Timbuktu (1959)




Director:     Jacques Tourneur.

Starring:     Victor Mature (Mike Conway), Yvonne De Carlo (Natalie Dufort), George Dolenz (Colonel Charles Dufort), John Dehner (Emir Bhaki aka The Lion of the Desert), Marcia Henderson (Jeanne Marat), Robert Clarke (Captain Girard), James Foxx (Lt. Victor Marat), Paul Wexler (Suleyman), Leonard Mudie (Mohomet Adani).

in 1940 in Timbuktu in today's Mali the French have to fight off a Tuareg rebellion



Spoiler Warning:

"In 1940, France was fighting a war for survival.  Desperately, the nation called its legions from its colonies to help stem the tide.  In the French-African Sudan, rebellious Tuareg tribes seized this opportunity to attack the embattled country on its weakest outposts."

In the Sahara Desert the Tuareg tribe attacks the French Legion.  The French commander is killed and then the Tuareg signals to his men that the skirmish is over.  The Tuareg men leave the area. 

Timbuktu.  The new commanding officer, Colonel Charles Dufort, arrives at the garrison.  There to meet him are Major La  Rue, Captain Rambo and Captain Gerard.  Lt. Victor Marat is away They talk about the men from Dunkirk having made it safely back to England and the Germans are marching on Paris.

In Dufort's office, Dufort says there has been no suppression of the Tuareg uprising.  Major La Rue  says it seems that the whole Sudan is ready to rise up and follow the holy man, Mohomet Adani.  His camps now move with the drifting sands and he strikes and then is gone like a phantom.  And whenever they kill a Frenchman, the enemy leaves behind the same medallion.  Dufort now tells the men that no one will be able to leave Timbuktu without a pass approved by him.  And they will arrest any man carrying the death medallion. 

The American Mike Conway has a deal with the Tuareg leader.  Mike is pretending to sell French arms for Tuareg money.  He already has quite a few shipments of French arms, but he keeps saying the armaments have not arrived as of yet.  The Tuareg leader is getting fed up with all these delays.  The two men set up another day to meet to exchange arms for money.

The commander's wife, Natalie Dufort, is disillusioned with her marriage.  Her husband doesn't pay much attention to her.  Natalie tells a friend that her husband Charles is not a happy man.  Having to leave his regiment back in France is what broke his heart. 

Mike comes to see the commander.  He tells Dufort that he wants to get out of the country.  The commander wants to know why?  Mike says he wants to go to Bou Djebeha (in today's Algeria) for training purposes.  Permission is denied.  Now Mike says he thought that the Colonel wanted to know where Mohomet Adani is?   He turns to leave.  He is stopped at the sight of  the pretty Natalie.  He talks to her briefly.  Now the commander asks to speak with Mike.  Mike says that the previous commander offered him $2,500 dollars to pretend to sell arms for money with the Tuareg leader.  His boxes are not filled with weapons, but sewing machines.  So the new commander now gives Dufort permission to leave to go to Bou Djebeha.

Charles tells his wife that she's going with him to Bou Djebeha.  She says she will be ready to go.  Her friend will be coming with them because her husband is at Bou Djebeha.

Mile and his armed convoy head for Bou Djebeha.  With him is one Tuareg man.  It looks like Mike is heading right into a Tuareg ambush.  The Tuareg with the convoy stops briefly to pick up a lot of sand.  He gets back on his horse.  He then suddenly throws the sand in Mike's face and starts riding fast away from the convoy.   Mike chases after the man and catches him.  He brings him back to the convoy and now the attack on the convoy begins.  Mike's men lay on the sand and start firing at the enemy.  Mike uses the trickster as a shield as he fires at the enemy.

The commander with a large force following Mike hears the fire fight and sends his men into battle.  The Tuagre men grab the pack animals with the horse and start riding away from the skirmish area.  The Tuareg leader winds up killing his own brother as he tried to shoot Mike.  Now the commander and his forces arrive.  Mike and his men killed 24 enemy while losing seven of his own men.  Since the commander still doesn't trust Mike, he has the remaining boxes checked. 

At night Mike warns that the enemy is probably getting more men to attack the French forces, so why don't they push on to Bou Djebeha?  Charles says his orders are to engage the enemy and so he will await the second attack and kill still more Tuareg rebels.  He has sent nine soldiers ahead to Boshiba to alert the garrison there. 

The next morning the French troops find the nine men sent out which are now all dead laying in the hot sun and tied down to the ground with ropes and stakes.  Charles says they have no time now to bury the nine dead.  Since the dead men didn't reach Bou Djebeha, no help will be coming to them.  They must move on to avoid a fight with a great number of Tuareg rebels.   

Bou Djebeha. The convoy reaches its destination. 

