March or Die (1977)

 

 

 

Director:     Dick Richards.

Starring:     Gene Hackman (Maj. William Sherman Foster),  Terence Hill (Marco Segrain),  Catherine Deneuve (Simone Picard),  Max von Sydow (FranÁois Marneau),  an Holm (El Krim),  Jack O'Halloran (Ivan),  Rufus (Sgt. Triand),  Marcel Bozzuffi (Lt. Fontaine),  Andrť Penvern (Top Hat),  Paul Sherman (Fred Hastings),  Vernon Dobtcheff (Mean corporal),  Marne Maitland (Leon),  Luigi Bonos (Andre). 

French Foreign Legion against the Arabs in Morocco

 

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

"At the beginning of World War I, the French Foreign Legion left its outposts in Morocco and joined the Allied Armies in fighting and defeating the Germans on the battlefields of Europe. Their bravery made them Franceís most decorated soldiers in the Great War. After the Armistice, the surviving legionnaires returned to Paris on November 14, 1918."

A train comes into the station. Many people are waiting for the soldiers to get off the train. Many of the soldiers are wounded. They line up and then march.

Two men are watching their prisoner with his hands chained. The prisoner is called Gypsy and he is a jewel thief. The Legionnaires see him and grab him to be a Legionnaire. They block the two men watching him. A huge Russian fellow is volunteered for the Legion, or itís jail for him.

The headline in the papers is that the Arabs attacked in Morocco and a Legion company was massacred. Two curators are missing from the archaeological site at Erfoud.

The commander of the Foreign Legion in Morocco is Major Foster. He goes to a meeting with on one of the government's ministers.  There he is introduced to FranÁois Marneau who is in charge of the North African Department of the Louver.  Marneau offers his hand, but the Major refuses to shake it.  At the meeting the Major says that the excavation site at Erfoud had been closed since the start of the war.  Why was it re-opened?  It cost them a legion company and two of the Museum's curators.  Marneau explains that the ancient city was covered for 3,000 years.  Buried in the ancient city is the body of the Berber Joan of Arc.  She is also known as the "Angel of the Desert."  And buried with her are very valuable jewels and gold. 

Foster replies that he knows the Arab leader, El Krim, very well.  In fact, Foster was one of the French officers who gave El Krim France's word that they would not excavate or, at least, they would not resume work on the excavation without getting the consent of the Arab leader first.   The minister wants to know if Foster can control El Krim?  Foster says the leader can't be controlled.  Despite this, the minister says the excavation expedition will go on to Morocco. 

A prostitute is brought to Major Foster.  He talks to her about his situation.  He was in Morocco for twelve years.  He also says he built trenches all over Europe.  Thinking back he says he should have been a general in the U.S. Army.  After all he was named for an American General, William Tecumseh Sherman.  But now the Legion is his army.  He says the American bastards threw him out!  And all he did was tell them what he thought of them. 

The Legionnaires and the recruits are on the ship headed for Morocco.  A tough guy on the ship insults one of the Legionnaire sergeants.  The sergeant goes to hit the guy, but another Legionnaire asks the sergeant to let him do it.  But as the Legionnaire approaches the tough guy, the wretch stabs the guy several times with a knife.  Gypsy kicks the knife out of the man's hand and the Sergeant knocks him around and throws him off the boat into the ocean to drown. 

A beautiful blonde, Madame Picard, is onboard with the other first class passengers.  She is introduced to Major Foster.  Foster says he was an unsuccessful officer in the Great War.  He says he started with 8,000 men and came back with only 200.  Madame Picard excuses herself.  She looks out onto the ocean.  The men below  her see her and stare.  Gypsy also sees her and he decides to talk to her too.  Like a monkey he makes his way up to the second deck that is blocked off to the Legionnaires.  He gets a champagne bottle and throws it down to the men.  He then convinces Madame Picard to dance with him. 

Gypsy is stopped by Major Foster.  He tells the Major that his real name is Marco Segrain.  The Major has him drink one, two, three glasses of liquor.  When he is sent back to the deck level he falls down the steps.  Foster tells some of the others that the Legion is the most disciplined army in the world. 

