Desert Legion


1h 26m 1953

Brief Synopsis

Paul Lartal leads a troop of legionnaires into ambush at the hands of Omar Ben Calif. Returning later at the request of Princess Morjana he is led to the hidden city of Madara, currently harrassed by the evil Crito. Lartal must do in the bad guys (which includes participating in a bare chested spear-throwing contest), save the city and comfort the Princess.

Film Details

Release Date
Apr 1953
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 3 Apr 1953
Production Company
Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Co., Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Lone Pine, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Demon Caravan by Georges Arthur Surdez (New York, 1927).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 26m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)

Synopsis

In the desert of Algiers, French Foreign Legion officer Major Vasil sends his friend, stalwart captain Paul Lartal, into the mountains to track down notorious murderer Omar Ben Khalif. Paul's troops, however, are quickly led into a trap and all are killed by Khalif's men except Paul, who is knocked out. When he awakens, he is in the sumptuous desert tent of a beautiful Arabian woman who has nursed him back to health. She refuses to answer any of his questions, revealing only that her people need his help. Untrusting, Paul treats her brusquely, and after he passes out again, he is discovered back in the open desert by other Legionnaires. When he describes the mysterious beauty to his superiors at the Legion, no one believes she was real. Only Vasil, who knows that Paul is a superior and somber soldier, believes him, but then suspects him of losing his senses when he insists on returning to the mountains to avenge the deaths of his troops. Soon after, Paul receives a letter with a medal, which he believed to be lost in the desert, enclosed. The letter urges him to meet a messenger in a nearby city, and Paul risks arrest by sneaking there with his friend, Pvt. Plevko, against the general's orders. Once in the city, the two men are chased by Legionnaires and rescued by a beggar, who later identifies himself as Lt. Messaoud, the messenger. Messaoud leads them through a secret pathway high into the mountains, eventually reaching the idyllic "City of Peace," Madara. A suspicious Paul soon meets the city's leader, Kahlil, and his right-hand-man, Crito. At dinner, the beautiful woman reappears and introduces herself as Morjana, Kahlil's daughter, and Paul cannot keep his eyes off her. After dinner, Crito visits Paul's luxurious room and warns him that he is not wanted in Madara. The next day, however, Kahlil informs Paul that Crito is splitting the citizens into warring factions, and is planning to marry Morjana and become the city's ruler upon Kahlil's death. The older ruler also reveals that he was once a Legionnaire but left the army to build the peaceful utopia. First Kahlil and then Morjana urge Paul to protect them against Crito, and although Paul admits to Morjana that he is falling in love with her, he insists that women have no place in his life and he must leave. When she begs him to stay, he kisses her while Crito watches from across the courtyard. That night, one of Crito's henchmen tries to murder Paul in his sleep, and Paul kills the attacker. He then finds the medallion of his slain friend, Corp. H. Schmitt, on the dead man's body, and realizes that it was Crito's men who ambushed Paul's troops. Paul names Crito as Omar Ben Khalif, and Crito admits that he has been secretly amassing his troops to take over Madara. He challenges Paul to a javelin duel, and the next day, the two men fight for several exhausting hours. When Crito finally collapses, Paul does not kill him but instead insists on taking him back to the Legion. As soon as they set out, however, Crito's men attack them, free their leader and imprison Paul and Plevko. Soon after, Crito also imprisons Legionnaire Lt. Lopez and tortures him for information. Crito order his troops to take over Khalil's palace, and reveals to Paul that he has set a trap for Vasil's men, who are on their way to attack. That day, Paul is about to be stoned to death, when Morjana saves him by announcing that she wants marry Crito immediately. The ceremony begins, but is interrupted by news that Vasil's men are approaching. Crito leaves with most of his troops, allowing Khalil to break out of the palace, using his old Legionnaire rifle. He and Morjana free Paul and the prisoners, and Paul assembles a small army to follow Crito into the hills. There, Crito is in the process of devastating Vasil's men, until Paul and the Madara citizens ambush Crito from behind. Kahlil shoots Crito off his horse but is himself shot in return. Paul fights Crito until the usurper plummets off a cliff to his death, after which the Madarians quickly defeat Crito's men. Just before dying, Kahlil proclaims Paul his son, and later Vasil tells Paul that all the desertion charges against him will be dropped. Instead of returning to Algiers to collect his medals, however, Paul rushes back to Madara, into the waiting arms of Morjana.

