Beau Geste: Review
Gary Cooper, Ray Milland and Robert Preston star in an epic adventure begun in childhood play, and fulfilled in adulthood by a trio of noble and honorable men.
Beau Geste is a thrilling tale of three orphaned brothers under the care of a kind and generous patroness who encourages rambunctious childhood imagination. When the boys grow up and find their guardian in a jam facing scandal and financial ruin all three individually claim responsibility and one by one fulfill a childhood dream by gallantly running off to join the French Foreign Legion. Once there the brothers find that life among their fellow international adventures can be very cruel, and that far greater sacrifices are to be demanded of them in the harsh reality of Foreign Service than any of them could have ever imagined.
Beau Geste demonstrates two of the best things about films made in the Golden age of Hollywood: first the reliance on story, and second the dependence of character to hold an audience’s attention. This is especially true of adventure films that would nowadays be jam packed with special effects and eye-catching stunts to the point of distraction. Fortunately, the technical limitations of 1939 required filmmakers to rely on pure and simple craft, and Beau Geste does so in spades. From the very beginning the film creates a wonderful atmosphere of mystery with an establishing scene that will baffle and confound you. The solution to the conundrum is revealed later near the end of the movie through a sequence of scenes, which culminate in a poetry of justice that will stay with you as one of the most satisfying (as well as ingenious) conclusions ever captured on film.
Although, Gunga Din is the best remembered action tale of the period that exemplifies the wanderlust of the dreams of young men, Beau Geste is no less of a fun and enthralling fantasy/adventure with scenes of intrigue and daring do fit to match the expectations of any idealized boyhood fantasy. In fact, it was the character of Beau (the ideal man of adolescent creation) that caused Cooper to pass on the role of Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind. Cooper favored what he believed to be the stronger character of Beau, a man who lives by a strict moral code and tolerates no less from the ones he truly loves and trusts. To the quiet, yet morally strong, Cooper Rhett Butler was a very different type of man all together.
Beau Geste indeed lives up to the high standards of one of classic cinema’s greatest leading men in a way that no modern film ever could. Faced with that burden, what choice do today’s epics have other than to load up with copious amounts of computer-generated images? How else can you compete when modern heroes lack the wherewithal to shoulder the burden of responsibility required of Gary Cooper? A return to simple story telling would probably be a good start. However, Hollywood filmmakers may try, it’s likely to be a long time before we see the likes of Beau Geste again.