DVD Article

Desert Warriors Come Home

Movies based on desert warfare -- See what we thought of ''The Lost Patrol,'' ''Beau Geste,'' and ''Sahara''

Hollywood has dramatized wars all over the world, from the jungles of Vietnam to the beaches of the Pacific. Now, the crisis in the Middle East is once again focusing attention on that long-troubled area. Here are some of the movies' better meditations on desert warfare.

The Lost Patrol (1934)
Victor McLaglen commands a motley group of World War I British non-coms, trapped at a Mesopotamian oasis while unseen Arab tribesmen pick them off one by one. Director John Ford lays on the White Man's Burden cliches a little thick. Nonetheless, his evocation of sun-baked tension and paranoia still packs a cinematic wallop, and Patrol deserves its reputation as a pioneering all-male action film. In black and white. B+

The Four Feathers (1939)
This second film version of novelist A.E.W. Mason's colonial tale — a quintessentially British saga of upper-crust twits fighting in the Sudan as the fate of the Empire hangs in the balance — is a sort of Technicolor Kipling daydream. Much of it may strike modern audiences as inherently ridiculous, but the desert battle scenes are spectacular, Ralph Richardson provides much-needed ironic relief, and the photography is strikingly painterly. Old-fashioned, to be sure, but lots of fun. B

Beau Geste (1939)
Gary Cooper, Robert Preston, and Ray Milland are brothers in the French Foreign Legion; Brian Donlevy is the sadistic commander they battle when not fighting Arabs. Spirited performances don't / quite redeem the melodramatic contrivances of this often-filmed piece of romantic nonsense. But the Moroccan desert (actually Arizona) looks great, and at the very least, this Geste is leagues better than the 1966 remake with Telly Savalas. In black and white. B

Sahara (1943)
Tank crew chief Humphrey Bogart, lost during the Allied retreat from Tobruk, leads a hopeless battle for water against advancing Nazis. Superficially, this looks like the usual World War II, one- soldier-from-every-ethnic-group hokum. But the cast (including the young Lloyd Bridges) is so good, the script so intelligent, and the photography so gritty that Sahara anticipates a lot of postwar neorealism. In short, it's a minor classic, perhaps even Bogie's best picture. In black and white. A

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
David Lean's desert epic has been so acclaimed in recent years that one forgets that most serious critics undervalued it when it was first released — too middlebrow in conception, they said, too predictably linear in its narrative. Lawrence can now be seen for what it really is: a fascinating study of one man's doomed attempt at going native, and one of the most gorgeously pictorial movies ever made. Of course, only some of that comes across on video. But enough survives the translation to make Lawrence of Arabia eminently watchable at home — particularly the eccentric but riveting performance by Peter O'Toole in the title role. A+

Originally posted Jan 18, 1991 Published in issue #49 Jan 18, 1991 Order article reprints
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