Beau Geste


2h 1939
Beau Geste

Brief Synopsis

Three brothers in the French foreign legion fight off murderous Arabs and a sadistic sergeant.

Film Details

Genre
Adventure
War
Adaptation
Release Date
Jul 24, 1939
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Yuma, Arizona, USA
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Beau Geste by Percival Christopher Wren (London, 1924).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
12 reels

Synopsis

Arriving with his troops at the fort at Zinderneuf, Major de Beaujolais is puzzled to find that the soldiers are all dead, eerily frozen at their stations as they guard the deserted fort. A letter of confession found on one of the bodies mentions the Brandon estate in England, where fifteen years earlier the Geste brothers, Beau, John and Digby, and Isobel Rivers grew up under the benevolent care of their guardian, Lady Patricia Brandon. Aunt Pat rears her wards using the income of the estate, thus throwing her into conflict with Sir Hector Brandon, the boys' uncle, who is intent upon wasting away their inheritance on expensive luxuries. Years pass, and finally only the sapphire known as the Blue Water is left, until one night, as the lights go off, that too, disappears. The next day, Beau is missing, leaving behind a note claiming credit for the theft. Digby and John, assuming that their brother is fulfilling their lifelong dream of joining the French Foreign Legion, follow suit, but not before John pledges his love to Isobel. Digby and John arrive at the fort in Saida, where the sadistic Sergeant Markoff zealously turns his men into soldiers. Rasinoff, one of the other recruits, overhears the brothers discussing the jewel and after he attempts to steal it, Markoff beats a confession from him and determines to gain possession of the treasure himself. To accomplish this, Markoff divides the brothers, accompanying Beau and John to the fort at Zinderneuf. When the commanding officer dies of fever, Markoff assumes command and the soldiers plan to mutiny. Markoff discovers their plot, but before he can punish the traitors, the Arabs attack. The troops repel the first attack, but Beau is shot in the second round of firing. Markoff greedily steals the jewel from Beau's body, but Beau shoots him and with his last dying breath, instructs John to leave a letter in the Sergeant's hand while taking a private letter and the jewel home. John obeys Beau's wishes, and as he strikes out for Egypt, Digby and the reinforcements arrive, too late. After honoring Beau with the flames of a Viking funeral, Digby joins John in the desert, where he perishes at the guns of the Arabs, leaving John alone to return to England and Isobel. John reaches Brandon manor and delivers Beau's letter to Aunt Pat. As she reads the confession, John and Isobel learn of Beau's beautiful gesture: When he was a child, Beau was hiding in a suit of armour during a game with John and Digby when he saw Aunt Pat secretly sell the original sapphire. Knowing that she was forced by dire circumstances to part with the gem, Beau stole the fake to protect her from the recriminations of Sir Hector.

Film Details

Genre
Adventure
War
Adaptation
Release Date
Jul 24, 1939
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Yuma, Arizona, USA
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Beau Geste by Percival Christopher Wren (London, 1924).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
12 reels

Award Nominations

Best Art Direction

1939

Best Supporting Actor

1939
Brian Donlevy

Articles

Beau Geste (1939)


Major de Beaujolais arrives at Fort Zinderneuf to find all the soldiers dead yet mysteriously still posed at their stations, as if guarding the fort. A letter found on one of the bodies tells the life story of its author Beau Geste, starting fifteen years earlier. The three Geste brothers, raised in a wealthy estate in England, make a vow of loyalty to each other as young men. When a priceless sapphire is stolen from the family, Beau leaves a note confessing to the crime and flees to sign up with the French Foreign Legion. John and Digby follow their brother to Algeria, only to find themselves under the cruel command of Markoff, who schemes to steal the sapphire when he learns of its existence. A plan for mutiny by the soldiers of the fort is intercepted by Markoff when they find themselves under attack by Arabs. As their numbers dwindle, the embattled soldiers prop up their dead to make it appear as if the fort is still fully manned. Beau Geste's letter also explains the mystery behind the missing sapphire.

