French Foreign Legion in popular culture

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Beyond its reputation of the French Foreign Legion as an elite unit often embroiled in serious fighting, its recruitment practices have also led to a romantic view of it being a place for a wronged man to leave behind his old life to start a new one, yet also being full of scoundrels and men escaping justice. This view of the legion is common in literature, and has been used for dramatic effect in many films, not the least of which are the several versions of Beau Geste.

Music[edit]

Édith Piaf[edit]

  • There is a French song originally created by Marie Dubas in 1936 but now mainly identified with Édith Piaf, called "Mon légionnaire", about a woman's longing for an embittered Legionnaire with whom she had a brief affair and who refused to tell her his name. The song was reprised by Serge Gainsbourg in the 1980s, the male voice singing the lyrics made famous by Piaf. The new version of "Mon Légionnaire" was a hit on French dancefloors.
  • Another of Piaf's songs was "Le Fanion de la Légion" (The Flag of the Legion), describing the heroic defence by the garrison in a small Legion outpost attacked by Saharan tribes. Both songs were written by Raymond Asso, a Foreign Legion veteran who was Piaf's lover in the late 1930s, with music by Marguerite Monnot.
  • The Legion adopted still another Édith Piaf song as their own, "Non, je ne regrette rien" (No, I regret nothing), during the 1960s when members of the Legion were accused of being implicated in a failed coup d'état during the Algerian War.[1] Today it is still a popular Legion "chant" sung when on parade, adapting it to their unique marching cadence of 88 steps to the minute.

Other[edit]

  • Frank Sinatra performed a song called "French Foreign Legion" about joining up if a girl does not marry him.
  • The indie-rock band The Decemberists wrote a song called "The Legionnaire's Lament" on their 2002 album Castaways and Cutouts. The song describes the homesickness of a French legionnaire on duty on the Algerian-Moroccan border in the early 1900s.
  • Radiohead's song "Cuttooth", a b-side to 2001 single "Knives Out", features the lyric "I would lead the wall paper life/ or run away to the Foreign Legion."

Books[edit]

Biography and Autobiography[edit]

  • Adrian Liddell Hart, son of British military theorist Basil Liddell Hart, wrote an account of his time with the Legion in Indochina in the 1950s in Strange Company (1953).
  • Rolf Steiner, wrote an autobiography, The Last Adventurer, of his military career. The first two stints of his career were in the Legion in Vietnam and Algeria.
  • Simon Murray wrote an account of his service in his 1978 book Legionnaire: The Real Life Story of an Englishman in the French Foreign Legion. The book is notable for its descriptions of the brutal training of a Legionnaire, the Algerian War and the failed "Generals' putsch" against de Gaulle.
  • Ante Gotovina's biography The General[disambiguation needed], written by Croatian writer Nenad Ivankovic, is mainly about Gotovina's service in the Legion during the 1970s.
  • British writer Tony Sloane wrote the autobiographical The Naked Soldier (2004), describing his five years of service in the Legion with the 2ème REP and 13e DBLE.
  • Pedro Marangoni, the author of "A opção pela espada" served in the French Foreign Legion in 1972-73.
  • Gareth Cairns Diary of a Legionnaire when he served in the 2eme REP, where he served on various overseas missions over the following five years.
  • Padraig O'Keeffe's biography Hidden Soldier mentions when he served as an Irish Legionnaire in Cambodia and Bosnia.
  • Jaime Salazar's Legion of the Lost (2005), is based on his experiences as an American citizen who joined the Legion in the late 1990s out of boredom with his life in corporate America.
  • Dominique Vandenberg's autobiography The Iron Circle talks in depth of the martial artist running away to the French Foreign Legion to become a 2REP Paratrooper. (2005)
  • Milorad Ulemek wrote a partially biographical novel, Legionar, describing his early years in the Legion.
  • Australian lawyer David Mason wrote the autobiographical "Marching With the Devil" (2010) depicting his time in the Legion during the 1980s serving in France and Djibouti.

