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In 1906, young Beau Graves takes the blame for a crime committed by his business partner and leaves his home in the United States to join the French Foreign Legion. He is sent to Fort Zinderneuf in the Arabian Desert where he immediately runs afoul of the brutal and sadistic Sergeant-Major Dagineau, who suspects Beau of sending him an unsigned threatening letter. Beau wins the admiration of the other men, however, when he stands up to Dagineau. He also wins the friendship of the weak and drunken commander, Lieutenant De Ruse, who nicknames him "Geste" upon learning that Beau's sacrifice at home was unnecessary since his partner confessed and committed suicide shortly after Beau's departure for the Legion. Later, Beau is joined by his devoted brother John, and Dagineau becomes more convinced than ever that Beau plans to murder him. Lieutenant De Ruse is wounded by an Arab, and before dying he confesses to Beau that it was he who wrote the anonymous letter in the hope that fear might make Dagineau more humane. Dagineau, driven to the point of near-madness by the prospect of sudden death, subjects his men to torturous desert marches and cruel punishments. As the Arabs prepare for a massive assault, Beau manages to quell a mass mutiny among the men. In the subsequent attack, the legionnaires are killed off one by one until only Beau and Dagineau remain. A death struggle between the two men ensues, and Beau is found alive when a relief column arrives at the fort.