During the 1920s, French Foreign Legion Major William Foster's unit is protecting an archaeological dig but the discovery of an Arab sacred burial site prompts the angry Arab tribes to attack Foster's small garrison.
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Foreign Legion Major Foster (Hackman), an American haunted by his memories of the recently-ended Great War, is assigned to protect a group of archaeologists at their dig. Foster's unit includes the charming, thieving rascal Marco (Hill), who joined the Legion only to avoid prison. After long stretches portraying the boredom and hardship of day-to-day life in the Legion, Foster's command occupies a small village where the archaeologists believe they've found a burial site sacred to the Arabs. An Arab leader (Holm) uses this affront to unite the tribes in Jihad, and attacks the tiny Legion garrison at the dig. An epic battle follows, very reminiscent of the film "Zulu". Costumes, firearms, and props are all very authentic-looking, and show great attention to detail. Written by
Cameron Fairchild <email@example.com>
Gene Hackman had been experiencing pains in his back. The film's insurance company refused to allow the shooting to continue because a permanent injury to Hackman could have cost it a lot of money. The insurers suggested shooting the film somewhere in the deserts of the United States. But the color of the sand dunes in Agadir is not the same as the color of the sand in Nevada. Several big American transport planes were used to transport tons of sand from the Agadir dunes in order to camouflage the sand of Nevada. (Source: Beyond Casablanca, Page 131). See more »
The Legion uses French military equipment and customs. Yet in one scene, when the new recruits are awakened one morning, an American bugle call (reveille) is used. See more »
[showing Foster and his patrol the dead body of a legionnair]
One of my men got restless.
Maj. William Sherman Foster:
[an Arab walks over to the body and spits in his face. Suddenly Segrain shoots the Arab at point blank range. Everyone is pointing weapons at everyone]
One of my men got restless.
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This is THE French Foreign Legion movie, mainly because there aren't very many of them. Jean-Claude Van Damme starred in a sort of remake in '98 ("Legionnaire"). This features a truly international cast. The lead American is Gene Hackman, as the major commander of the outpost. Terence Hill is best known for his "Trinity" character in spaghetti western comedies from Italy. He plays a new recruit, an acrobatic thief who quickly becomes an unofficial hero among the men. Von Sydow is the Swedish member, who made his name in Ingmar Bergman films; he plays an archaeologist here. Deneuve, as a visiting daughter of a deceased associate of Von Sydow's, is the famous French actress. Ian Holm is British, but plays the Arab leader. Also on hand is Jack O'Halloran, ex-boxer, as a giant ex-bodyguard for the swept away Russian aristocracy. He appeared in "Superman" the following year.
As most people know, the Legion was composed of men who no longer had a place anywhere else in the world. They're all on the run from something or someone, and it's spelled out here, more than once. The time is just after World War I; the place is Morocco. The picture doesn't skimp on detailing this atmosphere; there was obviously a lot of money well spent on getting it right, though Hackman always seems a bit out of place (I believe Legion commanders had to be French, but you can do much worse than Hackman). If anything, it dwells a bit too much on detail and the first hour is tedious. The pic still didn't explain for me the purpose of having the men trudge endlessly in the desert sands, except maybe to weed out weaklings. There's a touching subplot involving a sad sack legionnaire whom Hill is unable to save despite continual effort. Mostly, the story revolves around the hardship involved, accompanied by a required sadism on the part of commanders, to get by day to day in the Legion.
It all points to a thrilling battle in the final act, when the Arab leader sends his hordes against the vastly outnumbered legionnaires, who seem stuck in a 'fight to the last man' scenario. The plot has Hackman under orders to provide guard at an excavation site, giving Holm an excuse to unite the tribes in a bloody attack. It's eye-opening to hear the Arab leader speak of resisting all foreigners and realize nothing much has changed even as I type this. But the final battle is spectacular, reminiscent of "Zulu." Though outnumbered about 20 to 1, the Legion makes effective use of rapid-fire weapons. Photographed on a great location, there are some startling images of numerous bodies littering the sands. I acquired an R2 DVD, which is the best way of viewing this film at this point.
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