Largely forgotten now but popular in his day, British novelist Percival Christopher Wren (1885-1941) reflects in his writings the colonial-era values of patriotism, self-sacrifice and a belief in helping the "less fortunate" throughout the world. Born to a privileged family in Devonshire, he graduated from Oxford with an M.A. before serving in the French Foreign Legion. He then moved to Bombay, India, where he worked for ten years as an assistant director of education and physical culture. Returning to the military and earning the rank of major, he fought in East Africa in World War I, then settled in London, where he wrote the bulk of his fiction. His adventure stories drew upon his own experiences in India and Africa and often involved the French Foreign Legion. He described his work as being intended for the "cleanly-minded, virile, outdoor sort." By far his best-known novel is Beau Geste, which was first made into a film in 1926. The sequels Beau Sabreur (1926) and Beau Ideal (1928) were adapted into films in 1928 and 1931, respectively.

Initially Beau Geste (1939) was slated to be directed by Henry Hathaway as Paramount's first Technicolor feature. With this film Gary Cooper satisfied his contract for Paramount, allowing him to freelance subsequently. Ray Milland, on the other hand, welcomed the chance to star in an action adventure after numerous drawing room comedies where he played the suave sophisticate. Susan Hayward, who made her debut in this film, replaced Patricia Morison as Isobel Rivers. In order to make the film more palatable to French audiences, Lejaune, the sadistic French commander of the novel, was transformed into the Russian Markoff. Shot on location in Buttercup Valley near Yuma, Arizona, the film used the same site as the 1926 film, albeit reconstructed - a desert city complete with roads, 136 tents and a movie theater. The valley was eventually renamed as "Beau Geste Valley" in honor of the productions.

The 1939 adaptation of Beau Geste had a difficult time living up to the overwhelming critical and commercial success of Herbert Brenon's 1926 silent version starring Ronald Colman. Nonetheless, a reviewer in Variety wrote that the remake of Beau Geste "is still good cinema" and that "the absurd nobility, brotherly devotion and self-sacrifice of the Geste tribe are still unflagging ingredients for action melodrama." Brian Donlevy in particular was praised by critics for his memorable portrayal of the cruel Markoff. The story was filmed yet again in 1966, this time directed by Douglas Heyes and starring Guy Stockwell. A parody entitled The Last Remake of Beau Geste (1977) was directed by and starred wall-eyed comedian Marty Feldman, incorporating footage from the 1939 version cleverly edited to appear as if Feldman were having a conversation with Gary Cooper.

Director/Producer: William A. Wellman
Screenplay: Robert Carson, based on the novel by P. C. Wren
Cinematography: Theodor Sparkuhl
Editing: Thomas Scott
Music: Alfred Newman
Principal Cast: Gary Cooper (Michael "Beau" Geste), Ray Milland (John Geste), Robert Preston (Digby Geste), Brian Donlevy (Sergeant Markoff), Susan Hayward (Isobel Rivers), J. Carrol Naish (Rasinoff), Albert Dekker (Schwartz), Broderick Crawford (Hank Miller).
BW-120 min.

By James Steffen

Beau Geste (1939)

Beau Geste (1939)

