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The title of Julien Duvivier's La Bandera (1935) refers to a "flag," or battalion within the Spanish Foreign Legion, known in Spanish as the Tercio Extranjero. Set in Morocco, the film is based on a 1931 novel of the same title by Pierre Mac Orlan, about the Rif War (1920-1926) between Spanish forces and Berber tribesmen inhabiting the Rif mountains in northern Morocco. As a war correspondent, Mac Orlan (1882-1970) followed the Tercio Extranjero extensively in both Spain and Morocco. Mac Orlan became an avowed admirer of General Francisco Franco while observing him on the field, and as a result prints of La Bandera originally contained a dedication to Franco in the opening credits. Orlan's best-known novel was Quai des Brumes (1927), which was adapted into the 1938 film also starring Jean Gabin. In addition to novels, Orlan composed a large number of popular songs and works of erotic fiction over the course of his life.
La Bandera is part of a genre known as cinma colonial in French cinema of the 1920s and 1930s. Other examples include the smash hit L'Appel du silence (Lon Poirier, 1938) and an entire subgenre of films about the Foreign Legion, among them Jacques Feyder's Le Grand Jeu (1934) and the Fernandel comedy Un de la Lgion (1936). Some French leftist critics, including several from the Popular Front, criticized La Bandera's portrayal of military adventurism.
For the lead actor Jean Gabin, La Bandera represented a breakthrough role which established his central persona as a fatalistic working-class hero. In contrast, his previous star vehicle was Duvivier's Golgotha (1935), in which he appeared as none other than Pontius Pilate opposite Robert Le Vigan's Jesus. (In La Bandera Le Vigan plays the police inspector who goes undercover as a Foreign Legion enlistee in order to pursue the Jean Gabin character, who has fled from Paris after committing murder.)
The lead actress Annabella, who plays Aischa la Slaoui, wears a dress patterned after authentic Berber costumes. Born Suzanne Georgette Charpentier, Annabella first made an impact with international audiences in Ren Clair's Le Million (1931) and became one of the major French stars of the decade. In 1935, the year of La Bandera's release, she also played opposite Gabin in Variety and won the Volpi Cup at the Venice Film Festival for her performance in Marcel L'Herbier's Veille d'armes . She later played the female lead in the British film Wings of the Morning (1937), came to the U.S. to play in Suez (1938), and subsequently married Tyrone Power, her co-star in the latter film.
After attending a screening of La Bandera in Paris, the reviewer for Variety complained, "This is assembled with the characteristic inability of French film makers to make a story stick together and move." Still, the reviewer called the film "a picturesque and sometimes gripping tale of soldiering in North Africa" and acknowledged that "Jean Gabin is a first rate tough guy." From today's perspective, one of the film's standout features, besides Gabin's performance, is its vivid camerawork by Jules Kruger, who also photographed Duvivier's classic Pp le Moko (1937) and worked with other French filmmakers such as Abel Gance, Raymond Bernard and Sacha Guitry. La Bandera was released in the U.S. in 1939, under the title Escape from Yesterday.
Producer: Andre Gargour
Director: Julien Duvivier
Script: Julien Duvivier and Charles Spaak, based on the novel by Pierre Mac Orlan
Director of Photography: Jules Kruger
Art Direction: Jacques Krauss
Film Editor: Marthe Poncin
Music: Roland Manuel and Jean Wiener
Cast: Annabella (Aischa la Slaoui), Jean Gabin (Pierre Gilieth), Robert Le Vigan (Fernando Lucas), Raymond Aimos (Marcel Mulot), Pierre Renoir (Weller), Gaston Modot (Muller), Margo Lion (Planche-a-Pain), Little Jacky (Weber).BW-99m.
by James Steffen
"La Bandera." Variety, September 20, 1935.
Andrew, Dudley. Mists of Regret: Culture and Sensibility in Classic French Film. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1995.
Slavin, David Henry. Colonial Cinema and Imperial France, 1919-1939: White Blind Spots, Male Fantasies, Settler Myths. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.
Zigman, Charles. World's Coolest Movie Star: the complete 95 films (and legend) of Jean Gabin. Los Angeles: Allenwood Press, 2008.