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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>
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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