu replies that he had to protect his people from the "birds in the sky," and agrees to put the question of helping the Americans to his people. The next day Kengtu returns the saddles. Chinese trader Yin Tang (Edgar Barrier) then barters for the saddle, offering McHale four camels, and suggests that the Americans travel with the Chinese. That night, however, the treacherous Yin Tang attempts to kill them, to steal back the camels, but is stopped by the arrival of Kengtu and his men.

Kengtu tells McHale that his people want the saddles back and are willing to escort the Americans to China, provided that they dress in native garb to deceive the Japanese. McHale agrees, although the men worry that they will be considered spies if they are captured because they will be out of uniform. Kengtu's plan appears to be working, however, until they reach the Chinese village of Sangchien, which is a garrison for the Japanese. Power-hungry Mongol Tomec (Rodolfo Acosta), fed up with the troublesome Americans, appears to persuade Kengtu to turn them in, and later, McHale is angry when Kengtu leads them into an ambush by Japanese soldiers. The Navy men are taken to a prisoner-of-war camp on the coast. Questioned by a Japanese officer (Richard Loo), McHale refuses to divulge any information about the remaining weather stations. Angered, the officer holds the men as spies rather than POWs, which means they will be shot. Their depression is lifted, however, when one of Kengtu's men, Wali-Akhun (Leonard Strong), allows himself to be arrested while wearing Wyatt's stolen uniform. Wali reveals that Kengtu has arranged for their escape, and that night, they break out of the camp and to the docks, where Kengtu is waiting with a Chinese junk. Kengtu explains to McHale that he did not betray them, but rather tricked the Japanese soldiers into transporting them to the ocean. Coney is killed during the escape, however, and the novice sailors soberly set sail for Okinawa.

Eleven days later, the junk is spotted by American planes, which are about to bomb it until they see a large sign, with the inscription "U.S.S. Cohen" painted on it. The men are rescued, and soon after, Kengtu is returned to his people, along with sixty saddle blankets. Kengtu and McHale say farewell, and when McHale tries to explain that he is not the head chief of the Navy, as Kengtu had mistakenly thought, Kengtu replies that it is the Navy's mistake, not his.



  1. ^ Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p248
  2. ^ 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1953', Variety, January 13, 1954
  3. ^

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