Sunday, June 16, 2019

CONSENSUS #69 Beau Geste (1939)

SYNOPSIS: Three brothers (Gary Cooper, Ray Milland, Robert Preston), one of whom has stolen a precious jewel,  go off to join the French Foreign Legion in North Africa. Two of them get caught in a desert fort that is surrounded by Berber tribesmen laying siege. The defenders are led by a tyrannical sergeant (Brian Donlevy). It's a last stand with a mystery thrown in.

BACK-STORY: This is the 1939 version of the oft-made action/adventure film. Obviously it is considered to be the best version. It is based on the novel by Percival Christopher Wren. The book was aimed at the teenage boy in all of us and the movie puts this to film. It was one of the first movies to link war and adventure. But in an entertaining twist, the book and film add a dash of mystery. It explores the themes of loyalty, duty, and honor. The movie was a big hit and helped launch the subgenre of the French Foreign Legion film. It is unique in that it features four actors that would subsequently win Oscars as Best Actors or Actresses (Cooper, Milland, Crawford, and Hayward). Interestingly, considering that line-up, the acting honors in Beau Geste go to Brian Donlevy as the sadistic Markoff. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

TRIVIA:  imdb

1.  It was filmed on the same sets and in the same Arizona locations as the 1926 version.
2.  In 1990, it was one of several classic films from 1939 that were honored with $.25 stamps.  The others were Stagecoach, Gone With the Wind, and Wizard of Oz.
3.  Buttercup Valley was renamed Beau Geste Valley because the two movies were shot there.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  4.4
War Movies         =  3.8
Military History  =  #52
Channel 4             =  not on list
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no 
Rotten Tomatoes  =  no

OPINION: Beau Geste is old school entertainment. Check your intellect at the door, it will get in the way of your enjoyment of the film. Dont think too much about the details after viewing, it might wipe the smile off your face and replace it with a look of perplexion.  The movie is very well acted. You would expect that from this cast. It especially works because the trio of Cooper, Preston, and Milland are adept at comedy. Their chemistry is apparent. It looks like the actors had fun making the movie.  The key to making the movie a classic is the mystery that is integral to the plot. This makes it a rare war movie that doubles as a whodunit. The mystery is well done and the resolution will surprise most viewers. The structure of flash-backs and flash-forwards greatly enhances the mystery.  However, it seems a bit overrated at  #69.  Relative to modern war movies, it is a bit quaint.  But it is better than the 1966 version.  Newer is not always better.

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