At night Mike sneaks over to see Natalie.  He tells her that given that Natalie is so beautiful, he had to try to woe her.  He says now he knows and he will leave.  A native sees Mike leave. 

Mike now takes the Tuareg leader as his hostage.  He tells he leader that the arms are already at Bou Djebeha.  He will get the arms and he will get the money from the Tuareg leader.

The next day Mike and his men travel with the Tuareg leader as their hostage.  Some rebels show up, but the leader tells the rebels to let them get to their destination. 

They arrive at an encampment and Mike boldly goes into the chief's tent with his hostage and sits down next to the chief who's in the middle of a chess game.  The chief tells Mike that by forcing his hostage to bring him here the hostage "has exposed you to knowledge that exposes you to a dangerous risk."  Mike says:  "Look, all I know was that I was taken to a desert camp, which will disappear by morning, introduced to a desert chieftain who will disappear with it.  I don't know who you are or where I am."   The chief says that he is Emir Bahki, also known as the Lion of the Desert. 

To demonstrated that the French weapons work, Mike shoots some holes through the top of the tent with an automatic weapon.  Then Bahki takes the weapon and shoots down the hostage leader.  He then gives Mike the gold coins.  He does, however, want Mike to instruct his men in the proper use and care of the automatic weapons.  Mike agrees to this.  So, now Bahki introduces Mike to their spiritual leader Mohomet Adani.  Bahki says this great spiritual man will restore their lands to Islam. 

Mohamet Adani is more of a hostage himself than the spiritual leader.  He says he is a man of peace, not war.  Emir Bahki says that Mohamet will speak out for war.  "My ancestors were kings in the Sudan, and you will not stand between me and my heritage."  Secretly, Mike listens into the conversation.  Mohamet says that the French have brought in a great many modern innovations and great knowledge, but the Emir would have the people to go back into the black night of ignorance and slavery and pagan cruelty.  But you will not succeed.  Concerning the French, he says:  "The Sudan is not theirs.  Never will be.  Someday as they come, so must they go."  For that the Emir shoots down one of Mohamet's aides and says this will be Mohamet's fate if he doesn't cooperate. 

The Emir now tells Mike that the French commander and his wife will be his guest at his palace tonight, and Mike will get some time to be alone with the woman.  He wants Mike to get Mrs. Dufort to tell him how many men did the commander leave behind him back at the fort.  Mike agrees to find out. 

Mrs. Dufort asks her husband who is this Mike Conway fellow?  The commander says the man is an adventurer willing to be sold to the highest bidder.  She responds by saying she doesn't want to see him again.  Last night he tried to make love to her and she found it hard to turn him away.  She adds that she just can't explain her attraction to him. 

Mike sends his borrowed horse back to Bou Djebeha and the commander with a note tucked into the saddle.  The note says:  "The Emir took delivery of the guns.  He's the one who wants them  --  not the Mahomet Adani.  The Mahomet is the Emir's prisoner. But if you grab the Emir now, I won't have a chance of getting the Mohomet away.  Just give me a little more time.  I think they trust me . . . " 

The commander tells Natalie that she probably will see Mike Conway tonight at the Emir's palace, and he wants her to let Mike know of her attraction for him.  Natalie finds this hard to believe, but her husband says he is sure that she can handle any of Mike's advances.  Natalie says she will follow her husband's orders, but she is not happy about it.  So, now the commander has to let her in on the situation.  He reads from Mike's letter saying that the Emir thinks that he is enamored with the commander's wife and this is one of his motivations for working with the Tuareg.  Natalie is still mad about this and tells her husband that she hopes that they will still be seeing Mike Conway even after this particular mission is finished. 

The commander, his wife and his men go to the Emir's palace.  The Emir was at one time the only ally that the French thought they had.  Mike crushed that assumption.

The Emir is going to put on a show for just the commander.  He says Mike will be Natalie's escort in the meantime.  The Emir and the commander leave.  Mike and Natalie start chatting with each other.  He thanks her for the warm reception she gave him in front of Emir, because that makes his situation a lot easier.  And he apologizes for his behavior the other night.  Natalie says Mike almost sounds human now. 

Meanwhile, the Emir takes the commander into his rose garden.  Among the roses is the head of the leader that attacked Mike's convoy and that the Emir shot to death.  The commander doesn't know who the man is, so the Emir has to tell him.  The Emir says that now this man will never attack the soldiers again and now the French can relax their vigilance. 

Meantime, Lt. Marat drew every detail of the palace and the outside of the palace.  As the men return from their special dinner, Lt. Marat tells the commander that he finished his map.  Dufort now turns to his wife and asks her to tell him every word said by Mike.  Natalie, however, is still mad at her husband and she gets even more angry when she can't seem to make him feel jealous.  She takes off on her horse and the commander and his aide have to chase after her.  They catch up with her because her horse went down in the sand.  She is unconscious, so they decide to take her back to the Emir's palace. 

