"A lone C-47 aircraft flying high overhead.Stand up! Hook up!Red light buzzes. Green light, GO!As you jump into the surrounded French position of Dien Bien Phu with Aliane Delon, George Segal and the characters French Commando Jean Larteguy created in "The Centurions" and "The Praetorians"---you experience the mood and the feel of a desperate battle gone wrong. As they land to desperately reinforce the abandoned outpost, they meet Anthony Quinn's Raspeguy--his best movie role--a legendary figure modeled after Col Marcel Biegard to include his pipe---who keeps the men together and out of the prison camps by personal humanity and leadership-by-example. Its too bad Larteguy's books are out-of-print--you should read them as companions to the film, which differs in some details to keep you guessing. There is even a romance to keep the females interested with the dashing Delon and sexy Claudia Cardinale (WOW).This film is simply a masterpiece and must-see for every American in uniform or who ever wants to serve. Its our guide of how a fighting force should be--a force of esperit de corps, yes, but a force that THINKS. After Raspeguy's "lost command" in Indo-China, he reflects and decides to surround himself with bright, innovative young officers and to learn from his experiences. He realizes that men will fight for an identity reflected in a piece of head gear---I love how in the book, Raspeguy says that if he had been Jewish, he would have made the cursed yellow Star of David the Nazis used to march Jews to the death camps, his unit's insignia of honor--to embrace it---to turn its symbolism on its abusers--to fight for and make it a symbol of honor and courage. In the film, he chooses the "Leopard" camouflage cap and makes it the symbol as we would the beret if we were smart in the U.S. Army and made a universal BROWN BERET our symbol to live up to. Raspeguy's men, outcasts from other units---soon start believing in themselves and winning in battles noone thought they could win.The film is just superb in its depiction of truck and helicopter-mobile tactics fighting the guerrillas in desert Algeria. It has some of the best, most realistic combat scenes of a light infantry assault uphill against a dug-in foe ever depicted on film, Raspeguy's SLAM-esque style of cross-talking by radio his subordinate leaders is superb. All of the key figures are thinking infantry leaders not mindless macho stooges/tyrants as is the common American stereotype depicted in films and emulated too often in real life. If this were not enough, the film has a My Lai-type moral leadership dilemma incident that would make a good place to stop the tape and discuss among your men. I cannot rate this film too high, its one of the best war films ever made, its more helpful to watch than even Saving Private Ryan because it has a positive message of what to go out and do if you are in the military, whereas SPR brings on negative sadness and an anger that if properly channeled by a pursuit of how to do it better would be helpful. Most people when they see something negative go no further, its better to see the French Colonial Paratroops find a way to win in this film. I pin a medal for bravey on the leopard camouflage uniforms of the film-makers and old Commando Larteguy wherever he is--and render the salute!Airborne!"
Excellent Combat Classic on DVD
D. Blackdeer | Kansas | 07/21/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Very good film released in 1966 based on Jean Larteguy's novel "The Centurians" with Anthony Quinn portraying the main character Lieutenant Colonel Raspeguy. The film opens with Raspeguy and his paratrooper battalion fighting to the bitter end at Dien Bien Phu in Indo China. Raspeguy with his surviving officers and soldiers are interned by the Viet Mihn forces and repatriated back to France. Raspeguy loses his battalion, but later obtains command of the 10th Paratrooper Regiment that is activated for battle in Algeria against Arab guerrilla forces fighting for independence. Raspeguy recruits his trusted veterans and they train the regiment with lessons learned from their experiences in Indo China. Raspeguy is the typical maverick; a hardcore soldier who runs operations his way. His unconventional methods for weeding out terrorist factions and insurgent forces causes friction with the French senior command and government administration. He suffers a setback after his soldiers commit atrocities against local villagers in an area where several comrades were ambushed. Raspeguy is under investigation and faces a second relief from command and possible imprisonment. Victory is his key to success and he pulls out all stops to defeat the terrorists and a large insurgent force led by one of his former officers who defected from France.
Overall it's a very good film and an interesting subject with French paratroopers fighting guerrilla forces in Algeria. Good action scenes on small unit combat, though tame by today's movie standards. The DVD release is finally here and an excellent deal considering its previous VHS edition was expensive and of average quality. The DVD's imagery is sharp and clear, in letterbox format, and sound is significantly improved."
Anthony Quinn, The All Purpose Ethnic!
