Beau Geste (1939)

Beau Geste (1939)

“The men must be led, not driven.”

Three adopted brothers — Ray Milland, Gary Cooper, and Robert Preston — who join the Foreign Legion in Algeria after one of them confesses to stealing an heirloom jewel from their guardian (Heather Thatcher) soon find themselves living under the sadistic rule of a ruthless sergeant (Brian Donlevy).


  • Brian Donlevy Films
  • Broderick Crawford Films
  • Flashback Films
  • Gary Cooper Films
  • Orphans
  • Ray Milland Films
  • Robert Preston Films
  • Ruthless Leaders
  • Siblings
  • Soldiers
  • Susan Hayward Films
  • William Wellman Films

William Wellman directed this adaptation of a popular 1924 novel by P.C. Wren, previously filmed in 1926 and remade in 1966 and 1982. The storyline is straightforward but baffling in terms of why such a narrative would be of interest to so many. The strange confession of jewelry thievery in an upper-crust household isn’t resolved until the end (and even then, poorly); it seems the primary goal here is to show the lifelong bond of siblings, as well as how men react under sadistic rule — but this has been portrayed with more nuance and interest in other movies, such as Mutiny on the Bounty (1935).

Note: Diehard Susan Hayward fans may enjoy seeing her in one of her earliest roles, as Milland’s love interest back at home.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Brian Donlevy as Sergeant Markoff
  • Some stark imagery
  • Fine location shooting (albeit in Arizona)

Must See?
No, though Wellman completists or fans of desert warfare flicks will want to check it out.


One thought on “Beau Geste (1939)

  1. Not must-see.

    All told, this is kind of a weird movie! After a rather intriguing opening sequence, it turns surprisingly lackluster as it goes back 15 years in time.

    Then – moved up to a more-present time – it gets into the awkwardly handled business re: The Blue Water jewel and everything directly and indirectly dealing with that. It’s because that whole section is so unbelievable that the film’s ending is unsatisfying (and a bit of a strange betrayal to the audience).

    The within-the-ranks drama which precedes the long, final battle sequence is reasonably well done – with Donlevy’s monstrous portrayal helping him to walk away with the acting honors – but the film hasn’t been helped by its shaky narrative.

    It’s nicely produced, nicely photographed and director Wellman seems to have done the best he could – still, it’s sort of… meh.

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