Saturday, July 19, 2008


B-movie desert adventure which is nowhere near the 30's standards of GUNGA DIN or BEAU GESTE, but does have a few minor pleasures. At an isolated Foreign Legion post (is there any other kind?) in the Sahara Desert, the men are waiting for a band of relief troops who should be marching in any time now. The new commander (Ralph Meeker) arrives by helicopter but they soon find out that all the other men have been slaughtered by an Arab tribe led by El Zanal (Keith Larsen) and his hot sister Zara (Marla English). Larsen claims to be fighting for a "pan-Islamic Sahara" but it seems to be more important to him to seek revenge against the Legion for the murder of his father fifteen years ago--though we have seen that Arab wine merchant John Carradine is actually responsible. After we get to know a few of the ethnically diverse Legionnaires, Larsen and his tribe attack, killing several men and holding the rest hostage so they'll carry out his plan to kill the rescue band that the Legion has on its way. Meeker appears to go along with Larsen's plan, but actually carries forward a plot to thwart the slaughter. A budding romance between Meeker and English (who whips Meeker in the face the first time she sees him) complicates things. In the end, of course, Meeker and his men triumph.

I became a fan of Meeker, a medium-sized chunk of mild, mumbling American masculinity, after seeing him in KISS ME DEADLY, but sadly that movie seems to have been his career peak. He's fine here as a B-lead as he doesn't have to stretch past his acting limits. Larsen is far too much of a hunky California-type to be believable as an Arab, but his villainy is acceptable--undercut a bit in a scene in which he is dressed in an white Elvis jumpsuit; English is pretty much terrible all the way through. The supporting cast includes Ben Wright (the Nazi Zeller in Sound of Music), Philip Tonge (Mr. Shellhammer in Miracle on 34th Street) doing an outrageous Scottish accent, the always reliable J. Carroll Naish, Ron Randell, and blonde hunk John Smith as a Legionnaire from Texas. The only surprise in the predictable plot comes late in the day and involves Larsen's motives for the attack. Some of the dead bodies seen in the background are surprisingly bloody for a 50's movie, though given all the hot desert action, no one ever appears very sweaty. [TCM]

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