Novels[edit]

  • In Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Ultimatum, Jason Bourne enlists the help of a former Legionnaire and a new recruit who fled Tennessee for quadruple homicide.
  • Ouida's 1867 Under Two Flags was probably the first English language novel about the French Foreign Legion and was filmed several times, most notably in 1936.
  • P. C. Wren's 1924 Beau Geste tells the story of three brothers who run away to the French Foreign Legion. His 1926 sequel Beau Sabreur tells the story of the further adventures of the American friends from Beau Geste, Hank and Buddy. The third book "Beau Ideal" resolves the trilogy... which in fact is also mentioned or completed by "Good Gestes" and "Spanish Maine".
  • P. C. Wren also wrote, 1916, The Wages of Virtue (possibly made into a film starring Gloria Swanson), and other novels about the Legion.
  • In Biggles Foreign Legionnaire (1954) in W. E. John's Biggles series set in the '50s, the eponymous hero and his protégé Ginger join the Legion as part of an undercover operation trying to unmask a gang of multi-national arms dealers who are instigating war in global conflict zones.
  • The chronicle of Richard Halliburton's African flying adventure, The Flying Carpet, includes a description of the members of the Foreign Legion he befriends, plus several riveting anecdotes he hears from some of the older members.
  • Blood Money is a thriller about a former French Foreign Legionnaire, who must save the world. It is written by ex-Legionnaire Azam Gill from Pakistan.
  • In Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, a minor character named Kurt is introduced; Kurt had joined the French Foreign Legion in the absence of a German army after the First World War, but wounded himself to get out after the friend with whom he joined died.
  • The French Foreign Legion was one of the Hungarian novelist Jenő Rejtő's favourite subjects. Notable novels are The Three Musketeers in Africa or The Hidden Legion.
  • British publisher John Spencer & Co published 23 paperback / pulp novels in the "Foreign Legion Series" in the 1950s. These were written under pseudonyms such as Bruce Fenton, W.H. Fear, Jud Cary and Paul Lafayette.
  • In Ford Madox Ford's novel Some Do Not..., the first installment in his epic trilogy Parade's End, Christopher Tietjens reminisces about his pre-war desire to join the French Foreign Legion, should war break out on the continent (he didn't believe England would ever be involved).
  • In Man on Fire, the main character Marcus Creasy and his friend Guido Arrelio were members of the French Foreign Legion before becoming mercenaries.
  • In the "Internet Tough Guys" series by Bernard Maestas, one of the co-protagonists, Alex, is a former member of the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment.
  • In the 2013 crypto-thriller The Sword of Moses by Dominic Selwood, the French Foreign Legion play a significant role.

Science fiction and fantasy[edit]

