Having completed my quest to watch all movies Sam Fuller directed, I took a victory lap with this action revenge flick based on a story he wrote.
Pilot Wilson (Paul Kelly of Side Street, Crossfire) hears his brother has died in Niger, immediately enlists in the French Foreign Legion, asks to serve under Captain Savatt (villain specialist C. Henry Gordon) but doesn’t tell anyone why. Among the men: Poule (Marc Lawrence, whose final film was Looney Tunes: Back in Action), a bunch of guys who want the sadistic Savatt dead, a fellow who’s always pining after his girl, and the decent second-in-command Lt. Dumond (small-mustachioed Robert Fiske, mostly from westerns). The men make a big deal over Wilson being American, but despite their French names they all sound quite American. Wilson takes the Cool Hand Luke martyr role and plots to overthrow the wicked Savatt.
Paul Kelly is quite possibly the guy on the left:
Lorna Gray (of those awful late-30’s Buster Keaton shorts) was Wilson’s girl back home, a fellow pilot, and since she hasn’t heard from him in a long while she flies to Africa, crashes her plane into the sand and wanders into the base only to find a mutiny in progress.
Most of the men successfully take over the base and send the mad captain on a death march through the desert, but incredibly he survives and returns with troops to take back his fort. The mutineers hold off the reinforcements until desert hostiles attack, forcing the two sides to work together. In the ensuing court martial, Lt. Dumond breaks his silence and tells his superiors that the men had extenuating circumstances to revolt since Savatt had been a demon – so Wilson waits a few token months in jail then gets to rejoin his hot pilot girl. I guess nobody thought to blame the mutineers for the lives they cost among men sent out with Savatt who didn’t make it out of the desert, or casualties in the fight before they opened their gates to the reinforcements. Not a very well thought-out revenge plot, overall.
Savatt is not amused:
Lederman had been a director since the 20’s, and his final film was 1951’s The Tanks Are Coming, also with story by Sam Fuller. I thought this was not bad for a standard 30’s action movie until the end, when due to crappy use of stock footage I saw the same man fall off his horse three times. I liked the music (mostly stock), some of which sounded suspiciously like that of Star Wars. Screenwriter Maxwell Shane later directed a few pictures, including Nightmare with Edward G. Robinson. Some fine work by cinematographer Franz Planer, who had worked on Murnau’s Finances of the Grand Duke and movies by Max Ophüls, before shooting King of Kings for Nick Ray.
Charles Moore played the boot polisher, would soon move on to better things, working with Capra and Hawks before becoming Preston Sturges’s favorite black actor to humiliate.