Legionnaire (1998)




Director:  Peter MacDonald.

Starring:  Jean-Claude Van Damme (Alain Lefevre), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Luther), Steven Berkoff (Sgt. Steinkampf), Nicholas Farrell (Mackintosh), Jim Carter (Lucien Galgani), Ana Sofrenovic (Katrina), Daniel Caltagirone (Guido Rosetti), Joseph Long (Maxim), Mario Kalli (Ren Galgano), Joe Montana (Julot), Kim Romer (Capt. Rousselot), Anders Peter Bro (Lt. Chathier), Paul Kynman (Rolf Bruner), Vincent Pickering (Viktor), Takis Triggelis (Cpl. Metz).

The Foreign Legion's battles against South Moroccan Berbers.


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

"At the height of its glory, the French Foreign Legion was made up of men widely regarded as the scum of the earth.  It was a mercenary army posted to colonies in Northern Africa and Southeast Asia, but its soldiers swore no allegiance to France, only to the Legion and to each other.  The Legion asked no questions about a man's past . . . nor did it offer much hope for his future.  They fought to the last man standing, no matter the quarrel, no matter the cause.  It was a hard way to get a second chance in life."

Marseilles, France 1925.  At a night club the women dancers do the can-can.  The manager of the club Renee asks a man named Maxim where is Alain Lefevre?  Alain shows up an hour late and Maxim scolds him because they have a chance to make some real money.  Alain is introduced to Monsieur Lucien Galgani.  He will give Alain twice his normal purse to fight Julot, but Alain will have to take a dive in the second round.  Alain won't agree to do it, but Galgani tells him he either fights for him, or he will never fight again.  They are interrupted by a pretty woman named Katrina.  She tells Galgani that he either leaves with her now or she is going by herself.  Galgani gets up and goes with her.  Renee asks for Alain's answer and he says he will do it. 

In a private room Galgani treats Katrina rough.  (Alain left Katrina at the altar.)  Renee comes in to tell his brother that he has arranged the fight.  While the brothers talk, the maid slips a note to Katrina.  She meets Alain at a restaurant.  Katrina is still bothered by her being left at the altar.  But she says she has real problems.  She has to get away from Lucien.  If she doesn't get away, he will end up hurting her.  Alain suggests that she come with him to America. 

Katrina waits at the train stations for Alain.  The fight starts.  Julot starts beating up Alain without him fighting back.  He has to tell Alain not to make it look so easy.  Alain strikes back, but Julot knocks him down.  The second round arrives and Alain is supposed to take a dive.  Julot is winning but says some things that makes Alain mad and he tells Julot he just changed his mind.  Down and out goes Julot.  Maxim shouts to Alain:  ""You've killed us!  Alain tells Maxim that Maxim, Kartina and he are all leaving for America tonight. 

Maxim and Alain run for it, but Lucian and his crew give chase in a car.  Alain thinks they have shaken the bad men, but the car just went around the corner.  One of the men shoots Maxim in the back.  Alain says he's sorry to Maxim and runs away.  He runs into two cops who work with Galgani.  They knock Alain out and tell Galgani they have him.  Katrina waits at the train station.  The policeman is going to kill Alain with his pistol.  Alain pushes the cop up against the wall.  Renee shoots, but hits the cop and not Alain.  Alain uses the cop's pistol to shoot Renee.    Lucien jumps out of the car to check on his brother.  The brother dies. 

One of Lucian's men arrives at the train station to take Katrina with him.  Alain sees a poster advertising for the French Foreign Legion.  Katrina is forced into the car with Lucian.  He tells her she will never see Alain again and if she tries to run away once more, she is dead.  Alain goes into the recruiting station.  He gives his name as Alain Duchamp.  The recruiter says there are only three ways to get back to France:  fulfill your contract; disability; and in a box.

Morocco, Northern Africa.  The new recruits are marched through the streets to the fort.  The men get a chance to sit down.  Alain smokes a cigarette.  A fellow named Guido Rosetti comes over to borrow one.  He says he joined the Legion so he could become a hero and then marry his sweetheart Anna.  The men are told to form up.  A black man named Luther from the United States makes the sergeant angry and he tells Luther to speak only when spoken to. 