  • Poul Anderson and Gordon Dickson, in their "Hoka" books, included a Hoka version of the Foreign Legion on the planet Toka. This was based on the popular culture version, with individual Hokas taking roles reminiscent of the stereotypes found in fiction about the Legion. The Hoka Foreign Legion plays an important role, living up to its model's traditions, in the story "The Tiddlywink Warriors."
  • Andrew Keith and William H. Keith, Jr.'s The Fifth Foreign Legion Trilogy chronicles the exploits of Legionnaires around the turn of the 30th century. These Legionnaires are members of the Fifth Foreign Legion which is a direct descendant of the French Foreign Legion. According to the chronology of the novels, the French Foreign Legion is considered the First Foreign Legion which was reorganized into the Second Foreign Legion after the First was destroyed, a process which occurred thrice more to make the present Foreign Legion in the novels the Fifth. The novels are rife with Legion traditions, terminology, and famous quotes. Although the Legion of the novels now serves the human Commonwealth as a whole (made up of Earth plus numerous colonized planets) rather than France alone, its composition and function are virtually identical to that of the French Foreign Legion of the past and present. The three novels are titled: March Or Die, Honor and Fidelity, and Cohort of the Damned.
  • In Terry Brooks' The Elfstones of Shannara, there is a unit of Callahorn's army that is quite similar to the French Foreign Legion, named the Free Corps. Anyone is allowed to sign up with them, no questions asked.
  • In Jerry Pournelle's Future History, involving a future soldier of fortune named John Christian Falkenberg, there is a central role to the CoDominium Armed Forces, which fights on all kinds of planets far away in space, and which had been created out of the French Foreign Legion and still keeps many of its traditions such as the aforementioned "Camerone Day".
  • Pournelle's fellow SF writer David Drake, the author of the Hammer's Slammers series, also bases his mercenary unit on the French Foreign Legion. More specifically, the Legion after the Second World War, when most of its members had fled from prosecution from the Allied War Crimes Commission.
  • Yet another SF depiction is Frank Herbert's Man of Two Worlds (1986). Part of the story takes place on Venus, with a war occurring on the planet between the French and their Foreign Legion and the Chinese. Foot soldiers on both sides wear armored suits made of inceram, an incredibly heat-resistant material, to protect them from the planet's surface temperatures. Any damage to a soldier's armor which allows the Venusian atmosphere inside results in his body literally boiling into vapor.
  • In British comic fantasy author Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, the "Klatchian Foreign Legion" parodies the French Foreign Legion (the region of Klatch itself being roughly analogous to the Middle East/North Africa). It is generally regarded as a "place men go to forget", and appears to be very effective in this, as evidenced by its members' frequent failure to recall its name, or in many cases, their own names. It is jokingly described as "Twenty years service and all the sand you can eat."
  • Science Fiction author William C. Dietz has written a future history where the Legion is now the official armed forces of the "Confederacy", a multi-species political entity. The books to date are: Legion of the Damned, The Final Battle, By Blood Alone, By Force of Arms, For More Than Glory, For Those Who Fell, When All Seems Lost (2007), When Duty Calls (2008). The Legion in Dietz's novels still celebrates Capitaine Danjou and the Battle of Camarón.
  • The Night's Watch in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series is a military organization similar to the romantic view of the French Foreign Legion. Many of the members of The Watch are sons of nobles with little claim to their father's holdings or criminals that chose lifelong service with The Watch instead of suffering the typical punishment for their crime (usually execution). One of the tenets of the organization is that all men are equal once they "take the black", regardless if they were noble or commoner before joining.
  • Robert Asprin's Phule's Company novels revolve around a "Space Legion" that any being can join. They choose a new name and their crimes are erased.
  • Philip Gordon Wylie's Gladiator (1930) follows the adventures of Hugo Danner, an American man born with superhuman strength, speed, and bulletproof skin via prenatal chemical experimentation. He later joins the legion during World War I and uses his skills to combat the German Empire.
  • In the Code Geass manga, Nunnally's Nightmare, the Britannian Foreign Legion appears as main antagonists.
  • In Max Brooks's The Zombie Survival Guide French Foreign Legionnaires are mentioned in a recorded zombie siege at Ft. Louis Philippe in North Africa, 1893.

Art[edit]

In his oeuvre Danish artist Adam Saks has concerned himself extensively with the French Foreign Legion and its colonial history as well as with the individual's solitude and aggression.

Pulp Magazines[edit]

Foreign Legion fiction was commonplace in American pulp magazines from the mid-20s through the late-30s. Magazines which published Foreign Legion stories include Frontier Stories, Battle Stories, Blue Book, Action Stories, Adventure and Argosy. Short Stories, in particular, included a lot of Foreign Legion stories. In 1940, a Munsey pulp, Foreign Legion Adventures reprinted stories from early-30s issues of Argosy; it only lasted two issues. Certain authors specialized in these stories. Among the most popular were J.D. Newsom, Bob Du Soe, Theodore Roscoe, and Georges Surdez. [2] P. C. Wren appeared in Blue Book in the mid-30s. The settings for Foreign Legion stories were almost always in North Africa, although sometimes "off-trail" locations were used, e.g. Indochina, the Western Front, Haiti. Stories often centered on the various nationalities of the soldiers.

