"Nous sommes des degourdis, nous sommes des lascars,
A Tuyen-Quang illustra notre Drapeau.
Heros de Camerone et freres modeles
Dormez en paix dans vos tombeaux. Nos anciens ont su mourir
Pour la Gloire de la Legion,
Nous saurons bien tous perir
Suivant la tradition. Au cours de nos campagnes lointaines,
Affrontant la fievre et le feu,
Nous oublions avec nos peines
La mort qui nous oublie si peu
Nous, la Legion. "
Surely you Geste. Sony Pictures' Choice Collection line of hard-to-find library and cult titles has re-released Adventure in Sahara, the 1938 B-actioner from Columbia Pictures that plays like Beau Geste Joins the Mutiny on the Bounty. Featuring a host of familiar low-rent faces like Paul Kelly, C. Henry Gordon, Lorna Gray, Robert Fiske, Marc Lawrence, Dick Curtis, Charles Moore, Dwight Frye, and Stanley Andrews, Adventure in Sahara is probably only known today for its tenuous connection to cult director Sam Fuller: he wrote the story upon which Maxwell Shane's screenplay is based (Adventure in Sahara was included in Sony's 2009 The Samuel Fuller Collection). Slight as it is, though...it's a decent-enough French Foreign Legion time-waster. No extras for this okay black and white transfer.
Just prior to take-off, Compagnie Francaise Airlines pilot Jim Wilson (Paul Kelly) receives a telegram that his brother, Robert, a member of the French Foreign Legion, is dead. Jim immediately ditches his job, as well as his aviatrix girlfriend, Carla Preston (Lorna Gray), and signs up with the Legion, specifically requesting duty in his brother's regiment: Fort Agadez, "The Inferno of the Sahara, " the last outpost of France in the broiling African desert. Once there, he discovers why his brother died: the Arab-besieged fort is ruled over by despotic sadist Captain Savatt (C. Henry Gordon), who maintains absolute order by absolutely heinous means. His second, Lieutenant Dumond (Robert Fiske), does what he can for the men who respect him, but he is first, last, and always "the Legion, " so he will do his duty as his superior Savatt commands. So, when Wilson decides enough is enough after his buddies start dropping like flies--and when fiance Carla shows up out of the blue--Jim orchestrates a mutiny, sending Savatt and a few of his still-loyal supporters, to die out in the desert. Savatt, however, proves to be a resilient foe, and makes it back to Legion Fort Tiente, where he plots his revenge.
I'm not going to spend too much time on Adventure in Sahara, because there isn't all that much to it to discuss, frankly. Even though I'm not immune to the fictional romance of the idea of the Legion, I somehow never cottoned to French Foreign Legion movies. The blistering heat (who wears a wool greatcoat in the desert?), somebody dying of thirst or needing a shave every five minutes, and the sand getting into everything always made me uncomfortable as a kid--it's like an endless sadistic day at the beach, minus the shovel and pail. It has to be my least favorite subgenre of action movies. It's sort of off-topic, and I rarely if ever name-drop in a review, but this actually fits. One of my very few celebrity encounters happened years ago in Taos, when I found myself in a grocery store starring across a crate of organic tomatoes at Gene Hackman. I knew I had to say something to him--when was this going to happen again?--but I completely blanked and instead just asked, incredulously, "March or Die?" to which he scowled and muttered, "Assh*le, " before moving off (see...even Gene Hackman doesn't like French Foreign Legion movies, and he made one).
I suppose devotees of Sam Fuller will be the best bet for finding deeper nuances in Adventure in Sahara, but since I'm not one of them (honestly...I can take him or leave him), and since I have no idea how much of his first draft screenplay survived Maxwell Shane's (Fear in the Night, Danger Street, TV's Thriller) rewrite, I took Adventure in Sahara at face value: a speedy, cheap B knock-off of Mutiny on the Bounty and Beau Geste, with nothing to be ashamed of in terms of its simplistic Sunday comics action...but with nothing to crow about in its limited reach, either. Tough-guy director D. Ross Lederman had cut his teeth on low-budget Westerns and serials prior to his move up into B-actioners, so set-ups here are square and efficient and trimmed to the bone. Future big deal cinematographer Franz Planer, however, gets in some nicely evocative shots...that is if they're not the numerous stock shots that Adventure in Sahara cribs, while editor Otto Myer cuts with a fanatical eye on brevity. The no-star cast is just fine here, with Paul Kelly taking all this Rover Boy nonsense seriously (as he should), and C. Henry Gordon making for a reasonable approximation of a Gallic Charles Laughton (the most familiar face here, Marc Lawrence, is a hoot trying to wrestle the faux Frenchy-sounding English syntax). Action is plentiful, talk is clipped and to the point, characters are two-dimensional. I guess you can't ask for more than that in a non-descript, unambitious B.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.