Now the men are on the train.  Marco sees one of the men in a white suite.  He changes clothes with him.  He gets on top of the train and runs and jumps to the first class passenger car.   He enters the car in his white suite and brown hat.  He sits down beside Madame Picard.  She is surprised to see him.  She goes outside and Marco follows him.  Out of the platform he kisses her.  At the same time he steals her earrings.  Madame Picard tells him to keep them for good luck. 

The Arabs stop the train.  El Krim yells for Foster!  He gives the archaeological expedition the two curators, still alive, but blinded and their tongues cut out.  Without batting an eye, Foster shoots both curators in the head.  El Kirm says that the Arabs will stop them and their expedition.  Madame Picard is upset by the death of the curators.  Back on the train Marneau tells Foster that one of the curators he killed was her father. 

French Foreign Legion Headquarters and Casbah at Bousaada, Morocco.  One of the youngest legionnaires is Frederick Hastings.  He gets a number.  There's one guy who is a piano player and general musician.  The Sergeant is not impressed and puts a hole through the musician's top hat.  The musician gets a number.  Marco Segrain says he is the premier of France and gets a slap for his insubordination.  He gets a number.  And so on and so on. 

Major Foster asks to speak to Madame Picard, but she says he does not have to apologize to her.  He says no, he does not apologize.  She says without his eyes and his tongue, her father would not have wanted to live.  She also tells Foster that she is staying in Morocco.  Madame Picard leaves.  Foster suddenly notices that he is surrounded by Arabs and they are all looking at him.  He feels trapped and feels as though he is going to faint. 

At the base the Sergeant has the men run in a large circle around him.  Then they have to march through the desert sands.  After a long walk, the sergeant gives them a ten minute rest.  The musician's feet are bleeding because his boots are too small.  He complains to the sergeant but all he says is to walk without the boots. 

Madame Piccard goes to the local bar, Leon's Cafe.  The Legionnaires are also in the bar.  Leon invites Madame Picard for a drink with him.  Marco is soon over with the two.  He says he has something to sell.  Leon is angered by the legionnaire's audacity and tells him he will not be buying anything today.  Then Marco brings out the earrings given to him by Madame Picard.  She says she likes the earrings and so Leon tries to buy them for her.  Eventually, Marco says they are not for sale.  She leaves with Marco.  Outside she tells Marco not to wates his ]time with her.  She says:  "I waited for a soldier to come home.  He never did. . . . Everything I love, dies."

The Legionnaires are marching in the desert again.  The musician falls and rolls down a hill.  Marco goes to save him.  The Sergeant, however, says that Marco is to leave that man alone!  In the Legion, you march or die.  They fully intend to leave the man behind.  Marco starts to march away, but soon he is going back to get the musician.  When the unit gets back to base the Sergeant reports that two men are lost.  One fell out and another went back for him.  Major Foster says if they show up tomorrow morning, they will be allowed in.  If they don't, that's okay too. 

The men arrive and knock on the gate.  The Major won't let them in.  But soon Marco shows up on top of the walls of the fort.  The men cheer him.  He then jumps to the ground and opens the door for the musician.  The Major says that they do not go back for stragglers.  So, now Marco will be punished in a way that he won't soon forget.  He is punished by being tied down in a kneeling position with his head tied against a hitching rail.  The guys are worried about Marco.  He still has eight hours to go and he is not looking too well.

Madame Picard comes to the fort.  She sees Marco all tied up.  She goes and gets him some water and feeds it to him.  Seeing this, Major Foster tells his sergeant to release the Gypsy. 

A man comes to El Krim saying that he has been instructed to find 30 men for the archaeological expedition.  El Krim tells him to pick 30 men from his camp.  So he does. 

In the bar the musician plays the piano and sings.  Madame Picard sits at a table with Marco.  She tells him:  "You don't belong here."  The guys get the musician a prostitute, but he doesn't want one.  The men force him to go with her to her room.  A little later the prostitute comes out and says that the musician is not much of a man.  He couldn't do anything.  The men laugh at this.  Marco gets up and goes to the musician.  He stares the men down and they stop guffawing.  The archaeologist escorts Madame Picard for a short ways. 

Madame Picard goes to visit Major Foster.  He has a prostitute with him, who Picard does not see at first.  When she does see her, Foster sends back the prostitute.  Picard asks him if he will take a willing whore.  She also says that she does not want Marco to love her.  Madame Picard is afraid it will destroy him.  She has sex with the Major (off stage so to speak). 