Comics[edit]

  • G.I. Joe villains Tomax and Xamot and Major Bludd served in the French Foreign Legion before joining Cobra.
  • Mickey Mouse joined the Foreign Legion in a 1936 story by Floyd Gottfredson
  • In the 1960s, the British boys' comic Eagle featured a popular adventure strip called Luck of the Legion, set in the classic period before World War I, of soldiers in blue coats, white kepi covers, white scarves and white (or red) trousers marching across endless desert under the gaze of treacherous Arab warriors.
  • The long-running British war strip Charley's War spent many weeks telling a side story about the exploits of a Legionnaire called "Blue" (actually a British Legionnaire), most of which was based around the Battle of Verdun. Blue later made a return when the story moved on to the mutiny at Etaples (the hotly disputed Étaples Mutiny), where Blue was using a variety of identities whilst leading a group of deserters who were hiding out in the surrounding area.
  • The Legion is the setting for the UK comic strip Beau Peep.
  • Snoopy, from the Peanuts comic strip, often imagines himself as a member of the Foreign Legion, usually defending or reclaiming Fort Zinderneuf (a reference to Beau Geste). He often embarrasses himself and his troops, the birds. Snoopy often leads them through the desert (the sand traps on the golf course), and in one story line went to Charlie Brown's school on the bus (apparently their "camel broke down"), and he and his troops were sent to the Principal's office, where they were attempting to be generous in surrender, offering the Principal a "free balloon if you surrender immediately". In the end, the "Foreign Legion" was seen next to Snoopy's dog house, when Snoopy explained that they forgot that Fort Zinderneuf was closed on Saturday.
  • In a French sci-fi comic Aquablue, the hero, Neo, must defend himself and his people against the Légion, an Earth Special Force which uses the same uniforms as the Légion Étrangère.
  • In the manga and anime Area 88, the protagonist, Shin Kazama, was tricked while intoxicated into joining the French Foreign Legion to serve in a mercenary airforce in the fictional Asran Kingdom of North Africa. The office that handled his contracts was located in Paris, France.
  • Jeremy MacConnor, the main character in the Australian comic Platinum Grit, is depicted wearing a French Foreign Legion hat.
  • The long-running King Features Syndicate daily comic strip Crock, by Bill Rechin, Don Wilder and Brant Parker, depicts the French Foreign Legion.
  • Jean-Paul "Frenchie" DuChamp, sidekick of the Marvel Comics hero Moon Knight, is an ex-legionnaire.
  • Alien Legion, created by Carl Potts (Marvel Epic Comics) depicts a military unit called Force Nomad, composed of the "dregs of the universe". It mirrors the French Foreign Legion in many respects, right down to a heroic figure whose prosthetic hand is considered a holy relic to the unit.
  • Kyle Baker's The Cowboy Wally Graphic Novel included long sequences in which the main characters humorously joined the French Foreign Legion.
  • In the comic strip Modesty Blaise, Modesty's sidekick Willie Garvin is a former member.
  • In the graphic novel Crogan's March by Chris Schweizer, the main character Peter Crogan is a member of the French Foreign Legion in the year 1912.
  • A 1962 comic shows two members of the French Foreign Legion, with one explaining, "I was released by the Phillies."
  • In Archie Comics, a number of short stories have featured Archie Andrews and various other male teenage friends joining the French Foreign Legion to forget a girl. Often they change their name to the same name as each other, and while the girls can at times vary from guy to guy, it often features one or all of them trying to forget the same girl who looks like Veronica Lodge, but who goes by a different name. Usually they throw the picture away in a trash can at the beginning of the story, the pictures sometimes being the same exact picture. Whenever the girl who looks like Veronica, but with a different name, is used as the plot device, she usually shows up to tempt the guys somewhere in the story.
  • Aquí La Legión, a strip published in one of Argentinean publisher Columba's comic anthology magazines (Nippur Magnum, D'Artagnan, etc), was very popular and lasted years.

