Paul Lartal leads a troop of legionnaires into ambush at the hands of Omar Ben Calif. Returning later at the request of Princess Morjana he is led to the hidden city of Madara, currently harrassed by the evil Crito. Lartal must do in the bad guys (which includes participating in a bare chested spear-throwing contest), save the city and comfort the Princess. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
Based on a 1927 novel by Georges Arthur Surdez titled 'The Demon Caravan'. Surdez (1900-1949) contributed many "adventure" stories to such publications as 'Collier's', the 'Saturday Evening Post,' and 'Argosy.' He was especially noted for his French Foreign Legion tales. See more »
[to Paul Lartal]
I could force you to come with me, but we prefer that you come with us willingly.
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Take a bit of "Beau Geste," add a dab of "Lost Horizon," and you'll wind up with an enjoyable bit of escapism called "Desert Legion." It's just one of those modestly-scaled but colorfully-mounted 1950's movies which placed not-quite-A-list stars against exotic backgrounds in plots filled with traditional elements of action and romance. While predictable and unremarkable in most respects, these movies hold up surprisingly well today and remind us of a time when a trip to the movies meant stepping, however briefly, into a world of carefully-controlled glamor.
Though pushing 40 at the time he filmed this, Alan Ladd still makes an attractive hero and his fans are treated here to three scenes featuring him in "beefcake" situations. First, at the 38-minute-mark, he's seen in a bathtub being lathered by muscular black servants. Then, at the 55-minute-mark, we see him bare-chested in bed as he's attacked by a man with a dagger. Finally, at the 59-minute-mark, he fights a spear-duel with Conte while both men are stripped to the waist. Curiously, all three situations are placed within virtually all-male milieus so that only other men can get a close-up look at Ladd's physique.
Another touch of "beefcake" occurs when a bare-chested legionnaire played by George Lewis is whipped in an attempt to force information from him. (This flogging ranks 32nd in the book, "Lash! The Hundred Great Scenes of Men Being Whipped in the Movies.") Once again, this scene occurs only with other men as witnesses.
Note: the scene of the acrobats entertaining at the planned marriage of Arlene Dahl to Richard Conte is actually a clip from Universal's 1942 movie, "Arabian Nights."
Addendum (April 4, 2010): "Desert Legion" uses the main characters and general plot outline of its source, a 1927 novel by Georges Surdez titled "The Demon Caravan." However, some of the movie's more memorable incidents were invented by the screenwriters: the assassination attempt on Alan Ladd while he sleeps, for example, or the spear-duel between Ladd and Richard Conte, or the flogging of Legionnaire Lopez. Also, the character played by Akim Tamiroff, apparently added for "comic relief," does not appear in the book. The book's 18-year-old female lead bears only a passing resemblance to the movie's Arlene Dahl and the unnamed "lost city" in the book is referred to as "Madara" in the movie. Incidentally, one of the screenplay's two writers was Irving Wallace who later achieved fame as the author of such popular novels as "The Chapman Report" and "The Prize."
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