Original film poster
|Directed by||William A. Wellman|
|Produced by||William A. Wellman|
|Written by||Robert Carson
P. C. Wren (novel)
|Music by||Alfred Newman|
|Editing by||Thomas Scott|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Release date(s)||August 2, 1939 (U.S.)|
|Running time||112 minutes|
Beau Geste is a 1939 film made by Paramount Pictures based on the novel of the same name by P. C. Wren. It was directed and produced by William A. Wellman from a screenplay by Robert Carson. The music score was by Alfred Newman and the cinematography by Theodor Sparkuhl and Archie Stout.
The film is a virtual scene-for-scene remake of the 1926 film starring Ronald Colman. This version is probably the best known adaptation, with Gary Cooper, Ray Milland, Robert Preston, Susan Hayward, Broderick Crawford, and Brian Donlevy. Donlevy was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
The absent spendthrift Sir Hector Brandon notifies his wife Lady Brandon (Heather Thatcher) that he intends to sell a valuable sapphire called the "Blue Water". The three orphan Geste brothers, "Beau" (Gary Cooper), Digby (Robert Preston) and John (Ray Milland), had been raised by Lady Brandon since childhood, along with her ward Isobel Rivers (Susan Hayward). At Beau's request, the gem is brought out for one last look when suddenly the lights go out and the jewel disappears. All present proclaim their innocence, but first Beau and then Digby depart without warning, each leaving a confession that he committed the robbery. John reluctantly parts from his beloved Isobel and goes after his brothers.
John discovers they have joined the French Foreign Legion, so he enlists as well. They are trained by the sadistic Sergeant Markoff (Brian Donlevy). Markoff finds out about the theft from his informant Rasinoff (J. Carroll Naish), who overhears joking remarks by the Geste brothers. Rasinoff convinces Markoff that Beau is hiding the gem.
Markoff arranges to split up the brothers. Beau and John are part of a detachment sent to man isolated Fort Zinderneuf. When Lieutenant Martin dies from a fever, Markoff assumes command. Fearing the sergeant's now-unchecked brutality, Schwartz (Albert Dekker) incites the other men to mutiny the next morning; only Beau, John, and Maris (Stanley Andrews) refuse to take part. However, Markoff is tipped off by Voison (Harold Huber) and disarms the men while they are sleeping.
The next morning, Markoff orders Beau and Digby to execute the ringleaders, but they refuse. Before Markoff can do anything, the fort is attacked by Tuaregs. The initial assault is beaten off, but after each new attack, there are fewer defenders. Markoff props up the corpses at their posts to make it look as if there are still plenty of soldiers left. The final attack is repulsed, but Beau is shot, leaving Markoff and John the only men left standing.
Markoff sends John to get bread and wine. He searches Beau's body and finds a small pouch and two letters. When John sees what Markoff has done, he draws his bayonet, giving Markoff the perfect excuse to shoot the only witness to his theft. However, Beau is not yet dead and manages to spoil Markoff's aim, allowing John to stab him. John and Beau hear a bugle announcing the arrival of reinforcements, Digby among them. Beau expires in his brother's arms after telling him to take one of the letters to Lady Brandon and leave the other, a confession of the robbery, in Markoff's hands. John sneaks away unseen.
Digby volunteers to find out why there is no response from the fort. He discovers Beau's body and, remembering his oft-expressed wish, gives him a Viking funeral. He places Beau on a cot, with a dog (Markoff) at his feet, and sets fire to the barracks. Then he too deserts.
He finds John. Later, two American friends (played by Broderick Crawford and Charles Barton) desert, and together, they begin the long journey home. Desperate for water, they find an oasis, but it is occupied by a large band of natives. Digby tricks them into fleeing by playing a bugle to signal a charge by non-existent Legionnaires, but he is killed by a parting shot.
John returns home. Lady Brandon reads Beau's letter, which reveals that Beau stole the gem because he knew it was a fake. Lady Brandon had sold the real one years before, and Beau wanted to protect her. As a child, he was hiding in a suit of armor and witnessed the transaction.