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Beau Geste - 1939

Beau Geste - Released July 24, 1939. Directed by William Wyler

The movie starts with a mystery at Fort Zinderneuf in the North African desert, manned by dead soldiers propped up against the walls of the fortress, blank faces and eyes looking out over the desert sands. A relief troupe of legionnaires arrive to investigate this, but suddenly a hail of gunfire causes them to run to a nearby oasis. Then the soldiers see a column of smoke rising from the supposedly lifeless fort...

Director Wyler then moves us backwards to a turgid back story concerning a stolen sapphire called the "Blue Water" and the early life of a group of young children adopted by Lady Patricia Brandon (Heather Thatcher) and a glimpse into how the children are raised on her estate (which she shares with a profligate brother that we never see but hear a lot about).

After the children become young adults (Gary Cooper, Robert Montgomery, and Robert Preston), we return to Wyler's faster-paced action film, especially once Brian Donlevy appears (as Sergeant Markoff) and what develops is a high-pressure tale of the three British brothers joining the French Foreign Legion, but they may have bitten off more than they can chew.

On screen, Gary Cooper usually doesn't have strong competition from other actors, but Brian Donlevy as the demonic Sgt. Markoff steals a lot of attention. "I promise you," Markoff says over and over as he adds to the sadistic pressure within Fort Zinderneuf, and only a sudden attack of Arab raiders that puts the fort under siege interrupts Markoff's plan to apparently kill every one in the fort to feed his sadistic pleasure.

Usually in a war film, a sadistic officer is a rat and possibly a coward, but that's not the case here, as Markoff might be fiendishly crazy, but he's also something of a genius and keeps the fort fully manned even though the legionnaires are dropping like flies from the onslaught outside - - Markoff has more than a few tricks up his sleeve. He also has a eye on Gary Cooper (as Beau Geste) because he's heard the rumor that Beau has an enormous sapphire hidden on him. Well, this is true, and also isn't true, but it will take the whole film to unravel the mystery of the jewel, the boys departure for foreign lands, and ways one might have a Viking funeral out in the middle of a mostly waterless wasteland.

Original Page January 8, 2017

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