Michael "Beau" Geste leaves England in disgrace and joins the infamous French Foreign Legion. He is reunited with his two brothers in North Africa, where they face greater danger from their... See full summary »
A timid British Army officer has quit and burns his last day summons to a war in Egypt. Calling him a coward, his girl friend and 3 officer friends give him a white feather. In redemption, he shadows his friends in war to save their lives.
C. Aubrey Smith
Geoffrey Thorpe, a buccaneer, is hired by Queen Elizabeth I to nag the Spanish Armada. The Armada is waiting for the attack on England and Thorpe surprises them with attacks on their galleons where he shows his skills on the sword.
Beau, John, and Digby Geste are three inseparable, adventurous brothers who haven been adopted into the wealthy household of Lady Brandon. When money in the uppercrust household grows tight, Lady Brandon is forced to sell her most treasured jewel the mighty "Blue Water" sapphire. The household gets it out for one final look, the lights go out and it vanishes stolen by one of the brothers, no doubt. That night, Beau, Digby, and John each "confess" and slip out, John leaving behind Isabel, whom he loves. They all join the Foreign Legion, and Beau and Digby are split from John and put under the command of the ruthless and sadistic Sergeant Markoff. Things begin to get hairy as the rest of the Legionaires plot a mutiny against Markoff, in the midst of an attack by Arab hordes.Written by
Sam Hayes <email@example.com>
The film gets high kudos for being well directed, well acted, and well produced. It is one of the great films of 1939 that remains entertaining nearly seventy years later. But like that other classic GONE WITH THE WIND the racism in the background is amazing.
Percival Wren's novels are not readily available today, although back in 1971 I was amazed to see them on the shelf of my high school library. Wren, growing up in the late 19th Century, was growing up in an age of hyper - nationalism, and imperialism. So when he writes, the negative stereotypes of third world types (and of peoples of other European countries) come out. In this case, the Arabs are the evil villains. That the French are invading their land is not dealt with. The odd thing is that the author was British, and he could (if he wanted to) have made the French less likable, but that did not happen. To Wren, British character was the top of the line, and French not far behind it. But Arab was at the bottom (in some of his books Jews do not come out too well either, but that is not apparent in this film).
He's lifted some of the plot line from Wilkie Collins' THE MOONSTONE, as the plot is about the theft of a very valuable jewel, and how the "Geste" brothers (Gary Cooper, Ray Milland, and Robert Preston) leave England in disgrace and join the French Foreign Legion to make amend for their apparent theft of the jewel, leaving Heather Thatcher (Lady Isobel - their guardian) and Susan Hayward (Isobel - Ray Milland's sweetheart) and James Stephenson (Major Henri De Beaujolais - their friend since childhood) shocked. Only their old childhood nemesis, G.P.Huntley (Augustus "Sir Mordred") is glad to see the thieves go.
Question might arise - why join the French Foreign Legion? Well, if they joined the British army or navy, after confessing the theft, they could have been brought back for trial. They could have crossed the Atlantic and joined the American cavalry out west (there are cases like that), but they choose the Foreign Legion as Major De Beaujolais has always told them stories about it.
So they go to North Africa and sign up. It is a harsh life as a mercenary, in one of the all-time hardest fighting units in military history. The Foreign Legion is usually associated with fighting the Riffs and Tuaregs of North Africa (particularly with books or films like this). They also fought in Mexico (in the 1860s) to prop up Emperor Maximilian, in Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam) in the 19th and 20th Centuries, and are still in use today.
But here they are used for policing purposes: they are to put down revolts by the natives who won't give up their rights to rule themselves. They are actually fighting the grandfathers of the men who reclaimed Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia in the 20th Century.
Cooper, Milland, and Preston soon meet the men they fight alongside with: Broderick Crawford, Albert Dekker, and J. Carroll Naish. This is one film with a great cast of character actors. As was pointed out on another comment it is the character actors who make this film live. Naish as the hyena-like Razomov, who makes himself too useful to the villain of the piece (the unscrupulous Sgt. Markov - Brian Donleavy) gave one of the best performances in his career. Same with Donleavy, who is a real bastard but also a great fighter. Watch as Donleavy keeps figuring out ways to fool the enemy such as propping up dead bodies on the roof of the fort, or having the men laugh to suggest there are more men in the fort than they think. Yet for all of the clever tricks, it's a lucky shot killing the head of the attacking forces that ends the siege.
If this film were made today, we would get to know the personalities of the Arabs. It would be a more complex tale. But the complexities of the story are enough as is. Why do men willingly go into danger to prove themselves? Why do they act in negative ways, surprising and hurting those who love them? And what are the secrets that we carry with us that we try never to reveal. That is at the heart of BEAU GESTE and it's characters, and of the Foreign Legion it glorified.
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