Resting back at the palace, Natalie volunteers to help her husband again.  She will pretend that she is not well and has to be left behind with Mike.  She will give the map of the palace to Mike along with her husband's instructions.  The commander asks her if she is sure she wants to do this and she says she's not afraid.  Now the Emir comes to see Natalie again and the Colonel says he wants Natalie to stay put until she is better, then she will have an escort bring her back to the fort.  The Emir says that's fine. 

The three have dinner together at night.  The Emir says he's glad that they are all together without the commander around.  After dinner, the Emir leaves the two alone together.  When the Emir leaves, Mike tells Natalie that he has to find a way to get out of the palace.  They both notice, however, that they are still being watched closely by the guards and servants.  The Emir gets on his horse and Mike and Natalie start hugging and kissing each other for the Emir's benefit.  They stop when the Emir leaves.  Natalie asks if they convinced the Emir, and Mike says she almost convinced him. 

To get away from the guards and servants, Mike sweeps Natlie off her feet and carries into the next room and closes the door.  The guards relax and start playing a board game. 

In private, Natalie tells Mike to stay here with her and not risk his life trying to help her husband, because her husband just sees her as another aide to his future success.  Mike says that this makes him want to make sure that those French guns he sold to the Tuareg don't get stolen.  The two of them hug and kiss each other. 

Now Mike pulls out a knife and starts to make his escape from the palace.  Mike knocks out the stableman and goes out of a window in the stable.  He goes over to where a French guard, Lt. Marat, is posted.  Marat says that the Emir went back to his camp.  Mike says there's only one way to change the situation to their favor.  They will have to get Mohomet away from the Emir.  They sneak into the encampment. 

The Emir kills Mohomet's other aide.  Mohomet says the Emir might as well go ahead and kill him now, because his answer is still no. 

Mike tells Marat to take off on his horse getting the Emir's guards to chase him.  Meanwhile, Mike will grab Mohomet. 

Marat gets the Emir and his men to chase him.  Meanwhile, Mike kills a guard and hides Mohomet underneath a tarp in a supply wagon.   He then grabs his horse and returns to the palace.

The Emir and his men capture Marat alive.  They take Marat with them to the palace.

The Emir breaks into the locked room to once again find the couple hugging and kissing each other.  He seems satisfied that the couple did not betray him.  Mike tells Natalie that if Marat doesn't bring back her husband and the troops, he is changing sides.  Natalie says:  "Still the same old Mike."

Natile tells the Emir that she's all better.  He gives her an escort and off she goes back to her husband. 

Now the Emir takes Mike over to a tent where Marat lays staked out on the ground.  Venomous spiders are released  and they soon bite Marat and the French lieutenant dies. 

And now the Emir says he knows Mike took the Mohomet because his men found his watch in their encampment.  Mike says he will not tell them where the Mohomet is until they give him a lot more money and a nice place to spend the money in.  But the Emir has a trump card.  He has his men bring in Natalie.  Mike, however, grabs a rifle and holds it on the Emir.  He tells the Emir to take Natalie back to her husband, and bring him back the commander's wedding ring, so he can see it to make sure Natalie made it okay.  Then he will reveal the whereabouts of the Mohomet. 

Only Mike and the Emir are in the tent now.  Mike is leaning against the center pole.  Outside men hold up a long pole at an angle over the tent.  A volunteer climbs up the pole to the top opening of the tent.  He then slowly climbs down the pole.  He conks Mike on the head and Mike is back again in captivity. 

Mike wakes up while riding with the Tuareg rebels.  They are going to attack Timbuktu.

Natalie is back with her husband.  She keeps urging him to save Mike.  He tells her to stop and let him think for awhile.  He reasons out loud that the Tuareg are now on the move and not to attack Bou Djebeha, but to attack Timbuktu.  There is no garrison now at Timbuktu.  Natalie leaves the room.  The Tuareg prisoner that the Colonel has is brought to him.  He is going to change into the Tuareg's clothes. 

Meanwhile, Natalie tries to console Mrs. Marat over the death of her husband.  Natalie tells her that her husband never does anything.  Mrs. Marat says she doesn't know her husband very well, for her husband and Marat took turns being the guard waiting for Mike to escape from the palace  If Mike had come a little earlier, it would have been her husband that was killed by the Tuareg.  So now Natalie starts thinking better of her husband.  She goes back into the main room and is shocked that her husband is going in disguise to rescue Mike and retrieve the Mohomet.  Before he goes Natalie tells her husband that she can't tell him how ashamed she feels.  Her husband tells her:  "I am sorry I failed you, Natalie.  It isn't that didn't . . . that I don't love you.  It's just that I thought war is not a time for love.  Perhaps I was wrong."  He kisses her on the forehead and leaves.  He rides to the palace of the Emir.

