Beau Geste (1939)



Director:  William A. Wellman. 

Starring:  Gary Cooper (Michael 'Beau' Geste), Ray Milland (John Geste), Robert Preston (Digby Geste), Brian Donlevy (Sgt. Markoff), Susan Hayward (Isobel Rivers), J. Carrol Naish (Rasinoff), Albert Dekker (Legionnaire Schwartz), Broderick Crawford (Hank Miller), Charles Barton (Buddy McMonigal), James Stephenson (Maj. Henri de Beaujolais), Heather Thatcher (Lady Patricia Brandon), James Burke (Lt. Dufour), G.P. Huntley (Augustus Brandon), Harold Huber (Legionnaire Voisin), Donald O'Connor (Beau at age 12).

French Foreign Legion


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

French Foreign Legion.  Fort Zinderneuf has been under Arab attack and a relief column from Ft. Cockatoo finally approaches the now silent fort.  All the faces visible at the firing ports are dead men of the Foreign Legion.  Someone from the quiet fort fires a couple of shots at the relief column.  The bugler, Digby Geste, volunteers to scale the walls to find out about the situation in the fort.  But Digby just sort of disappears and the head of the relief column climbs up a rope to the top of the fort wall.  But he cannot find Digby.  The commander finds a note on the dead sergeant saying that it was he that had stolen the blue water sapphire, but the commander does not know anything about a missing blue water sapphire.  At about this time firing from outside the fort begins.  The commander decides they are under attack and takes cover with his men by the nearby oasis.  They then decide to pull out.  As they pull away, the relief column sees big black clouds of smoke rising from the burning fort.  The men still have a lot of questions about what actually occurred at the fort.

Fifteen years earlier at the estate of Brandon Abbas.  Four boys and a girl are busy playing with fancy toy ships on a fountain pond.  Three of the boys are Gestes:  Beau, John and Digby.  The fourth boy is Gussy.  The girl is Isobel Rivers.  Beau tells them that when he dies he would love to have a Viking funeral pyre with a dog at his feet. 

The children are all under the roof of Aunt Pattie.  But times have been better.  Sir Hector only has his blue water sapphire left, which might bring about 35,000 pounds.  Beau is hiding in a suit of armor and is present when an agent for the Maharajah does some business with Aunt Pattie concerning the sapphire. 

The children grow up.  John Geste is in love with Isobel.   Sir Hector is coming for a visit.  He needs money and wants to sell the blue water sapphire.  Aunt Pattie and her brood gather around to look at the sapphire before Sir Hector sells it.  All of a sudden the lights go out.  When the lights come back on, the blue water sapphire is gone.  Aunt Pattie tells everyone that whoever took it should return the gem or she will have to call the police.  The gem is not returned. 

Beau suddenly disappears leaving a note that he stole the gem, he will sell it, but he will not share the money he gets for the sale.  Beau has suddenly left to join the French Foreign Legion.  Then Digby leaves for the Foreign Legion leaving a note that it was he would stole the sapphire. 

Saida.  Clearing Station for the Desert Forts of the French Foreign Legion.  Sgt. Markoff is one tough sergeant.  He was thrown out of the Siberian penal colony for cruelty.  He looks over the new recruits who have just arrived.  Beau and Digby are there in their uniforms.  They are very surprised when they see John Geste.  The three are back together again.  The thief known as Rasinoff overhears the three talking about the blue water sapphire.  Rasinoff is determined to take the sapphire away from Beau.  Later Rasinoff tells the sergeant about the sapphire and the sergeant decides to cut himself in on the plan to get the gem from Beau. 