Major de Beaujolais arrives at Fort Zinderneuf to find all the soldiers dead yet mysteriously still posed at their stations, as if guarding the fort. A letter found on one of the bodies tells the life story of its author Beau Geste, starting fifteen years earlier. The three Geste brothers, raised in a wealthy estate in England, make a vow of loyalty to each other as young men. When a priceless sapphire is stolen from the family, Beau leaves a note confessing to the crime and flees to sign up with the French Foreign Legion. John and Digby follow their brother to Algeria, only to find themselves under the cruel command of Markoff, who schemes to steal the sapphire when he learns of its existence. A plan for mutiny by the soldiers of the fort is intercepted by Markoff when they find themselves under attack by Arabs. As their numbers dwindle, the embattled soldiers prop up their dead to make it appear as if the fort is still fully manned. Beau Geste's letter also explains the mystery behind the missing sapphire. Largely forgotten now but popular in his day, British novelist Percival Christopher Wren (1885-1941) reflects in his writings the colonial-era values of patriotism, self-sacrifice and a belief in helping the "less fortunate" throughout the world. Born to a privileged family in Devonshire, he graduated from Oxford with an M.A. before serving in the French Foreign Legion. He then moved to Bombay, India, where he worked for ten years as an assistant director of education and physical culture. Returning to the military and earning the rank of major, he fought in East Africa in World War I, then settled in London, where he wrote the bulk of his fiction. His adventure stories drew upon his own experiences in India and Africa and often involved the French Foreign Legion. He described his work as being intended for the "cleanly-minded, virile, outdoor sort." By far his best-known novel is Beau Geste, which was first made into a film in 1926. The sequels Beau Sabreur (1926) and Beau Ideal (1928) were adapted into films in 1928 and 1931, respectively. Initially Beau Geste (1939) was slated to be directed by Henry Hathaway as Paramount's first Technicolor feature. With this film Gary Cooper satisfied his contract for Paramount, allowing him to freelance subsequently. Ray Milland, on the other hand, welcomed the chance to star in an action adventure after numerous drawing room comedies where he played the suave sophisticate. Susan Hayward, who made her debut in this film, replaced Patricia Morison as Isobel Rivers. In order to make the film more palatable to French audiences, Lejaune, the sadistic French commander of the novel, was transformed into the Russian Markoff. Shot on location in Buttercup Valley near Yuma, Arizona, the film used the same site as the 1926 film, albeit reconstructed - a desert city complete with roads, 136 tents and a movie theater. The valley was eventually renamed as "Beau Geste Valley" in honor of the productions. The 1939 adaptation of Beau Geste had a difficult time living up to the overwhelming critical and commercial success of Herbert Brenon's 1926 silent version starring Ronald Colman. Nonetheless, a reviewer in Variety wrote that the remake of Beau Geste "is still good cinema" and that "the absurd nobility, brotherly devotion and self-sacrifice of the Geste tribe are still unflagging ingredients for action melodrama." Brian Donlevy in particular was praised by critics for his memorable portrayal of the cruel Markoff. The story was filmed yet again in 1966, this time directed by Douglas Heyes and starring Guy Stockwell. A parody entitled The Last Remake of Beau Geste (1977) was directed by and starred wall-eyed comedian Marty Feldman, incorporating footage from the 1939 version cleverly edited to appear as if Feldman were having a conversation with Gary Cooper. Director/Producer: William A. Wellman Screenplay: Robert Carson, based on the novel by P. C. Wren Cinematography: Theodor Sparkuhl Editing: Thomas Scott Music: Alfred Newman Principal Cast: Gary Cooper (Michael "Beau" Geste), Ray Milland (John Geste), Robert Preston (Digby Geste), Brian Donlevy (Sergeant Markoff), Susan Hayward (Isobel Rivers), J. Carrol Naish (Rasinoff), Albert Dekker (Schwartz), Broderick Crawford (Hank Miller). BW-120 min. By James Steffen

Donald O'Connor, 1925-2003


Donald O'Connor, the sprightly, acrobatic dancer-comedian who was unforgettable in his exhilarating "Make 'em Laugh" number in the classic musical Singin' in the Rain, died of heart failure at the Motion Picture Country Home and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California on September 27. He was 78.

Born Donald David Dixon O' Connor in Chicago on August 28, 1925, he was raised in an atmosphere of show business. His parents were circus trapeze artists and later vaudeville entertainers, and as soon as young Donald was old enough to walk, he was performing in a variety of dance and stunt routines all across the country. Discovered by a film scout at age 11, he made his film debut with two of his brothers in Melody for Two (1937), and was singled out for a contract by Paramount Pictures. He co-starred with Bing Crosby and Fred MacMurray in Sing, You Sinners (1938) and played juvenile roles in several films, including Huckleberry Finn in Tom Sawyer - Detective (1938) and the title character as a child in Beau Geste (1939).

As O'Connor grew into adolescence, he fared pretty well as a youthful hoofer, dancing up a storm in a string of low-budget, but engaging musicals for Universal Studios (often teamed with the equally vigorous Peggy Ryan) during World War II. Titles like What's Cookin', Get Hep to Love (both 1942), Chip Off the Old Block and Strictly in the Groove (both 1943) made for some fairly innocuous entertainment, but they went a long way in displaying O'Connor's athletic dancing and boyish charm. As an adult, O'Connor struck paydirt again when he starred opposite a talking mule (with a voice supplied by Chill Wills) in the enormously popular Francis (1949). The story about an Army private who discovers that only he can communicate with a talking army mule, proved to be a very profitable hit with kids, and Universal went on to star him in several sequels.