Sgt. Steinkampf speaks to the men.  He tells the men that the tribesmen are fierce fighters and horsemen.  Their leader, Abdul-El Krim is very cunning and clever.  They have wiped out over 15,000 troops.  The sergeant tells the men he will first break them and then remake them.  They will become legionnaires or die.  The men are all given shaves and close haircuts and then hosed off with water.  They get dressed in uniform and they have chow.  After chow they go to the barracks and relax. 

Luther  has a bunk next to Alain.  He says he was wrongly accused of murdering someone back in the States  After five years in the Legion he will return home, but with some money.  A big bully picks on Guido.  Alain stands up to the bully, who backs down.  Luther picks up Guido who was hit in the stomach and face.  Alain starts to walk away and the bully hits him in the kidneys.  Alain knocks the man out. 

The men are awakened early.  They are taken on a long march in the desert.  After a rest the men are forced to carry additional weight in the form of rocks.  It's march or die.  As the sun is going down the men return to the fort.  The next day they have to crawl through an obstacle course with life machine gun fire overhead.    Rifle practice is next.  Steinkampf picks Alain and another man to have their pictures taken by the press.  Alain tries to get out of it, but the sergeant  insists.  So he gets his picture pasted in the newspaper. 

The men get permission to go into town.  They go down to see the prostitutes.  Alain watches the singer at the club who sings in French.  He remembers being with Katrina.  A friend of his named Mac tells him how he was dishonorably discharged from the army.  He was an officer.  Alain talks to him about how he needs to find Katrina.  Mac says when they get out of the Legion, he will help Alain find Katrina. 

Back in France Lucian sees the photo of Alain.  He sends Victor and Julot to find Alain.  He wants the man dead. 

Captain Charlier tells the men that he is the new commanding officer.  They are going to Fort Bernelle, the last fortress between them and Abdul-El krim.  The tribesmen have destroyed nine French outposts.  The legionnaires were brutally killed and survivors were tortured.  Sgt. Steinkampf advises the men to save one bullet not for the enemy, but for themselves. 

The men march out of the fort early in the morning.  Guido tells Alain that he doesn't think he's going to make it.  They walk for three solid days.  Luther tells Mac that this is one huge, empty country.  Mac warns him that it certainly is not empty.  The enemy is out there just planning ways to kill them.   

The next day Guido falls from exhaustion.  Steinkampf wants to leave him behind, but Alain says he won't leave.  So the sergeant  tells him to carry the man, because he won't slow up sixty men for two.  Alain throws the man over his shoulders and starts walking with him.  The men see water ahead and run for it.  Mac tells the officers that they better put out some sentries because they are just a bunch of sitting ducks in this valley.  So they send Mac and Luther up with a machine gun to cover them. 

Alain is catching up with the group.  Just then men are shot down.  The fire is coming from all directions.  And horsemen from two directions descend on them in the valley.  The machinegun comes in handy, but there are just too many tribesmen.  The legionnaires are soon overrun.   Guido grabs a rifle and shoots a tribesman that was about to kill Steinkampf.  The sergeant is shocked to see that it was Guido that saved him.  But then Guido is hit right in the heart. 

The tribesmen grab the ammo supplies and leave.  Now the men tend to the wounded.  Alain retrieves the photo of Anna off Guido's body.  He had promised to tell his Anna if Guido died.   There are twenty dead.  The legionnaires move out again.  They finally reach their destination.  The commanding officer there says he was expecting a full company and ammunition.  But no such luck thanks to the ambush.  The sergeant puts Luther, Mac and Alain on work detail. 

A platoon of legionnaires makes it to the fort  And they have ammunition with them.  In that platoon is Julot and Victor and they indicate to Alain that they are here to cut his throat.  Later Alain confronts them and says that now that they are here he has a new reason for living.  Mac and Duchamp have to go on reconnaissance.  Mac betrays Duchamp by pointing his rifle at his head.  He says this is his opportunity for a second chance.  He is going to turn him over to the bad guys.  Just then the unit is attacked by the tribesmen.  Duchamp gets his rifle back.  The men run for it while a wounded buddy stays to cover them.  The hero is killed by the tribesmen.  The others make it back inside the fort. 

