Lost Command

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Lost Command
Lost Command poster.jpg
Directed by Mark Robson
Produced by Mark Robson
Screenplay by Nelson Gidding
Based on The Centurions
1960 novel 
by Jean Lartéguy
Starring Anthony Quinn
Alain Delon
George Segal
Michèle Morgan
Claudia Cardinale
Music by Franz Waxman
Cinematography Robert Surtees (Panavision)
Edited by Dorothy Spencer
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • May 1966 (1966-05)
Running time
129 minutes
Country USA
Language English
Box office $1,150,000 (est. US/ Canada rentals)[1]
4,294,756 admissions (France)[2]

Lost Command is a Pathécolor 1966 war film in Panavision directed and produced by Mark Robson. The screenplay was written by Nelson Gidding, based on the 1960 novel The Centurions by Jean Lartéguy. The film stars Anthony Quinn, Alain Delon, George Segal, Michèle Morgan, Maurice Ronet and Claudia Cardinale.

Historical Background[edit]

The film, which focuses on the story of French paratroopers battling in French Indochina and French Algeria, was provided technical advice from French military Commandant René Lepage, formerly with the 6th Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment.

The character played by Anthony Quinn is loosely based on Marcel Bigeard, the actual commander in French Indochina of the predecessor of the 6th Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment (the 6th Colonial Parachute Battalion). Bigeard later commanded the 3rd Colonial Parachute Regiment in French Algeria.

The film was released within four years of the end of the Algerian war for independence, and included scenes that reflected actual atrocities by both sides. Lost Command was banned in France for ten years.[3]


In the final moments of the 1954 Battle of Dien Bien Phu, a weakened French garrison anticipates a last assault by communist Viet Minh troops.

The garrison commander, Basque Lt. Col. Pierre-Noel Raspeguy (Anthony Quinn), has called central headquarters for reinforcements. Headquarters sends only a single plane load of French paratroopers, under the command of Major De Clairefons. Despite Raspeguy's attempts to provide covering fire, the paratroopers are slaughtered as they land. Major De Clairefons is killed when his parachute drags him into a minefield. Raspeguy is enraged that General Melies (Jean Servais) sent only one plane, and further believes that Melies intends to make Raspeguy responsible for the entire debacle at Dien Bien Phu.

The Viet Minh overrun the French, with the survivors captured and imprisoned. Among Raspeguy's friends are military historian Captain Phillipe Esclavier (Alain Delon), Indochina born Captain Boisfeures (Maurice Ronet), surgeon Captain Dia (Gordon Heath) and Lt Ben Mahidi (George Segal), an Algerian-born paratrooper who turns down a Viet Minh leader's (Burt Kwouk) offer for preferential treatment because he is an Arab. Raspeguy's leadership keeps the men together in their captivity. When released after a treaty between the Viet Minh and France, Raspeguy leads his men in demolishing a delousing station that they see as a humiliation.

Upon his return home to Algeria, Ben Mahidi is disgusted at the treatment of his people, especially when his teenaged brother is machine gunned by the police for spraying graffiti in support of independence from France. He deserts from the army to join the rebels of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN), becoming a guerilla leader.

Upon his own return from Indochina, Lt. Colonel Raspeguy starts a relationship with Countess Nathalie De Clairefons (Michèle Morgan), widow of the Major who died while trying to reinforce Raspeguy's garrison. The Countess' military contacts result in Raspeguy being given command of the new 10th Regiment of Parachutistes Coloniaux, serving under General Melies in the Algerian war.

The General briefs him that the command is his last chance in the military; if his Regiment fails, Raspeguy's career is finished. Raspeguy recruits his comrades in arms from Indochina and trains his battalion with unorthodox methods such as using live ammunition on an assault course to encourage speed and initiative.

Soon after beginning counter insurgency operations in both urban and rural environments, Esclavier falls in love with Mahidi's sister Aicha (Claudia Cardinale) who is loyal to the FLN and uses her friendship with Esclavier to smuggle explosive detonators. The previously naive Esclavier begins to have a new view of his nation's conduct, as the FLN rebels and French parachutists try to outdo each other in breaking the rules of war.



Mark Robson bought the film rights to the novel for his Red Lion company in March 1963. Nelson Gidding, who adapted Nine Hours to Rama for Robson, was hired to do the screenplay.[4][5]

Despite the success of the novel the release of another film called The Centurians caused the title to be changed. At one stage it was going to be From Indo-China to the Gates of Algiers[6] then Not For Honor and Glory[7] before it was decided to use Lost Command.

Robson reportedly held off making the film for a year so Anthony Quinn could play the lead.[8]

The film was shot in Spain.[9]

Proposed Follow Up[edit]

In 1963 Robson also brought the rights for Larteguy's follow up novel The Praetorians.[10] However this film was never made.


Raspeguy: "There's only one rule - don't die!"

Raspeguy: (on being encouraged to use Countess De Clairefons' influence to obtain a command) "Since when do women run the army?"
Esclavier: "Since longer than peasants were allowed to become officers"


  1. ^ "Big Rental Pictures of 1966", Variety, 4 January 1967 p 8
  2. ^ Box office information for film at Box Office Story
  3. ^ p.25 Loufti, Martine Astier Imperial Frame: Film Industry and Colonial Representation Sherzer, Dina (Editor) Cinema, Colonialism, Postcolonialism: Perspectives from the French and Francophone World 1996 University of Texas Press
  4. ^ Robson Will Depict Paratrooper Novel: MGM's 'King of Gypsies'; Algonquin Crowd' Revived Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 09 May 1963: C11.
  5. ^ http://content.cdlib.org/view?docId=tf1t1nb12v&chunk.id=c02-
  6. ^ Drama Bow Hardly a First for Mindy: 'South Pacific' Turning Point for Actress Due at Hartford Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 09 Sep 1963: D17.
  7. ^ http://issuu.com/boxoffice/docs/boxoffice_121365/13
  8. ^ Robson 'Centurions' Enlists Tony Quinn: Jennifer Jones in Perry Play; Strange Case of Segal-Sagal Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 13 Apr 1964: E21.
  9. ^ Robson Tethered to Hollywood Base Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 25 Jan 1966: c8.
  10. ^ The Conjugal Bed' Target of Italians: Comedy Cynical but Funny; Mirisch Slate $17 Million Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 07 Oct 1963: D15.

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