Destination Gobi


Destination Gobi is a 1953 American Technicolor World War II film released by 20th Century-Fox. It was produced by Stanley Rubin, directed by Robert Wise (his first color feature film) and stars Richard Widmark and Don Taylor.

Destination Gobi
Destination gobi poster.JPG
Directed byRobert Wise
Screenplay byEverett Freeman
Based onNinety Saddles for Kengtu
1952 Collier's
by Edmund G. Love
Produced byStanley Rubin
StarringRichard Widmark
Don Taylor
Casey Adams
Murvyn Vye
Narrated byRichard Widmark
CinematographyCharles G. Clarke
Edited byRobert Fritch
Music bySol Kaplan
20th Century Fox
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
March 20, 1953 (1953-03-20)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1.2 million (US rentals)[2]

U.S. Navy chief Sam McHale takes command of a unit of weather observers stranded behind Japanese lines deep in Inner Mongolia. McHale must lead his men across the treacherous Gobi Desert to the sea coast. Mongols whom the sailors had befriended, led by chief Tengu, help them elude the Japanese and steal a Chinese junk in order to reach 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 (SACO), referred to as Sino-American Combined Operations in the film.[3]

Actor Ernest Borgnine has stated in interviews that he believed that this film, and Widmark's role of CPO Sam McHale, were the basis of the role of Quentin McHale in the television show McHale's Navy.[4]


Argos Detachment 6 is a Navy unit operating a weather station in the Gobi Desert during World War II. Though the outfit is led by meteorologist Lt. Cmdr. Hobart Wyatt, the group's ramrod is CPO Sam McHale, a tough-as-nails efficiency expert and a literal fish out of water in the Gobi, having served years at sea. One evening, a tribe of Mongolian nomads led by Kengtu set up camp at the station's oasis. Despite stark cultural differences, the two groups settle into uneasy co-existence. Seaman Jenkins, an ex-cowboy, muses that the Mongol horsemen would make an excellent cavalry troop. Hoping to persuade the Mongols to help them against the Japanese, McHale requisitions 60 Army-issue saddles. The saddles soon arrive and the delighted Mongols train with Jenkins, accompanied by Elwood Halsey on his trumpet. Later, however, Japanese planes bomb and strafe the camp, killing Wyatt and several Mongols, causing the surviving nomads to abandon the camp. Alone and defenseless, the Americans decide to evacuate 800 miles to the sea, where they will sail to join US forces on Okinawa.

McHale and the men reach an oasis where Chinese traders are camped. There, they encounter Kengtu, who explains he abandoned the station to protect his people from the "birds in the sky." Later, the Mongols return their saddles. Chinese trader Yin Tang then barters for the saddles, offering McHale four camels, and suggests the Americans travel with his group. That night, Yin Tang attempts to kill them to steal back the camels, but he is stopped by the surprise reappearance of Kengtu's men. Telling McHale his followers desire the return of their saddles, Kengtu offers to escort the Americans to the sea if they disguise themselves in native garb. All goes well until they reach the Japanese-occupied city of Sangchien, China, where Kengtu leads Argos 6 into a trap set by Japanese soldiers, who transport them to a prisoner-of-war camp on the coast where they are held as spies. However, one of Kengtu's men, Wali-Akhun, 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 and head for the docks, where Kengtu is waiting with a Chinese junk. The wily Kengtu explains to McHale that their capture was a ploy to trick the Japanese into transporting them to the ocean. They set sail for Okinawa and are later spotted by American planes. The men are rescued, McHale is awarded the Navy Cross, and Kengtu and Wali are returned to their people, along with 60 new saddle blankets.



  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. p. 248
  2. ^ "The Top Box Office Hits of 1953", Variety, January 13, 1954
  3. ^ "SP:WaW Depot™ :: View topic - SACO - U.S. Navy in China WWII". Retrieved 2016-12-21.
  4. ^ "Ernest Borgnine on the genesis of McHale's Navy".

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