The Arabs attack the fort in force.  Sgt. Steinkampf is hit.  The Arabs throw satchels of explosives over the walls.  One of these satchels kills the commanding officer.  Another satchel blows up the ammo dump.  The Arabs retreat.  Steinkampf now uses Mac as a non-commissioned officer.  Steinkampf says they have to get word to Fort Corbiere and Luther is going to go by himself.  Luther dresses in tribal clothing and heads out.  

Luther is headed back to the fort followed by the Arabs.  They drag him by the feet behind a horse.  They plan to cut off his head, but Alain kills him with one shot before the decapitation can take place. 

This time the Arabs have artillery and they use it to knock down pieces of the fort.  They even blast a hole in a wall.  Arab horsemen pour in.  Sgt. Steinkampf is killed.  Mac and one of Lucian's men go down with a cannon explosion that cause the area they were standing on to collapse.  Julot and Duchamp end up fighting near each other against the enemy.  Julot is slashed across the back with a sword and goes down.  Alain grabs a machine gun and starts killing Arabs. 

For some unknown reason the Arabs leave.  A Lucian gunman survives and tries to kill Alain, but Mac kills him instead.  Alain throws Mac a bullet and he uses it to shoot himself.  The Arabs come back.  The leaders says he will allow Alain to live because of his courage.   He tells Alain to take a message to his leaders, that this, he points to the devastated fort, is what awaits them.  The Arabs leave.  Alain stands there thinking of all the legionnaires he knew who are no longer alive.  And he dreams of kissing Katrina. 


Not all the much history, but it is a good action film.  Lots of fighting and killing.  But we learn nothing about the native tribesmen and the situation in Morocco.  We doe learns some things about the French Foreign Legion, but that's about it.  So as far as history is concerned, the movie is limited.  I thought Jean-Claude Van Damme (as Alain Lefevre) did a good job in the film. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


The Berbers are an ethnic group of Northwest Africa, speaking Berber languages.  Today there are between 14 and 25 million speakers of the Berber languages.  They are primarily concentrated in Morocco and Algeria. 

The Rif is a mountainous region of northern Morocco.  Goes from Cape Spartel and Tangier in the west over to Ras Kebdana and the Moulouya River in the east.  It also goes from the Mediterranean Sea in the north to the river of Ouargha in the south.

Spanish Morocco  --  relatively small piece of land in northwest Africa across from Gibraltar.  It contained the cities of Tangier, Ceuta, Tetouan and Melilla.  (And south of French Morocco was a piece of land known now as Cape Juby.)

French Morocco  --  south of Spanish Morocco.  It contained the cities of Rabat, Cassblanca and Ifni on the west coast of Africa and inland the cities of Oujda and Marrakech. 


1920  --  The Rif War begins.  The battles were long and bloody.  The Spanish used German-made chemical weapons against the Berber populations.  The Spanish were pushed back.  At their peak the Rif had 80,000 men. 

1920  --  the Spanish army adopted ideas from the French Foreign Legion.  They came up with the Tercio de Extranjeros ("Regiment of Foreigners", aka the "Spanish Legion").  The regiment's second commander was General Francisco Franco, leader of the revolt that led to the Spanish Civil War.  Franco later was the dictator of Spain.

1921 --  Spanish troops suffer a big defeat (the Disaster of Annual) at the hands of Abd el-Krim, the leader of the Rif tribes.  The Spanish are pushed back. 

1921 (September 18)  -- the separatist Republic of the Rif declared by the people of the Rif.   The Riffians revolted and declared their independence from both the Spanish occupation and the Moroccan sultan.  The Riffian leader was Abd el-Krim and he became president or just leader. 

1923 (February 1)  --The Republic of the Rif formally constituted.  The population was not much than 500,000. 

1924 (May)  --  French Army had established a line of posts north of the Oureghla River in disputed tribal territory.

1925 (April 13)  --  about 8,000 Riffians attacked the French line of posts.  In two weeks 39 of 66 French posts had been stormed or abandoned. The French now side with Spain.  They bring in as many as 300,000 well trained and equipped troops from Metropolitan, North African, Senegalese and Foreign Legion units. Total French deaths are estimated at about 12,000

France attacks from the south and Spain from the north.  Abd el-Krim and his men lasted for one years, but had to surrender to French authorities.

1926 (May 27)  --  the Republic of Rif was dissolved by Spanish and French forces.  Spanish Morocco was finally retaken.



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