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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
El Krim (Sir Ian Holm) was based on the Moroccan revolutionary Abd el-Krim (1882-1963), the leader of a large-scale armed resistance movement in the Rif, a Berber area of northeastern Morocco. 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 »
[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 »
is this film a classic? It surely has certain elements that could make
it one. Catherine Deneuve at her best, at the very pinnacle of her
beauty; Max Von Sydow as an archeologist who convinces the French gov't to resume digging in ruins in morocco, in an area containing unruly and savage Berber tribes that have slaughtered all comers; Gene Hackman as the legionnaire captain who has to break his promise to those very tribes that they would never venture into the area again; the guy who played Jaws in James Bond as a Russian 'volunteer' to the legion, sporting a beard that any Taliban would be envious of; some unknown as Marco, a riviera jewel thief, also 'volunteered' into the legion and a cast of doomed conscripts.
The whole film plays out like a funeral procession. the captain
(Hackman) keeps spouting his bile at the gov't, the authorities, the academics, etc. who have condoned this suicide mission, knowing full well they are throwing away men's lives for nothing. He keeps raving in fact even as the Arab tribes are massing and charging toward them.
As in any classic French foreign legion film, the doomed legionnaires are holed up in the ruins of an old castle, hopelessly outnumbered with no escape. if the Arabs don't kill them, the desert will. If the desert
doesn't kill them, the legion will kill them as deserters. There is no
salvation. Only death with honor.
In fact, there is little suspense in the film, as everyone involved
considers the mission absolutely hopeless. And they are right: they
are all gunned down or hacked apart by the desert marauders. The director has a strange sense of cruelty, methodically showing them getting it, one by one.
It's a weird sort of film that relishes and wallows in pure
nihilism. One is left wondering, 'what was the point?'.
I guess that was the idea. I kept waiting for a Hollywood ending, a
speck of optimism on the horizon, a sudden miraculous twist, but as the
credits rolled to a sonorous drum beat i realized, 'Hmmm... this is it, I guess'.
The gloom and doom telegraphed from the very beginning
played out step by step with no surprises or hitches. Sort of a
strange exercise in film-making, if you ask me.
Didn't Gene Hackman comment on this baby, "March or Die: the audience marched in and this film died"?
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