Now Mike is laid out in the tent, staked to the ground.  A spider is rigged up in the air tied to a long thread around a stick.  The weight of the spider will slowly lower the arachnid down until it reaches Mike. 

Outside, the Colonel is figuring out what will be his plan of action.  He sneaks over to the tent and slits it open.  He throws the spider to the side of the tent and releases Mike.  Then Mike grabs and kills a guard. 

The Emir discovers that Mike has escaped.  He has his men grab the supply wagons and start the move to Timbuktu.  Two guards go to take the supply wagon with the Mohomet inside it.  Charles and Mike kill the two guards and, dressed as Tuareg guards, they drive the supply wagon.  They follow the Tuareg convoy.  They go to Bou Djebeha.   

Mike says that they have to get the Mohomet up into the tower so he can tell his people not to fight against the French.  When the Muslims start praying, Charles and Mike make their move.  They whip the horses to get them running.  They stop at the tower and take their automatic weapons and the Mohomet into the tower.  The Emir notes this and tells his men to go get them.  He says they must not reach the minaret.  Charles holds off the Tuareg, while Mike takes the Mohomet up to the minaret.  Charles is wounded in the shoulder by the Emir.  Then the Emir goes up after Mike and the Mohomet.  Mike shoots the Emir down. 

Now the Mohomet has his say:  "You have been betrayed.  The Emir Bahki has been pretending to be fighting in behalf of the people of Sudan, but the Emir's words were all lies.  For he only wanted to be absolute ruler of our land.  A tyrant king who'd enslave you.  These people are our friends.  Lay down your weapons and let us seek independence with honor.  Now the French arrive without resistance.  With them is Mrs. Dufort.  She finds her husband, but he is already dead. 

Mrs. Dufort and Mike Conway now leave the fort on horseback headed elsewhere. 


There was no Tuareg uprising in the Tuareg part of the Sahara in the1940s.  But the Tuaregs have been in quite a few uprisings in their areas (Mali, Algeria, Niger).   It would have been better if they set a Tuareg uprising before 1905.  See the Historical Background below.  Otherwise, the film is okay.  There's lots of action and Yvonne De Carlo looks very young and pretty.  But you don't learn much, not even about the Tuareg population of around 1.2 million people.  (And yet, you learn a little about Timbuktu, Mali, the French colonizers and the Tuareg people.) 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background: 


Timbuktu is a city in the West African nation of Mali situated 20 km (12 mi) north of the River Niger on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. It is located a little west of  central Mali.  The town is the capital of the Timbuktu Region, one of the eight administrative regions of Mali. It had a population of 54,453 in the 2009 census.

early 12th century --  Timbuktu became a permanent settlement.

Timbuktu flourished from the trade in salt, gold, ivory and slaves.

early 14th century  --  Timbuktu becomes part of the Mali Empire.

first half of 15th century  --   the Tuareg tribes took control of the city for a short period.

1468  --   the expanding Songhai Empire absorbs the city.

1591  --  a Moroccan army defeats the Songhai.  They make Timbuktu their capital (rather than Gao).  The invaders established a new ruling class, the arma.

after 1612 --  the people of Timbuktu become virtually independent of Morocco. The city begins a long period of decline. Different tribes governed.

1893  --   the French take over.  Timbuktu becomes part of French Sudan, a colony of France.

1899  --  the French Sudan is subdivided and Timbuktu became part of Upper Senegal and Middle Niger.

1920  --  Timbuktu becomes part of French Sudan again.

1960  --  Timbuktu becomes part of the current Republic of Mali. 

1960s  --  in Mali, a Tuareg uprising resurfaces in the Adrar N'Fughas mountains.

2012  --  Timbuktu is captured from the Malian military by the Tuareg rebels of the MNLA and Ansar Dine.

2013  --   French and Malian government troops begin retaking Timbuktu from the Islamist rebels.

2013  --   jihadist rebels infiltrate into Timbuktu.  The jihadists are pushed out. 

Timbuktu is impoverished and suffers from desertification.


The Tuareg:

The Tuareg are Berber people with a traditionally nomadic pastoralist lifestyle, and are the principal inhabitants of the Saharan interior of North Africa.  Most Tuareg live in the Saharan parts of Niger, Mali, and Algeria.

late 19th century  --  the Tuareg resist the French colonial invasion of their homelands.  There were numerous massacres on both sides. 

1905  -- the Tuareg in Mali are subdued and required to sign a treaty.

1917  --  the Tuareg in Niger are subdued and required to sign a treaty. 

1960s  --  in Mali, a Tuareg uprising resurfaces in the Adrar N'Fughas mountains.




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