Time was, films about the French Foreign Legion were themselves legion. Filmmakers have since released at least four movies directly based on the novel, with stars ranging from Ronald Colman to Gary Cooper and Telly Savalas, while scores of other legion-related films produced in the 20th century practically constitute their own genre of outback swashbucklers.
The legion was conceived as a provisional solution to a fleeting problem —the migration of undesirable persons into France in the wake of revolutions throughout Europe in — In retrospect, a military remedy to illegal immigration appears both contemporary and imaginative. The July Revolution of had resuscitated the French Revolutionary concept of a citizen army and led to disbandment of the Swiss Guards and other foreign formations that had enforced Bourbon mastery of such uprisings.
To address the resulting coagulation of refugees in French cities, King Louis-Philippe on March 9, , signed into law an act creating a ghetto foreign force within a citizen army. But the corps conceived as a mere historical footnote adhered to France like a sticky, finger-clinging sweet. Alien males continued to trespass, only to be repackaged and dispatched. Few survived, but replacements were plentiful and expendable.
Even French regular soldiers questioned the value of legionnaires whose conduct hovered somewhere between sullen recalcitrance and incipient mutiny. On April 30, , 62 legionnaires under Captain Jean Danjou—a Crimean War veteran with a wooden prosthetic hand—defended a walled farm called Hacienda de la Trinidad against hundreds of Mexican insurgents. At the end of the day, their ammunition exhausted, the five surviving legionnaires—Lieutenant Clement Maudet, Corporal Louis Maine and Privates Catteau, Constantin and a Prussian named Wenzel—fixed bayonets, fired a valedictory volley and plunged to their deaths in a tsunami of sombreros.
Paul Rollet worried that high casualties and a dearth of replacements would fold the legion on the Western Front—fortunately, the Hindenburg Line caved before the RMLE ran short of rifles.
Les Anciens et nous : la littérature contemporaine et la matière antique - Persée
After the war, Rollet, now inspector general of the legion, fretted that the old legion had died on Vimy Ridge, in Champagne and Verdun and on the Chemin des Dames. When French officers who had spent time as prisoners in Germany were sent to the legion to acquire command time for promotion, they so abused German legionnaires that many opted to desert.
Doubts about legion discipline, solidity and adaptability made some commanders reluctant to commit them to combat in North Africa and Syria in Rollet was distressed to the point of distraction by what he viewed as assaults on the legion by novelists, filmmakers and even in the sensationalist memoirs of alleged ex-legionnaires, tales that inevitably culminated, as in Beau Geste , in dramatic desertion.
This would, he reasoned, legitimize the legion in the eyes of recruits, instill a sense of continuity with past generations and inculcate values and standards of behavior by making legionnaires custodians of supposedly hallowed practices. Journal de guerre en chine Feb 13, Les joyaux de l'architecture belge Aug 21, More Information.
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