During the 1920s, French Foreign Legion Major William Foster's (Gene Hackman'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 William Foster (Gene 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 Segrain (Terence 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. Arab leader El Krim (Sir Ian 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 Zulu (1964). Costumes, firearms, and props are all very authentic-looking, and show great attention to detail.Written by
Cameron Fairchild <email@example.com>
Selected by Quentin Tarantino for the First Quentin Tarantino Film Fest in Austin, Texas, 1996. See more »
The Legionnaires all wear prewar dark blue uniforms and greatcoats even though the the Legion had adopted a khaki field uniform in 1907. See more »
[a battered group of legionares marched through a train station, while the crowd chanted the French national anthem; the first actual lines are about 4 minutes within the movie]
[to a line of German prisioners]
If you join the French Foreign Legion, remember: there are no questions asked. Come! Join the Legion!
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The one major network showing of "March or Die" was considerably different from the original release, with a great deal of additional footage and a completely different ending. At the end of the original release Marco (Hill) gives a rousing speech to replacement Legionnaires, which is word-for-word the same speech Foster (Hackman) gave recruits near the beginning of the film. (To potential deserters: "If the Legion doesn't get you, the Arabs will. If the Arabs don't get you, the desert will. And if the desert doesn't get you... I will.) A caravan is leaving the fort behind Marco as he gives his speech. The original release ends on this note, implying that Marco has stepped into Foster's shoes as loyal Legion commander. In the network showing, after Marco delivers his speech, we see Marco deserting. He has slipped into Arab garb and joined the caravan leaving the fort. The Sergeant-Major is shown smiling at him, implying that he is complicit in Marco's desertion. Also in the network showing: A fierce desert battle between a legion column and Arab raiders. The entire battle is deleted from the original release. The column is led by the mean Lieutenant. In one scene, the mean Lieutenant is shown placing a pistol to his head and committing suicide. The scene does not appear in the original release. In addition, in the original release, the footage of the mean Lieutenant firing his pistol during the column's battle with raiders, is edited into the final battle scene at the archaological dig. The effect is quite jarring, as he has not been present for about a third of the film. See more »
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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