Africa, Alexandre Dumas, Algeria, Beau Geste, Beau Hunks, Camels, Chasseurs d'Afrique, Film, Flying Deuces, Follow that Camel, French Conquest of Algeria, French Foreign Legion, Garde Suisse, Genoese, Laurel and Hardy, Legions, Louisa de Ramee, military, Ouida, P.C. Wren, Sahara, The Last Remake of Beau Geste, The Three Musketeers, Under Two Flags, uniforms, Zouaves
As always, dear readers, welcome!
Although we do a lot of Tolkien, we set up this blog for adventure in general and, in this posting, we’ve gone to a completely different world—as you’ll see.
When we think of the Sahara, we immediately see:
a. a satellite map, which shows us just how huge it is
b. and camels—although they aren’t native, they’ve been there a long time, having been introduced from Arabia perhaps about 300Ad
c. and, of course, desert warriors
d. and, also, of course, their opponents, the French Foreign Legion
e. or, with a bit of a trim—and in color—
The Foreign Legion were hardly the first foreigners in the service of France. Medieval French kings had used Genoese crossbowmen.
And the later kings of France had, as part of their household guards, the Garde Suisse.
The Foreign Legion was raised in 1831 and used, at first, during the French conquest of Algeria.
As Algeria was exotic, so were the soldiers there, beginning with the dashing Zouaves, originally locals, but gradually mostly French.
Along with these were the Chasseurs d’Afrique,
who formed the background for what we think is the first North African adventure novel in English, Ouida (Louisa de Ramee)’s Under Two Flags (1867)
which became a film twice, in 1922
And in 1936.
Oddly, the Chasseurs d’Afrique of the novel were replaced, in the 1936 film by the Foreign Legion—perhaps because the script writers thought that the Foreign Legion would have been a more familiar unit to their audience?
If so, it may have been because of P.C. Wren’s 1924 novel, Beau Geste,
which has appeared a number of times on the screen, initially in silent form in 1926,
and again as a “talkie” in 1939
and again in full color in 1966.
The book—and the film’s—popularity—the story was all about noble sacrifice—and exotic desert adventure—did not escape satire. As early as 1931, two of our favorite early film comedy stars, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy,
appeared in their longest short (37 minutes—but it which sounds like a contradiction in terms), Beau Hunks.
This title is based upon what appears to be a double ethnic slur, Bo- from “Bohemian” + Hunk- from “Hungarian”, so a disparaging reference to a central European—a lower class one, at that. (It makes us thankful that it appears to have disappeared entirely as a slang term: in our current world, we don’t need any more ethnic attacks—we have plenty already.)
This was remade in 1939 as Flying Deuces.
This wasn’t the end of such cheerful assaults, however. In 1967, there was Follow That Camel (from the British comedy series “Carry On…)
and, appropriately, in 1977, came The Last Remake of Beau Geste.
All the same, we still love the old movie, with its last-ditch defense of Fort Zinderneuf,
where, borrowing from Dumas’ The Three Musketeers,
in desperation, the defenders prop up dead legionnaires to make their numbers appear greater than they are.
How could people with a passion for adventure not find that appealing?
Thanks, as ever, for reading
and, as always,