Roger Kennedy | 10/17/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a surprisngly good movie with Anthony Quinn, the all purpose ethnic! I say this because he has been used to play everything from American Indians to Arabs over the years! Here he plays a fairly conventional character modeled after the actaul charasmatic Marcel Biegeard, a French paratrooper. I would concur with the other reviews that its one of Quinn's better roles. The movie has plenty of action taking the viewer from the defeat of Dien Bien Phu to Algeria. The scenes in Algeria are less propagandistic than some portrayals, though I believe the French were a good deal more brutal than this movie shows. Again, the best features really are the combat scenes, and the depiction of how Quinn's character molds a solid and versatile combat unit able to take on terrorists in the mountains and the city. My question when watching this movie was why didn't the French show this kind of courage and determination in 1940 against the Germans when it would have really mattered? The movie conveys a subtle anti-French message toward colonialism at the end which does not come across very clearly. Reviewers have tended to pan it because of this, but that's no reason not to give this film a chance.Despite these minor quibbles this is still a unique film covering an exotic topic. With increased American involvement in Afghanistan and elsewhere there's a lot of added interest here. The movie conveys quite well the difficulties of dealing with insurgents. There's lots of good action without gore, some good acting, and even a romance or two. Not a bad deal considering this movie was out of print until the recent DVD re-issue."
Another look at the Lost Command
Wiley Clapp | Nevada | 06/18/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The film is an excellent adaptation of Jean Larteguy's pivotal novel "The Centurians" which was written just after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu and during the Algerian war. It is NOT about a unit of the French Foreign Legion, but rather about a newly-formed French Colonial Parachute Regiment. The events described in novel and film are modeled after those of a famous officer of the French Army named Bigeard who went on to a lengthy career in the French service. The important aspect of this history is that it led up to a defacto mutiny of several key elements of the French Army. The film catches the bitterness of French soldiers who gave their all in a lost cause and the book was almost required reading for our own Special Operations people in the early days of the Vietnam war. An excellent film."
Excellent Dramatization of French Colonial Collapse
D. Snoke | Tampa, FL | 04/29/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Seems to be a bit of confusion in many of the reviews. This film does not attempt to glorify the French military action in Algeria, but rather highlights several off the salient issues and tensions that underscored the collapse of French colonialism.
Many, perhaps most of the French units which fought in French Indochina were recruited from colonial territories, but generally officered by mainland Frenchmen. The BPCs (battalions de parachutistes coloniales) are a good example, but by no means the only one. One of the young officers in Raspiguy's unit at the siege of Dien Bien Phu (where France lost Indochina)is named Mahidi -- an Algerian, played by George Segal.
Raspiguy is from peasant stock in the Pyrenees. In order to retain unit command in the French army after the Indochina debacle, he must manipulate an army widow who comes from the aristocratic class. A nice, cynical touch in the film, and, well, French. Depardieu was born too late for this film, but he might have been better in the lead role than Anthony Quinn. Maybe.
Raspiguy does indeed recruit a new unit, but tries to retain as many 'old hands' from Indochina as he can. This includes a bright young lawyer (my recollection of his profession) played by Alain Delon. Delon becomes a key player in the drama. And the unit Raspiguy recruits looks more like an REP (regiment de parachutistes entrangeres)(foreign legion), because it's definitely not full of north african or vietnamese troopers.
When Raspiguy's unit arrives in Algeria, they find themselves fighting -- you guessed it -- an Algerian independence movement which includes guerillas under the command of Mahidi. Claudia Cardinale plays Mahidi's sister, who assits the urban insurgency in Algiers.
As it was in Indochina, the Algerian independence movement was a nasty fight, with considerable brutality on both sides. Raspiguy and his men are caught up in this, and ultimately embrace it as the only effective means to complete the mission they were given. Delon breaks with Raspiguy over this issue, and ultimately resigns. The confrontation with Mahidi in the mountains (very well done depiction of small-unit infantry action) resonates of our own experience in Viet Nam: a very difficult and costly battle which Raspiguy ultimately wins, but to no avail -- as Delon leaves the HQ compound, it becomes clear to the audience which side will ultimately triumph in the struggle.
If the movie has one failing, it's a presumption of viewer familiarity with the history of French colonialism. Many folks probably don't have that, and consequently won't connect the dots: defeat by an independence movement in Indochina followed by capitulation to an independence movement in Algeria, the embitterment of French soldiers sent to fight a war they really couldn't win (other than at a cost which was unacceptable to their government), all kinds of internal tensions in the French Army itself, and, ultimately, an effort to extract a measure of revenge on the guy they held responsible for it all -- does anyone remember "Day of the Jackal'? (sp?)
In all, a very well done film. Good performances by everyone involved, though my personal favorite of AQ's work is 'High Wind in Jamaica'. If you're interested in the subject matter, try 'The Battle of Algiers', a chilling documentary film made in France, or the book 'Hell in a Very Small Place', the very best best account of Dien Bien Phu. And if you liked George Segal (not as well remembered as he should be), try two of his other films: 'The Quiller Memorandum', with Alec Guiness, and 'Bridge at Remagen', with Ben Gazzara.