I finally discovered this old classic, and I liked it much more than I expected. It aged a little, but it still remains a darn good film! Below, more of my impressions, with some LIMITED SPOILERS.
The film begins somewhere around 1910, with a company of French Foreign Legion approaching an isolated fort in the middle of Sahara desert. They come to assist the garrison, besieged by bellicose nomads - but the siege appears to have ended, as there is no more fighting. Once the fort is reached the commanding officer discovers a puzzling mystery... Then, we move 15 years back, to England, in the end of XIX century, where we meet three young boys, orphaned brothers Geste: Michael, John and Digby. Michael is the oldest, the most clever, the fiercest and even at this tender age already stunningly handsome - everybody calls him "Beau". They are raised by Lady Brandon, a kind hearted woman whose husband is absent and very busy spending whatever is left of the family fortune. One of the few things left, other than the heavily mortgaged lands and mansion, is a legendary jewel, "Blue Water" sapphire, greatly desired by many... And then the film really begins.
Adapted from a very popular novel written in 1924, this is the story of mystery, great hardships, great tragedies, brotherly love but above everything else one very, very noble sacrifice, a beautiful gesture indeed - "beau geste" means precisely that in French. I liked the story a lot.
Michael, played by Gary Cooper, is of course the main character and the main positive hero, but this film wouldn't be half as good without two other characters. The mightiest and the most fascinating is Sergeant Markoff, played by Brian Donlevy, who was very deservedly nominated for an Oscar for this role. Markoff is one of the most incredible soldiers I ever saw on screen. He is portrayed as a villain but in fact we must wait a very, very long time in the film before we see him committing something really villainous - on another hand he is an AMAZING war time leader! He is assisted by a clearly despicable villainous sidekick, Rasinoff, played by J. Carrol Naish. Markoff calls Rasinoff "human jackal" and it is the best description of this man, but still, he has his own story to tell too. The complexity of those two "bad guys" makes this film much more interesting than one could expect.
I am absolutely certain that this film inspired parts of Paul Verhoeven "Starship Troopers". The siege of the desert fort on planet "P" and the character of Lt. Jean Raschak are so much similar in general lines to the siege of the fort by desert nomads and to some extent to that of Markoff that it simply cannot be a coincidence. There even is a tower in the desert fort which is a place for the "forlorn hope" soldiers, exactly like those two guys manning the heavy machine guns on the tower during the siege of the outpost on the planet "P". This feeling of familiarity certainly helped me enjoy this film.
The scenario is solid, good guys are good, villains are FASCINATING, the main battle is amazing and the final revelation of the sense of the whole mystery is very moving. Also, once you watched this film, you will be able to appreciate much better the "Last remake of Beau Geste" a comedy made in the 70s with Michael York and Marty Feldman, which is in itself a good watch, but once you know the real "Beau Geste", well, it becomes irresistible.
I am very glad that I watched this film and I will definitely keep the DVD for another viewing. ENJOY!
on 16 December 2012
The film that arrived was called "Ein Opa zu Weihnachten" which appears to be a German version of a completely different film to "Beau Geste".
The delivery note did detail Beau Geste as being the order, so it appears to be a case of incompetent and/or illiterate people finding it difficult to match a delivery note with the title on the front of a DVD.
As if to make sure I was pi--ed off to the maximum, I called Amazon and was told to call back in 5 days and they would arrange for me to return it.
Then I received an email, asking me to contact their 3rd party seller directly using the links on the website. I did this and got into a perpetual process of clicking on the seller links only to be redirected to the Amazon returns page I had already been through and told to contact the seller direct.
This was supposed to be a Christmas present for a member of the family. I wont get it sorted in time now, and look forward to more 'phone calls to Amazon to try to sort this, when I have much better things to be doing.
Get stuffed Amazon.