Films, television and radio[edit]

  • In BBC sitcom Only Fools and Horses, Grandad recalls the time he attempted to join the French Foreign Legion.
  • In the animated cartoon show Johnny Bravo, episode "Over the Hump", Johnny is lured into the French Foreign Legion by pictures of beautiful women.
  • P. C. Wren's Beau Geste has been the basis for three movies in 1926, 1939 and 1966, one parody in 1977 and one BBC mini-series in 1982. The stories all feature three brothers who hide out in the French Foreign Legion. The Carry On team added their version of the story in Follow That Camel in 1967.
  • P. C. Wren's Beau Sabreur (a sequel to Beau Geste), was made into a silent movie in 1928, but only the trailer now survives.
  • The 1939 comedy, The Flying Deuces is one of the most popular films to star the duo Laurel and Hardy. The film begins with the pair joining the Foreign Legion and much of the comedy comes from their experiences. Laurel and Hardy had made an earlier comedy also set in the Legion, Beau Hunks, in 1931, in which the pair enlist so that Hardy can forget a woman that jilted him. The line in both movies, the enlisting officer asks Hardy, "Why did you join the Foreign Legion?" Laurel replies, "To forget!" The officer inquires, "Forget - What?" Laurel answers, "He Forgot!"
  • In 1951, Burt Lancaster starred as a sergeant in the Foreign Legion in the movie Ten Tall Men.
  • In the 1952 animated cartoon Little Beau Pepé, Pepé Le Pew tries to join the Foreign Legion and empties a desert fort with his stench.
  • In 1962, Stewart Granger starred in the Italian-made Marcia o Crepa (meaning "March or Die" in Italian), released in the U.S. as Commando (1964 film) and in the UK as The Legion's Last Patrol. Captain LeBlanc (Granger) leads a group of men across the desert to capture a rebel leader during the Algerian independence war. The haunting theme music was a number 4 chart hit in the UK the following year.
  • In a 1966 episode of the cartoon series Super 6 titled "Heau Beau Jest", the Matzorileys, three brothers who share the same body, portrayed legionnaires defending a fort's water supply against Arab raider Ali bin Loudmouth.
  • Les Douze Légionnaires (1976), was a French TV series about legionaries in contemporary Africa.
  • March or Die (1978), (also known in France as Marche ou Crève) stars Gene Hackman as Colonel Foster, an embittered Legion veteran who returns to Algeria from the Western Front shortly after the end of World War I.
  • La Légion saute sur Kolwezi (1980) is based on a real operation in 1978
  • Les Morfalous (1984), a French film with Jean-Paul Belmondo, in Tunisia during the Second World War, a convoy of the Foreign Legion is charged to recover gold bars of six billion francs from a bank in El Ksour in order to bring them into a safe place.
  • In a third season (1987) episode of "The Jetsons", entitled "Two Many Georges", George Jetson leaves to join the French Foreign Legion after determining that his clone is superior to him.
  • In the episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles entitled "Tales of Innocence", Indiana Jones joins the French Foreign Legion in Morocco during World War I.
  • Legionnaire (1998), starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, depicted the Foreign Legion's battles against Algerian Berbers. In the 1990 film Lionheart, Van Damme stars as a Legionnaire who deserts in order to help his sister-in-law and niece after his brother is killed.
  • In Savior (1998), Dennis Quaid is a former Legionnaire who has become a mercenary for the Serbian militia.
  • The Mummy (1999) stars Brendan Fraser as Rick O'Connell, a member of Foreign Legion at the beginning of the film.
  • Beau travail (1999) by Claire Denis adapts Herman Melville's novel Billy Budd to take place in today's Foreign Legion. While stationed in Djibouti, a sergeant-major feels increasingly threatened by a popular new recruit.
  • In the film Proof of Life, the character Eric Kessler, played by German actor Gottfried John, lives semi-voluntarily in a rebel camp along with ransom hostage Peter Bowman, played by David Morse. Kessler pretends to be somewhat insane in order not to raise suspicions, but he is actually fully lucid and an ex-Legionnaire, as revealed when Bowman notices a tattoo (2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment insignia) on his arm.
  • The Legion was revealed in a July 2005 documentary Escape to the Legion, commissioned by the British television channel, Channel 4. In this four-part series, 11 volunteers with Bear Grylls explored the myths, romanticism and rigours of basic training in the French Foreign Legion.
  • The French Foreign Legion also appears in the Disney animated television series The Legend of Tarzan in an antagonistic role, due to its leadership under the relentless and cruel Lieutenant-Colonel Staquait, who aims on several occasions to capture, imprison or kill Tarzan's newfound friends Hugo and Hooft, American volunteers who betrayed Staquait's orders to slaughter a village full of women and children.
  • Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion is a television series which ran on the NBC network from 1955 to 1957. Buster Crabbe starred as the title character, while his real-life son Cullen played his ward, "Cuffey" Sanders.
  • Secondhand Lions (2005) stars Robert Duvall and Michael Caine as Hub and Garth McCann, uncles to nephew Walter Coleman played by Haley Joel Osment. An important part of the back story is the uncle's service in the Legion.
  • In Season 3 of Deadliest Warrior, the French Foreign Legion went up against the Gurkhas.
  • In Series 4-6 on Soldier Soldier, Fusilier Joe Farrell (David Groves) joined the French Foreign Legion before he joined the Kings Own Fusilliers.
  • In Steven Spielberg's 2011 movie "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn", Tintin and Captain Haddock, whose plane crashed in the Sahara, are rescued by Méharistes of the Foreign Legion.
  • Two episodes of The Goon Show are set in the foreign legion - "Under Two Floorboards" and "The Gold Plate Robbery."
  • In the 1998 American adaptation of Godzilla, Matthew Broderick's character, an American researcher, expresses that he's always wanted to join the French Foreign Legion.