Yet if O'Connor had to stake his claim to cinematic greatness, it would unquestionably be his daringly acrobatic, brazenly funny turn as Cosmo Brown, Gene Kelly's sidekick in the brilliant Singin' in the Rain (1952). Although his self-choreographed routine of "Make "Em Laugh" (which includes a mind-bending series of backflips off the walls) is often singled out as the highlight, in truth, his whole performance is one of the highlights of the film. His deft comic delivery of one-liners, crazy facial expressions (just watch him lampoon the diction teacher in the glorious "Moses Supposes" bit) and exhilarating dance moves (the opening "Fit As a Fiddle" number with Kelly to name just one) throughout the film are just sheer film treats in any critic's book.

After the success of Singin' in the Rain, O'Connor proved that he had enough charisma to command his first starring vehicle, opposite Debbie Reynolds, in the cute musical I Love Melvin (1953). He also found good parts in Call Me Madam (1953), There's No Business Like Show Business (1954), and Anything Goes (1956). Unfortunately, his one attempt at a strong dramatic role, the lead in the weak biopic The Buster Keaton Story (1957) proved to be misstep, and he was panned by the critics.

By the '60s, the popularity of musicals had faded, and O'Connor spent the next several years supporting himself with many dinner theater and nightclub appearances; but just when it looked like we wouldn't see O'Connor's talent shine again on the small or big screen, he found himself in demand at the dawn of the '90s in a string of TV appearances: Murder She Wrote, Tales From the Crypt, Fraser, The Nanny; and movies: Robin Williams' toy-manufacturer father in Toys (1992), a fellow passenger in the Lemmon-Matthau comedy, Out to Sea (1997), that were as welcoming as they were heartening. Survivors include his wife, Gloria; four children, Alicia, Donna, Fred and Kevin; and four grandchildren.

by Michael T. Toole

Donald O'Connor, 1925-2003

Donald O'Connor, the sprightly, acrobatic dancer-comedian who was unforgettable in his exhilarating "Make 'em Laugh" number in the classic musical Singin' in the Rain, died of heart failure at the Motion Picture Country Home and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California on September 27. He was 78. Born Donald David Dixon O' Connor in Chicago on August 28, 1925, he was raised in an atmosphere of show business. His parents were circus trapeze artists and later vaudeville entertainers, and as soon as young Donald was old enough to walk, he was performing in a variety of dance and stunt routines all across the country. Discovered by a film scout at age 11, he made his film debut with two of his brothers in Melody for Two (1937), and was singled out for a contract by Paramount Pictures. He co-starred with Bing Crosby and Fred MacMurray in Sing, You Sinners (1938) and played juvenile roles in several films, including Huckleberry Finn in Tom Sawyer - Detective (1938) and the title character as a child in Beau Geste (1939). As O'Connor grew into adolescence, he fared pretty well as a youthful hoofer, dancing up a storm in a string of low-budget, but engaging musicals for Universal Studios (often teamed with the equally vigorous Peggy Ryan) during World War II. Titles like What's Cookin', Get Hep to Love (both 1942), Chip Off the Old Block and Strictly in the Groove (both 1943) made for some fairly innocuous entertainment, but they went a long way in displaying O'Connor's athletic dancing and boyish charm. As an adult, O'Connor struck paydirt again when he starred opposite a talking mule (with a voice supplied by Chill Wills) in the enormously popular Francis (1949). The story about an Army private who discovers that only he can communicate with a talking army mule, proved to be a very profitable hit with kids, and Universal went on to star him in several sequels. Yet if O'Connor had to stake his claim to cinematic greatness, it would unquestionably be his daringly acrobatic, brazenly funny turn as Cosmo Brown, Gene Kelly's sidekick in the brilliant Singin' in the Rain (1952). Although his self-choreographed routine of "Make "Em Laugh" (which includes a mind-bending series of backflips off the walls) is often singled out as the highlight, in truth, his whole performance is one of the highlights of the film. His deft comic delivery of one-liners, crazy facial expressions (just watch him lampoon the diction teacher in the glorious "Moses Supposes" bit) and exhilarating dance moves (the opening "Fit As a Fiddle" number with Kelly to name just one) throughout the film are just sheer film treats in any critic's book. After the success of Singin' in the Rain, O'Connor proved that he had enough charisma to command his first starring vehicle, opposite Debbie Reynolds, in the cute musical I Love Melvin (1953). He also found good parts in Call Me Madam (1953), There's No Business Like Show Business (1954), and Anything Goes (1956). Unfortunately, his one attempt at a strong dramatic role, the lead in the weak biopic The Buster Keaton Story (1957) proved to be misstep, and he was panned by the critics. By the '60s, the popularity of musicals had faded, and O'Connor spent the next several years supporting himself with many dinner theater and nightclub appearances; but just when it looked like we wouldn't see O'Connor's talent shine again on the small or big screen, he found himself in demand at the dawn of the '90s in a string of TV appearances: Murder She Wrote, Tales From the Crypt, Fraser, The Nanny; and movies: Robin Williams' toy-manufacturer father in Toys (1992), a fellow passenger in the Lemmon-Matthau comedy, Out to Sea (1997), that were as welcoming as they were heartening. Survivors include his wife, Gloria; four children, Alicia, Donna, Fred and Kevin; and four grandchildren. by Michael T. Toole