The men are split into two groups.  Digby goes with the group that is heading out to Fort Cockatoo for further training.  Beau and John go with the other group that is to relieve the troops at Fort Zinderneuf.  At Fort Zinderneuf the commander, Lt. Martin, falls ill and dies.  This leaves the merciless Sgt. Markoff in charge.  All the enlisted men except for four, including Beau and John, decide to mutiny against Sgt. Markoff.  One of the four non-mutineers uses a ruse to leave the barracks and he tells Sgt. Markoff about the plot against him.  The now warned Sgt. Markoff moves against the mutineers.  He has Rasinoff and the four non-mutineers remove all the rifles from the barracks.  The armed party of six now wake up the men and confront them with the charge of mutiny.  Beau and John go along with the sergeant, but they balk at being told by the sergeant to execute the main plotter.  Before the sergeant can take action against Beau and John, a massive attack on the fort is launched by the Arabs.  All the men are given rifles as they take up their defensive positions along the top wall of the fort.  They are able to drive off the enemy attack, but only 12 out of the 50 men are left alive. 

The remaining troops fight off another assault.  Now there are very few men left alive.  Beau tells John that if he should die he wants John to put one of the notes he wrote on his body and take the other note and a packet to Aunt Pattie.  In another assault Beau has seemingly been killed.  The sergeant wants to search Beau's body for the sapphire, but John warns him not to touch his brother's body.  When John later sees the sergeant rifling through Beau's pockets, he grabs a weapon with which to stab the sergeant.  The sergeant is going to shoot John when Beau suddenly trips the Sergeant.  John thrusts his weapon into the sergeant, killing him.  Beau then tells John to put the note on the sergeant's body.  Then Beau dies.  John is the only man left alive in the fort.  At about this time the relief column arrives.  John fires a few shots at them and then jumps off the back fort wall and hides in behind a high sand dune. 

When Digby enters the fort he finds Beau's body.  He picks up the body and puts it in a bed in the barracks.  He then stacks mattresses around the body.  He next grabs the sergeant's body and places it at the foot of the bed holding Beau's body.  He then sets the bedding on fire.  Since he cannot find John's body, he is sure John is still alive and hiding somewhere.  Digby jumps off the back for wall and John shouts to him.  They reunite.  John is the one who also shot his rifle to scare off the relief column.  Digby tells John that his moving of the two dead bodies of Beau and the sergeant was his way of giving Beau a Viking funeral pyre with a dog (the sergeant) at his feet. 

John and Digby are joined by two of their friends on horse-back who figured that Digby was not dead.  The two fugitives jump on the back of the two horses and the four ride off.  They come to an oasis only to find it surrounded by the enemy.  Digby blows the bugle and the other three start firing at the enemy and they are able to scare off the Arabs.  In the process, however, one of the fleeing enemy is able to fire a shot that hits and kills Digby. 

John is alone as he returns to his family home.  Isobel and Aunt Pattie are happy to see him again, but are, of course, very upset about the deaths of Beau and Digby.  John gives Aunt Pattie the note and packet from Beau to her.  The letter says that from his hiding place in the suit of armor, Beau saw her sell the blue water sapphire to the agent of the Maharajah.  She was given an imitation sapphire in its place.  Aunt Pattie had not told Sir Hector that she had sold the sapphire because she needed the money to take care of the children.  Years later, on the day of Sir Hector's expected visit, Beau stole the fake sapphire so that Sir Hector would not discover the truth that the real sapphire had already been sold years before.   When Sir Hector arrived Aunt Pattie had to report to him that the sapphire had been stolen.  Thus, Sir Hector never found out the truth about the sapphire.  This was Beau Geste's "good gesture" to protect Aunt Pattie. 


Good movie.  There was a lot of action, but in addition there was the mystery of what happened to the blue water sapphire and the abandoned Foreign Legion fort.  We finally learn at the end what actually happened to both, but the questions were there through the whole movie.  So it was kind of a mystery-action film.  There were quite a few actors we knew in the movie.  The three brothers were played by Gary Cooper, Ray Milland and Robert Preston and Isobel was played by the very young Susan Hayward.


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

See Outpost in Morocco (1949).



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