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The U. S. Marine Corps hymn starts with"From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli", and this film's story purports to be the reason why, and is give or take a few incidents in this movie: It is 1805 and the Tripoli pirates have challenged America's right to freedom of the seas---all of them, anywhere---so United Stares warships were sent to that port to bottle up their fleet and set the riff-raff right concerning who could sail where. (History begins to suffer a bit along about this point.) A U. S. Marine unit, headed by Lieutenant O'Bannon, was sent to attack them from the rear. He organized his unit around Hamet, Pasha of Tripoli, in exile after being overthrown by his brother. In Hamet's court was Sheila D'Arneau, a diploma's daughter, who disguises herself as a dancing girl, and joins the group of eight U. S. Marines and Hamet supporters in their march across the Libyan desert. O'Bannon and Shelia argue all the way to Tripoli. Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Although Tripoli is never reached, this film is the story of the US Marines hoisting the American flag for the first time over foreign soil at the port city of Derna in Libya. Our capture of that city forced a negotiated peace on the Sultan of Tripoli and ended our war there which began against the Barbary States and the pirate ships they employed for plunder and ransom.
Now how Maureen O'Hara as an exiled French countess in the court of the exiled Sultan figured in these events is something left to the writers of this film. At least her flaming red hair was explained somewhat in this particular potboiler.
In her memoirs O'Hara thought her casting in these films was as ridiculous as anyone else, but she thought that just keep working, take anything they give you and the better roles will eventually come.
John Payne plays the real life Lieutenant O'Bannion who with his squad of US Marines led the land action while the Navy bombarded the guns guarding Derna from sea attack. He did not have a romance with a French exiled countess. Howard DaSilva has a nice and droll part as a Greek mercenary captain. This flag waver of a film was an ironic twist in DaSilva's career, he went on the blacklist shortly afterward.
Philip Reed is the exiled Sultan who lives pretty good for a guy in exile and he's the diplomatic catspaw the United States used. And I mean used since he was not restored to his throne as promised in the film and in real life. Of course as he's shown here Reed is quite the duplicitous character so nobody cares if he was or not. What he was in real life, who knows. But there are those who feel America broke a commitment. In any event the Sultan of Tripoli stopped seizing our ships and that's what we wanted.
What is an interesting if not often told tale of American history is reduced to the Saturday matinée kiddie potboiler of the pulp fiction variety. Tripoli has not worn well over the decades.
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