Unlikely Premise rendered enjoyable, adventurous and even plausible. A new stop on the old trail from the Planet Mongo and the "B" Westerns!
The French Foreign Legion had long been the meat of many a story on film. We have titles among a long list that included MOROCCO (Paramount, 1930), UNDER TWO FLAGS (20th Century-Fox, 1936), BEAU GESTE (Paramount,1939) and ROGUES REGIMENT (Universal-International, 1948).* On the comedy-spoof side we the likes of BEAU HUNKS (Hal Roach/MGM,1931) and THE FLYING DEUCES (Boris Moros/RKO Radio, 1939), both starring Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy; as well as ABBOTT & COSTELLO IN THE FOREIGN LEGION (Universal, 1950).
With such a tradition and romantic legend making the Legion such a continuing "Hot Item", it is with little wonder that we saw this series hit the TV Network scene. And much to the credit of the French-Moroccan producers, it was done right there on the locale where it was said to take place, namely Morocco, one of the former Barbary Coast states; along with Tunisia and Algeria. To this now pleasant scene, comes that good, old Olympic Swimming Champion, Clarence Linden "Buster" Crabbe, and his son, Cullen. Cast as Captain Gallant and his son "Cuffy", they gave us the feeling of a high adventure and a kid's fondest dream, all rolled up into one!
Just imagine being a 10 year old, with no school to attend or paper routes; just your horse to ride and a miniature version of your father's Legionnaire Captain's uniform! As for the rest of the regular cast, veteran Fuzzy Knight was cast as another Yank in the French Service as Pvt. Fuzzy. This made for a truly interesting, if highly unlikely trio of Americans present in Saharan Africa, while not being tourists or other visitors. And we must revisit this Fuzzy Knight situation and just how it came to be.
The story goes that during the negotiations for the series, "Buster" Crabbe suggested that they cast his old friend and co-star, "Fuzzy" as a sort of Enlisted Man & Comic Relief. The deal was done and the Producers went out and signed "Fuzzy", just as Mr. Crabbe had suggested. The deal was done and the series was classified as "All Systems Go!" There was only one slight problem. This was the wrong "Fuzzy"! Dating back to "Buster" Crabbe's days at poverty row studios like Producers' Releasing Corporation (or PRC for short) and his "Billy the Kid" 'B' Westerns, he had partnered up with one Al St. John. Being a veteran of silent screen comedy 2 reel shorts (as well as being the Nephew of the blackballed funnyman of the Silents, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle), Al made for a perfect 'Comical Side Kick'. Long and lanky of physique and possessing a whole slough of facial reactions, all that Al needed was the addition of a scraggily old beard to be re-christened as "Fuzzy".**
As for the "CAPTAIN GALLANT OF THE FOREIGN LEGION" Series, it was big on bugling and military procedure and protocol. Problems involved more of the common criminal-type than any rebellious seditionists. I seem to recall that the wrong-doers were pretty much evenly divided between Cut Throat Europeans and Renegade Bedouins; with Captain Gallant, his Troops and Son providing the forces of good in the great, sandy wastes.
In many ways, the series bore a strong resemblance to the previous years' "THE ADVENTURES OF RIN TIN TIN", which of course was set in the 1870's and '80's in the old Fort Apache of Wild West fame. Even scripts from the two series were somewhat similar and could be easily interchanged, with a little minor cosmetic surgery.
One particular Captain Gallant episode that we remember well was their Christmas show on one of its two seasons. It involved the Legion's necessity to be in the field during the Christmas Holiday Season. "Cuffy" is saddened and yearns for not only being home at the Fort, but also for being back in the USA, where he could enjoy the White Christmas of an old time, seasonal snowfall.
In a very poignant scene, the good Captain holds a sort of impromptu non-denominational Christmas service. And, in what would today be so very "politically incorrect" Captain Gallant relates to his son that the first Christmas was on a dessert and even, "in a land on the other side of the very Dessert we are on now!" In a sense, "CAPTAIN GALLANT OF THE FOREIGN LEGION" put a sort of punctuational period on the Colonial period in Africa, Asia and elsewhere; at least to the genre of colonial era films.***
NOTE: * There were many other films, including a number of versions of BEAU GESTE, the first being in 1926 with Ronald Colman.
NOTE: ** The "B" Western's "innovation" of Comic Relief via "the Sidekick" did a lot for the careers of many an Actor. Other than Al "Fuzzy" St. John, there were guys like silent film comedian, Harry "Snub" Pollard, Broadway Stage Actor, George Hayes (best remembered as "Gabby" Hayes) and many others.
NOTE: *** In a sobering note, it was units of the French Foreign Legion that were defeated in 1954 in the battle of Dien Vein Fu in French Indo-China, that led to US involvement in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
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