Film Details

Release Date
Apr 1953
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 3 Apr 1953
Production Company
Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Co., Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Lone Pine, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Demon Caravan by Georges Arthur Surdez (New York, 1927).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 26m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)

Articles

Leon Askin (1907-2005)


Leon Askin, the rotund, imposing Austrian character actor, who was best remembered as General Albert Burkhalter, Conolel Klink's exasperated superior on the hit sitcom Hogan's Heroes, died of natural causes on June 3 in his hometown of Vienna. He was 97.

Born in Vienna, Austria as Leo Aschkenasy on September 18, 1907, Askin developed a taste for theater through his mother's love of cabaret, and as a youngster, often accompanied his mother to weekend productions.

He made a go of acting as a profession in 1925, when he took drama classes from Hans Thimig, a noted Austrian stage actor at the time. The following year, he made his Vienna stage debut in Rolf Lauckner's "Schrei aus der Strasse."

For the next six year (1927-33), he was a popular stage actor in both Vienna and Berlin before he was prevented to work on the stage by Hitler's SA for being a Jew. He left for Paris in 1935 to escape anti-semetic persecution, but returned to Vienna in 1935, to find work (albeit a much lower profile to escape scrutiny), but after a few years, the writing was on the wall, and he escaped to New York City in 1939, just at the outbreak of World War II. His luck in the Big Apple wasn't really happening, and in 1941, he relocated to Washington D.C. and briefly held the position of managing director of the Civic Theatre, a popular city venue of the day. Unfortunately, after the tragic events of Pearl Harbor in December of that year, the United States became involved in the war that had already engulfed Europe for two years, and seeing a possibility to expediate his application for American citizenship, he enlisted in the U.S. Army.

After the war, Leon indeed became a U.S. citizen and changed his name from Leon Aschkenasy to Leon Askin. He returned to New York and found work as a drama teacher, and more importantly, landed his first gig on Broadway, as director and actor in Goethe's Faust in 1947, which starred Askin in the title character opposite the legendary Albert Bassermann who played Mephisto. The production was a huge success. Askin followed this up with another director/actor stint with Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice and co-starred with Jose Ferrer in Ben Hecht's 20th Century. They were all Broadway hits, and Askin had finally achieved the success he had worked so hard to seek and merit.

It wasn't long before Hollywood came calling, and soon Askin, with his rich German accent and massive physical presence, made a very effective villian in a number of Hollywood films: the Hope-Crosby comedy Road to Bali (1952); Richard Burton's first hit film The Robe; and the Danny Kaye vehicle Knock on Wood (1954).

Askin's roles throughout the 50's were pretty much in this "menacing figure" vein, so little did anyone suspect that around the corner, Billy Wilder would be offering him his most memorable screen role - that of the Russian commissar Peripetschikof who gleefully embraces Amercian Capitalism in the scintillating politcal satire, One, Two, Three (1961). Who can forget this wonderfully exchange between Peripetschikof and Coca Cola executive C.R. MacNamara (James Cagney):

Peripetschikof: I have a great idea to make money. I have a storage full of saurkraut and I'll sell it as Christmas tree tinsil!
MacNamara: You're a cinch!

His performance for Wilder was wonderfully comedic and wholly memorable, and after One, Two, Three the film roles for Askin got noticable better, especially in Lulu and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (both 1962); but he began to find prominent guest shots on hit television shows too: My Favorite Martian and The Outer Limits to name a few; yet his big break came in 1965, when for six seasons he played General Albert Burkhalter, the Nazi general who was forever taking Col. Kilink's ineptitude to task in Hogan's Heroes (1965-71).

Roles dried up for Askin after the run of Hogan's Heroes, save for the occassional guest spot on television: Diff'rent Strokes, Three's Company, Happy Days; and parts in forgettable comedies: Going Ape! (1981), Airplane II: The Sequel (1982). After years of seclusion, Askin relocated to his birthplace of Vienna in 1994, and he began taking parts in numerous stage productions almost to his death. In 2002, he received the highest national award for an Austrian citizen when he was bestowed with the Austrian Cross of Honor, First Class, for Science and Art. He is survived by his third wife of three years, Anita Wicher.

by Michael T. Toole
Leon Askin (1907-2005)

Leon Askin (1907-2005)

