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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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
Maj. William Sherman Foster
...
Marco Segrain
...
Simone Picard
...
Francois Marneau
...
El Krim
...
Ivan
...
Sgt. Triand
...
Lt. Fontaine
...
Top Hat
Paul Sherman ...
Fred Hastings
...
Mean Corporal
...
Leon
Luigi Bonos ...
Andre
Wolf Kahler ...
First German
Matthias Hell ...
Second German
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Storyline

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 <fairchop@ix.netcom.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

The Foreign Legion! Only the desperate joined. Only the lucky ones survived. See more »


Certificate:

PG | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

8 September 1977 (West Germany)  »

Also Known As:

Marchar o morir  »

Box Office

Budget:

$9,000,000 (estimated)

Gross:

$1,000,000 (USA)
 »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Color:

(Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The film cast includes one Oscar winner: Gene Hackman; and three Oscar nominees: Catherine Deneuve, Ian Holm and Max von Sydow. See more »

Goofs

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 »

Quotes

Ivan: [Somberly recounting the murder of the Czar Romanov royal family due to the Russian Revolution, recently happening in his home country] I should have been there.
Marco Segrain: Where?
Ivan: I was special guard, for royal family. I am away. They take them. I walk Russia. I cannot find them. July, this year, they kill them. All of them... ALL of them.
See more »

Connections

Version of Legionnaire (1998) See more »

Soundtracks

La Marseillaise
(uncredited)
By Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle
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User Reviews

 
Really a very good war movie, but could have been epic
4 April 2011 | by (Seattle, Washington) – See all my reviews

This movie *could* have been as epic a movie as, say, "Apocalypse Now," "Lawrence of Arabia," or "Platoon." Instead we have a colorful, atmospheric period piece, set largely in the Moroccan desert, that plays like a wealthier version of "The Siege of Firebase Gloria." Not that that in itself serves to denigrate this movie. Not at all. Heck, "The Siege of Firebase Gloria" is a pretty decent war pic in its own right. It's just that I get this nagging feeling, that "March or Die," with a little extra input on production values, wider desert shots, more background flashbacks, etc., *could* have been a much more memorable, larger-than-life sort of picture.

But what "March or Die" lacks in the sheer epic expanse of other big-name war movies, it more than makes up for with carefully measured performances by the principal characters, not the least of which is that turned in by Gene Hackman, who plays a certain Major Foster - a cynical but nonetheless highly disciplined former American officer, booted from the "vaunted" army of America, who has found his military niche in the austere, almost mysterious world of the French Foreign Legion.

How exactly a Yank ends up in command of a Foreign Legion battalion leaves a little to the imagination - or at least prompts the viewer to make the necessary allowances for artistic license. True, the FFL was, and is, open to recruits from just about any country, but most of the officer ranks are usually reserved for the French. Some of the officers do in fact work their way up from the bottom, so maybe this explains Major Foster's leadership position.

In any case, I felt it was one of the better performances of Hackman's career. Though his Major Foster is an officer clearly under a lot of personal stress, with a lot of "ghosts in his closet," Hackman carefully avoids the temptation to imbue this man with excessive amounts of passion that I seem to associate with a Gene Hackman performance. And it works well in this movie, because he is *supposed* to be a man of discipline. In fact one of his more memorable lines in the movie is when he reminds a group of unruly recruits, on their way to joining up with the Legion, that "the Legion is the most disciplined army in the world."

The movie itself is a fairly engrossing mixture of military action and political intrigue - namely, certain powers in France saw fit to use Major Foster's Legion battalion as a sort of "protection squad" to help protect a vital archaeological dig in the Moroccan desert, on lands traditionally inhabited by various Arab tribes. Neither the Arab tribesmen, nor Major Foster himself, are really too keen on the prospect of foreigners coming in to usurp other peoples' wealth. But Major Foster, ever the military man in spite of creeping cynicism, does what he is told, or, as he coldly explains to El Krim, the leader of one of the militant tribes (nicely played, oddly enough, by British actor Ian Holm): "A soldier goes where he is sent."

A very interesting host of characters comes into play throughout the movie, including Max Von Sydow as the archaeologist intent on digging up the treasure in the desert - not only for the glory and coffers of France, but, we can assume, for his own personal aggrandizement.

The Legionnaires themselves are an odd and, at times, colorful lot, much as you'd expect from a disparate group of desperate lads, all seeking anonymity, adventure, escape, redemption, or whatever else it is they expect to find in the Foreign Legion: there is Marco, a slippery jewel thief who seems to con his way in and out of everyone's life, but nevertheless has a heart of gold (though, at times, you wonder if he didn't steal that gold in a heist); there is a tragically inept soldier known only as Top Hat, a former musician whose background and reasons for being in the Legion are never really explained; there is a hard-as-nails battalion officer, a certain Lt. Fontaine, who gives no mercy to the troops, and expects none in return - only discipline. There are assorted other nationalities represented in this odd mix of Legion troops, including a young British lad who meets a particularly unpleasant fate at the hands of the Arabs; a handful of ex-German soldiers, joining up after Germany's defeat in the recently-ended Great War; and also an expatriate Russian, named Ivan, who seems to represent some of the human global spillage caused by the Russian Revolution, just then occurring in his homeland. The Legion seems to be not only the best, but perhaps the only, place for him, and the rest of them, to call home.

Last but not least is beautiful Catherine Deneuve, in a minor role, playing a war-weary French widow, thrown into this Moroccan mix due to circumstances beyond her control. I really liked her appearance in this movie. Though she didn't have a particularly heavy part, I would not call her the obligatory female "fluff" - she did in fact add some balance and nuance to the story that, for me anyway, was really quite meaningful.

The movie ends with an epic battle scene reminiscent of other siege-type movies, where the onslaught of seemingly endless streams of enemy soldiers against a thinly-defended garrison IS the battle royale, the raison d'etre of the entire movie. The battle scene is well-done and ultimately poignant. In fact, the entire movie was well-done and poignant. It just seemed to be lacking those few extra points that snatched it from the jaws of greatness. Be that as it may, it is a great war movie worth seeing by any die-hard war movie fan. And if it prompts you to study further about the history of the French Foreign Legion, as it did me, then, so much the better.


11 of 11 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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