Quotes

"The love of a man for a woman waxes and wanes like the moon, but the love of brother for brother is steadfast as the stars and endures like the word of the prophet." Arabian proverb
- Foreword
"Keep shooting, you scum! You'll get a chance yet to die with your boots on!"
- Markoff

Trivia

'Cooper, Gary' was not in the original Beau Geste (1926), but he did appear both in this remake of it and in the sequel to it, Beau Sabreur (1928). William A. Wellman declined the job of directing the latter film but did direct this one.

Film was honored on one of four 25? US commemorative postage stamps issued 23 March 1990 honoring classic films released in 1939. The stamp featured 'Gary Cooper' as Beau Geste. The other films honored were Stagecoach (1939), Wizard of Oz, The (1939), and Gone with the Wind (1939).

At the film's world premiere, the first reel of the 1926 silent version of "Beau Geste" was shown just before the entire 1939 sound version, in an effort to demonstrate how far films had advanced in thirteen years. This almost backfired because the 1939 film apparently followed the 1926 one extremely closely, and some of the first-night critics were annoyed rather than pleased at this, feeling that the 1939 version should have been more imaginative. However, this did not keep the 1939 version from becoming a smash hit and a film classic.

Notes

According to a news item in Hollywood Reporter, Paramount considered producing this film in 1936 as their first Technicolor picture, to be directed by Henry Hathaway. Later news items in Hollywood Reporter note that Susan Hayward replaced Patricia Morison in the role of Isobel Rivers, and that part of this picture was filmed on location in Yuma, Arizona. According to a contemporary source, Paramount built an entire desert city 19 miles west of Yuma for this picture. Modern sources note that this was the site used by Paramount's 1926 film. The city consisted of roads, 136 tents to house 1,000 men, and a movie theater. A Hollywood Reporter news item added that Howard Batt flew a daily aerial taxi service between the Yuma location and Paramount studios in Hollywood. Once the production was completed, the Imperial County Board of Supervisors renamed Buttercup Valley, the site on which the city was built, "Beau Geste Valley." The picture was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (Brian Donlevy) and for Best Art Direction. It also marked the screen debut of Susan Hayward. Paramount previously filmed the Percival Christopher Wren novel in 1926, under the same title, and starring Ronald Colman and Neil Hamilton, and directed by Herbert Brenon (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.0307). In 1966, Universal filmed another version using the same title, directed by Douglas Hayes and starring Guy Stockwell and Telly Savalas; and in 1977, Universal filmed a satirical version called The Last Remake of Beau Geste; it starred Marty Feldman and Michael York and was directed by Feldman. According to modern sources, Feldman acquired the rights to the 1939 version and used footage from it in his version of the story.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1939

Released in United States on Video April 7, 1988

Released in United States 1939

Released in United States on Video April 7, 1988