Video games[edit]

  • Code d'Honneur: Légion Etangère
  • Code d'Honneur 2: Conspiracy Island
  • Code d'Honneur 3: Mesure d'Urgence
  • In Hitman: Codename 47, all prime targets are revealed as former members of the French Foreign Legion.
  • In World in Conflict, if the player is commanding NATO forces French Foreign Legion soldiers can parachute into the battle.
  • In Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness the character of Kurtis Trent is an ex-legionnaire.
  • In Battlefield: Bad Company it is revealed through in-game dialogue that the primary antagonist, The Legionnaire, was a member of the French Foreign Legion who killed his commanding officer in a dispute and convinced the rest of the unit to defect and form their own mercenary company: The Legionnaires.
  • In Civilization V the Foreign Legion is a French unique unit which receives a bonus when fighting on enemy territory.
  • In FarCry 3, F1 assault rifles are available to the player because of former Legionnaires who stole them from an armory.

Board and card games[edit]

  • In 1959 Chad Valley released the board game Sahara Patrol. This was a game for two players: who either took the part of the Foreign Legion or the Arabs, and fought for control of forts in the Sahara.
  • In 1960 the English card game manufacturer Pepys produced the Foreign Legion Card Game.

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Porch, Douglas (1991). The French Foreign Legion: A Complete History. London: Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-43427-7
  2. ^ Goulart, Ron (1972). Cheap Thrills: an informal history of the pulp magazines. New York, Arlington House. ISBN 0-87000-172-8