Leon Askin, the rotund, imposing Austrian character actor, who was best remembered as General Albert Burkhalter, Conolel Klink's exasperated superior on the hit sitcom Hogan's Heroes, died of natural causes on June 3 in his hometown of Vienna. He was 97. Born in Vienna, Austria as Leo Aschkenasy on September 18, 1907, Askin developed a taste for theater through his mother's love of cabaret, and as a youngster, often accompanied his mother to weekend productions. He made a go of acting as a profession in 1925, when he took drama classes from Hans Thimig, a noted Austrian stage actor at the time. The following year, he made his Vienna stage debut in Rolf Lauckner's "Schrei aus der Strasse." For the next six year (1927-33), he was a popular stage actor in both Vienna and Berlin before he was prevented to work on the stage by Hitler's SA for being a Jew. He left for Paris in 1935 to escape anti-semetic persecution, but returned to Vienna in 1935, to find work (albeit a much lower profile to escape scrutiny), but after a few years, the writing was on the wall, and he escaped to New York City in 1939, just at the outbreak of World War II. His luck in the Big Apple wasn't really happening, and in 1941, he relocated to Washington D.C. and briefly held the position of managing director of the Civic Theatre, a popular city venue of the day. Unfortunately, after the tragic events of Pearl Harbor in December of that year, the United States became involved in the war that had already engulfed Europe for two years, and seeing a possibility to expediate his application for American citizenship, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. After the war, Leon indeed became a U.S. citizen and changed his name from Leon Aschkenasy to Leon Askin. He returned to New York and found work as a drama teacher, and more importantly, landed his first gig on Broadway, as director and actor in Goethe's Faust in 1947, which starred Askin in the title character opposite the legendary Albert Bassermann who played Mephisto. The production was a huge success. Askin followed this up with another director/actor stint with Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice and co-starred with Jose Ferrer in Ben Hecht's 20th Century. They were all Broadway hits, and Askin had finally achieved the success he had worked so hard to seek and merit. It wasn't long before Hollywood came calling, and soon Askin, with his rich German accent and massive physical presence, made a very effective villian in a number of Hollywood films: the Hope-Crosby comedy Road to Bali (1952); Richard Burton's first hit film The Robe; and the Danny Kaye vehicle Knock on Wood (1954). Askin's roles throughout the 50's were pretty much in this "menacing figure" vein, so little did anyone suspect that around the corner, Billy Wilder would be offering him his most memorable screen role - that of the Russian commissar Peripetschikof who gleefully embraces Amercian Capitalism in the scintillating politcal satire, One, Two, Three (1961). Who can forget this wonderfully exchange between Peripetschikof and Coca Cola executive C.R. MacNamara (James Cagney): Peripetschikof: I have a great idea to make money. I have a storage full of saurkraut and I'll sell it as Christmas tree tinsil! MacNamara: You're a cinch! His performance for Wilder was wonderfully comedic and wholly memorable, and after One, Two, Three the film roles for Askin got noticable better, especially in Lulu and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (both 1962); but he began to find prominent guest shots on hit television shows too: My Favorite Martian and The Outer Limits to name a few; yet his big break came in 1965, when for six seasons he played General Albert Burkhalter, the Nazi general who was forever taking Col. Kilink's ineptitude to task in Hogan's Heroes (1965-71). Roles dried up for Askin after the run of Hogan's Heroes, save for the occassional guest spot on television: Diff'rent Strokes, Three's Company, Happy Days; and parts in forgettable comedies: Going Ape! (1981), Airplane II: The Sequel (1982). After years of seclusion, Askin relocated to his birthplace of Vienna in 1994, and he began taking parts in numerous stage productions almost to his death. In 2002, he received the highest national award for an Austrian citizen when he was bestowed with the Austrian Cross of Honor, First Class, for Science and Art. He is survived by his third wife of three years, Anita Wicher. by Michael T. Toole

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

According to a December 1951 Hollywood Reporter "Rambling Reporter" item, Cornel Wilde was originally considered for the role of "Paul Lartal." Although George Lewis was billed with his middle intial, J., in the closing credits, the initial was not included in Lewis' name in the opening cast credits. A June 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that Alan Ladd broke his hand before filming, resulting in minor script revisions to accommodate the bandages. Some scenes were shot in Lone Pine, CA. Although a July 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item adds Jimmy Bays to the cast, his appearance in the final film has not been confirmed.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Spring April 1953

Released in United States Spring April 1953