Beau Geste (1939 film)

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Beau Geste
Beau Geste 1939 film poster.jpg
Original theatrical poster
Directed by William A. Wellman
Produced by William A. Wellman
Screenplay by Robert Carson
Based on Beau Geste 
by P. C. Wren
Starring Gary Cooper
Ray Milland
Robert Preston
Brian Donlevy
Susan Hayward
Music by Alfred Newman
Cinematography Theodor Sparkuhl
Archie Stout
Edited by Thomas Scott
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • August 2, 1939 (1939-08-02) (United States)
Running time
112 min.
Country United States
Language English

Beau Geste is a 1939 Paramount Pictures action/adventure motion picture starring Gary Cooper, Ray Milland, Robert Preston, Brian Donlevy, and Susan Hayward.

Directed and produced by William A. Wellman, the screenplay was adapted by Robert Carson, based on the 1924 novel of the same title by P. C. Wren. The music score was by Alfred Newman and cinematography was by Theodor Sparkuhl and Archie Stout.

The film is a virtual scene-for-scene remake of the 1926 silent version of the same title starring Ronald Colman. This is probably the best known adaptation.

Beau Geste is the first movie that features as many as four Academy Award winners for Best Actor/Best Actress in a Leading Role (Cooper, Milland, Hayward, and Broderick Crawford) prior to any of them receiving the award.


The film opens up with a company of French Foreign Legionaries approaching a fort. From a distance it is perceived to be occupied, but upon closer inspection the bodies representing are found to be dead, only mounted for deception. However, a lone shot is fired from inside and two people investigate. They separate and one goes missing. The second man finds two bodies that are not staged like the rest and a death note on one of the bodies admitting to the stealing of a valuable sapphire called the "Blue Water". After the second man leaves the fort to inform his superior, the fort is suddenly set on fire.

Fifteen years earlier, Lady Brandon (Heather Thatcher), wife of absent spendthrift Sir Hector Brandon, and the three adopted Geste brothers, "Beau" (Gary Cooper), Digby (Robert Preston) and John (Ray Milland), her ward Isobel Rivers (Susan Hayward), and estate heir Augustus Brandon are introduced. Almost fifteen years pass showing them grown up. They learn that Sir Hector Brandon intends to sell the "Blue Water," leaving nothing left for the estate, the children and Lady Brandon. At Beau's request, the gem is brought out for one last look when suddenly the lights go out and the jewel disappears. All present proclaim their innocence, but first Beau and then Digby depart without warning, each leaving a confession that he committed the robbery. John reluctantly parts from his beloved Isobel and goes after his brothers.

John discovers they have joined the French Foreign Legion, so he enlists as well. They are trained by the sadistic Sergeant Markoff (Brian Donlevy). Markoff finds out about the theft from his informant Rasinoff (J. Carrol Naish), who overhears joking remarks by the Geste brothers. Rasinoff convinces Markoff that Beau is hiding the gem.

Markoff arranges to split the brothers. Beau and John are part of a detachment sent to man isolated Fort Zinderneuf. When Lieutenant Martin dies from a fever, Markoff assumes command. Fearing the sergeant's now-unchecked brutality, Schwartz (Albert Dekker) incites the other men to mutiny the next morning; only Beau, John, and Maris (Stanley Andrews) refuse to take part. However, Markoff is tipped off by Voison (Harold Huber) and disarms the men while they are sleeping.

The next morning, Markoff orders Beau and John to execute the ringleaders, but they refuse. Before Markoff can do anything, the fort is attacked by Tuaregs. The initial assault is beaten off, but after each new attack, there are fewer defenders. Markoff props up the corpses at their posts to make it look as if there are still plenty of soldiers left. The final attack is repulsed, but Beau is shot, leaving Markoff and John the only men left standing.

Markoff sends John to get bread and wine. He searches Beau's body and finds a small pouch and two letters. When John sees what Markoff has done, he draws his bayonet, giving Markoff the perfect excuse to shoot the only witness to his theft. However, Beau is not yet dead and manages to spoil Markoff's aim, allowing John to stab him. John and Beau hear a bugle announcing the arrival of reinforcements, Digby among them. Beau expires in his brother's arms after telling him to take one of the letters to Lady Brandon and leave the other, a confession of the robbery, in Markoff's hands. John sneaks away unseen.

Digby volunteers to find out why there is no response from the fort. He discovers Beau's body and, remembering his oft-expressed wish, gives him a Viking funeral. He places Beau on a cot, with a dog (Markoff) at his feet, and sets fire to the barracks. Then he too deserts.

He finds John. Later, two American friends (played by Broderick Crawford and Charles Barton) desert, and together, they begin the long journey home. Desperate for water, they find an oasis, but it is occupied by a large band of natives. Digby tricks them into fleeing by playing a bugle to signal a charge by non-existent Legionnaires, but he is killed by a parting shot.

John returns home. Lady Brandon reads Beau's letter, which reveals that Beau stole the gem because he knew it was a fake. Lady Brandon had sold the real one years before, and Beau wanted to protect her. As a child, he was hiding in a suit of armor and witnessed the transaction (which is shown in a flashback near the beginning of the film).



The film was banned in parts of Canada out of respect for the French government.[1]

Award nominations[edit]

Brian Donlevy was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film.[2]

Gone With the Wind[edit]

According to the documentary The Making of a Legend: Gone with the Wind, the much-awaited Civil War spectacular was first shown, without prior knowledge of the audience (and without finished credits or music), in a small theater that was supposed to be showing Beau Geste.


  1. ^ "BRITAIN'S FIRST WAR FILM SINCE OUTBREAK OF HOSTILITIES.". Recorder (Port Pirie, SA : 1919 - 1954). Port Pirie, SA: National Library of Australia. 2 January 1940. p. 3. Retrieved 21 February 2016. 
  2. ^ "NY Times: Beau Geste". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-10. 

External links[edit]

Streaming audio