In the barracks young Legionnaire Frederick Hastings finds the dead body of the musician who had hanged himself.  Frederick freaks out and runs away screaming. 

In the morning Piccard looks out of the Major's big window at the troops below.  She is deliberately making sure that Marco sees her.  He does and hangs his head low at the sight.  Major Foster asks where is the missing man in the formation?  Marco speaks up and says he's still inside the barracks.  Foster goes in and finds the dead man dressed in his tuxedo and with his top hat.  Foster returns to the formation.  He says that the men will never get away.  If the Legion doesn't get them, the desert will.  If the desert doesn't get them, the Arabs will.  And if the Arabs don't get them, he himself (Foster) will get them.  He says no man has succeeded in getting away. 

Madame Picard talks to Leon  about getting  Marco out of Morocco.  He says it won't be easy.  But he wants something from Picard.  He doesn't get many European women as prostitutes and he wants to make some money off her. 

At Erfoud the men of the expedition finds lots of skeletons from the last battle.  The men set up camp there.  Frederick goes on guard duty.  The next morning he is gone.  Only his hat is left behind.  Major Foster says they will now pay El Krim a visit.

With a squad of men with him, the Major goes to speak with El Krim.  All the men are upset when they see Frederick still hanging in a spread eagle position.  El Krim only says that one of his men became restless.   Foster asks the Arab why can't he just let the French come in and modernize Morocco.  El Krim responds that the cost of French friendship is too high a price to pay.  One of the Arabs goes over to Frederick and spits twice in his face.  All of a sudden the Arab torturer in shot dead in the forehead.  (Of course, by Marco.)  Foster only says to El Krim:  "One of my men became restless."  The Legionnaires leave. 

The excavation goes ahead.  Then one of the Arabs falls into the tomb in a cave-in of the tomb roof.  Marneau and his aide are lowered by rope into the tomb.  They find the casket of the "Angel of the Desert."  It is pulled up to the desert surface.  Foster grabs the casket and he and a rider take it to El Krim.  Foster tells El Krim that it is a token of peace.  When Foster comes back they let the two men out of the tomb. 

The order is given to break camp.  The expedition is over.  They are going home.  Of course, Marneau objects, but it's useless.    As they pack they hear what sounds like the Arabs coming toward their camp.  The Sergeant tells the major that the men are waiting for his orders.  Foster is sure they will all die in the coming fight.  The Sergeants asks again for the Major's orders.  Major Foster suddenly realizes that El Krim used the Legion and the expedition.  He used them to unite the Arab tribes.  El Krim deliberately waited for them to crack open the tomb.  The Arab used the "Angel of the Desert" to unite the tribes. 

The Arabs start coming at the men of the expedition.  It's going to be a frontal assault of an entrenched position, which is always dangerous for the attackers.  Finally, the Major gives the order to fire.  The frontal assault is virtually decimated by French artillery and machine guns.  But El Krim has just begun.  As the fighting continues, he sends in an attack on the left flank.  The French start taking out a lot of these attacker, but then an attack on the right flank starts.  And a little later more men come up the middle.  The Arabs overrun the first line of defense.  The French fall back to a second line defense but one after another the Legionnaires go down.  During the battle, Major Foster is shot and killed. 

When there are very few French left, El Krim stops the fighting.  He comes down with some of his men.  The battlefield is covered with the dead.  El Krim comes riding up to the survivors.  He tells the French that he lets them live to tell the tale to others.  He adds:  "We will resist all foreigners!" 

Madame Picard is leaving for home.  Leon tells Marco that he has arranged for his passage out of Morocco.  Marco just pushes him up against a nearby wall.  He goes to say goodbye to Piccard.  She is going, he is staying. 

The new recruits are lined up in the center of the fort.  Marco is now in charge of them.  He starts giving Foster's speech:  The men will never get away.  If the Legion doesn't get them, the desert will.  If the desert doesn't get them, the Arabs will.  And if the Arabs don't get them, he himself (Marco) will get them.  He says no man has ever succeeded in getting away. 

 

Entertaining movie, but not much history here.  I enjoyed the story but missed the historical knowledge.  I have seen several movies with Terence Hill (Marco Segrain) and find him very charming in an impish sort of way.  And he's charming in this movie as well. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 


Historical Background:

See Outpost in Morocco (1949).

 

 

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