Desert Sands

DesertSands_1DesertSands_2Desert Sands was filmed and released in 1955.  It was directed by Lesley Selander who was more famous for his budget Westerns but it is nonetheless a fairly watchable B-Grade Foreign Legion Movie.  Desert Sands stars Ralph Meeker as the American Foreign Legion Captain David “Le Marteau/The Hammer” Malcolm; Marla English as Zara the local Bedouin princess;  J. Carrol Naish as Sergeant Diepel (Naish was also in the 1939 Beau Geste); and John Carradine as Jala the Wine Merchant and supporting villain.  It was filmed in color in California and runs for 87 minutes.

The plot starts in 1939 when Jala executes an elaborate plot to kill his brother using men dressed as Legionnaires.  His brother is the local sheik and Jala desires to take control of the tribe to resist the French.  His assassins are careful not to kill the sheik’s children and Jala makes sure that young El Zanal and his sister Zara will believe that the Foreign Legion killed their father.  The movie then jumps forward fifteen years and shows a patrol returning to the Legion desert outpost, Fort Valeau.  El Zanal is now the ruling sheik but Jala, who is posing as a wine peddler, regularly infiltrates the fort to gather information about the French and conspires behind the scenes with his nephew.  The rumor of the day is that the post’s new commander, CPT Malcolm, is due soon with a relief column for the garrison but the patrol saw no sign of them.  There is some concern in the headquarters when they lose communication with the relief column and when CPT Malcome arrives in a helicopter expecting to meet the relief force at Fort Valeau.  Because the Bedouin tribes have been peaceful for several years both Malcolm and the outgoing CPT Montclair dismiss any possibility that there was any trouble.  After Montclair leaves the fort a burning cross appears outside the fort and below it are several slain and tortured legionnaires from the decimated French relief column.  The commander of the column, Lt. Rene, stills clings to life and before he dies he tells Malcolm that it was El Zanal who was responsible for the attack.  The next day the tribesmen send a delegation to the fort and ask Malcolm to surrender the fort.  When he refuses they depart and in what appears to be a suicide attack they blow up themselves and the main gate.  That is the signal to attack and we are then entertained with well filmed battle sequences between the native tribesmen and the defending legionnaires.  Several repulsed attacks later but now with the help of rifle grenades the tribesmen press on, Malcolm is knocked unconscious and the legionnaires are forced to surrender.  The prisoners are locked up in their barracks while El Zanal now awaits the arrival of a second relief column.  He plans to pretend the fort is still held by the Legion and kill the reinforcements when they enter the fort’s walls.  El Zanal offers the legionnaires safety if they agree to work with him in setting up the ruse.  Malcolm unexpectedly accepts this deal and his men now look at him as a cowardly traitor but he is quick to explain that it’s their only chance to buy time and save the lives of the approaching soldiers.  Then there is Zara of course.  She seeks out Malcolm and reveals more of her and her brother’s motivations–it’s all to avenge the killing of their father.  Slowly however she is falling for him and later she learns that El Zanal plans to kill all the legionnaires anyway and she pleads with her brother to spare the Captain.  Zara then tries to convince Malcolm to support her brother but gets nowhere but into his arms and they frolic on the pillows in her tent.  Malcolm however bumps off one of her bodyguards and sneaks across the fort to break out his men in an attempt to blow up the fort.  They are caught however and put back into the horse stable this time while several mutinous legionnaires and tribesmen begin to set up the ambush.  Malcolm is singled out to be hogtied to a post in his office so that he is forced look out the window and witness the relief column get slaughtered in the main courtyard.  Meanwhile El Zanal and Jala discuss their father’s murder and it is revealed that El Zanal knew all along who the murderer is and that this actually helped him rule with a cold heart.  Zara hears this and then works to free Malcolm.  She is confronted by Jafa but before he can do his worst Zara’s (really hot looking) maid throws a knife into his back.  In a nick of time Malcolm is able to release his men and they force a battle with the tribesmen before the ambush could occur.  Malcolm kills El Zanal and they defeat the tribesmen and renegade legionnaires.  Zara is allowed to return to her people because of what she did to assist Malcolm and peace is restored to the desert.

I enjoyed this movie and thought it was a good adventure tale–pretty much an exciting pulp story brought to the big screen.  There were minor plot holes and technical errors with the uniforms, costumes and equipment and horrible to non-existent accents but I don’t expect these movies to be perfect.  The plot didn’t get bogged down and I thought the battle scenes were well done.  The fort looked great too–not bad at all for a Hollywood construction, it looked very close to the actual forts in the Sahara during the 1950’s, but I don’t think it was a complete construction (with four walls).   Like they often did in making these movies it was enough to build an impressive front wall and gate and film other scenes that didn’t have to show the whole fort.  Desert Sands also had a real cool opening song sung by a sultry female voice that sounded like it came straight from a candle lit cocktail bar.  The movie titles also said that it was based on a book called Punitive Action by John Robb (another one to track down).  I recommend Desert Sands if you get a chance to see it–just don’t expect too much out of it and listen closely to the dialogue.   It’s currently available on Netflix too.  Screen captures of the fort are posted below.

Desert Sands

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About Jack Wagner

Retired Army.
This entry was posted in Movies. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Desert Sands

  1. “Desert Sands” was filmed in the same Imperial Dunes where four versions of “Beau Geste” were filmed (1926, 1939, 1940, 1966) but I’ve never been able to nail down precisely where this pretty elaborate fort was built. I keep digging for more info, with no luck. Same problem with the 1936 version of “Under Two Flags” — I know approximately where that fort was built, but not exactly.

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