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  • dbdumonteil24 November 2001
    "La bandera" is one of Julien Duvivier's most famous movies,but it seems a bit dated now.People who saw a version of "Beau Geste" cannot help but be struck by the similarities between the two stories:the "legion etrangere" ,as a way out when the police is hot on your heels.But whereas Beau Geste characters are noble,distinguished and chivalrous,Duvivier's hero and his mates are riffraff .The main character,played by Gabin ,is a good guy who committed an unpremeditated murder.

    The best part of the movie ,in my opinion,is the description of the fort,the barrack-rooms,the brothel .Here,the hero falls in love with a morrocan girl.There's the rub:she's played by Annabella (who was Tyrone Power's wife) who does not look like a North African,not at all,hence the necessity to make her up outrageously ,with ugly results.

    Like in "Beau Geste",the Arabs are the baddies,period.The courageous legionnaires always call them "les salopards" (the bastards).Duvivier achieves a real tour de force here:we never see the enemy when they attack the little fort!The poisoned water is a good dramatic idea and the final echoes Edith Piaf's song "le fanion de la légion".

    However,"la bandera",with its military stereotypes, does not equal Duvivier's other pre-war works "la fin du jour" ,"carnet de bal" , "la belle équipe" or "pépé le moko" ,the latter taking place in North Africa too.
  • Directed halfway through the thirties, "La Bandera" was the pivotal movie of Gabin's career. It wasn't the first film with Julien Duvivier, not even the second, they made one about Canadian lumberjacks and then a 'swords-and-sandals' film called "Golgotha" where his performance as Pontius Pilate was as well-received as John Wayne playing a centurion in "The Greatest Story Ever Told". But Gabin and Duvivier had one thing in common, they liked to play with the same team and their friendship was sealed already.

    So Jean Gabin, after a streak of relatively forgettable movies in the early 30's, knew that the time of doing films to make ends meet was over, he started to pick those that met his expectations. He and Duvivier bought the rights of "La Bandera", Pierre Mac Olan's novel about a criminal hiding in Spanish Foreign legion with the Moroccan Riff War as the backdrop. The director had trouble finding money but the SNC (French Cinema National Society) never regretted its choice to fund "La Bandera", an instant classic that immediately launched Gabin's career and consolidated his status as THE leading man and the persona that would define the first of his four-decade spanning career.

    And as Pierre Gilieth, Gabin makes two myth converge: the charismatic legionary figure whose handsome and tall physique and "smell of hot sand" was praised by Edith Piaf in one of her most famous songs and became a popular expression, and there is the myth of Gabin, as the character who desperately tries to escape from his past or his condition: a loner, a deserter, here the most extreme case: a criminal. The film opens "Rue St Vincent", with a dying man leaving blood stains on a woman he crosses, this is one of the boldest openings of any French film and the symbolism of the blood stain doesn't call for deep analysis. Someone must carry more indelible marks in his soul.

    Then, a fantastic ellipse takes us immediately to Barcelona where Gilieth meets a group of French countrymen who steal his wallet, that he can't call the Police leaves no doubt about his link to the opening crime. The man was a fugitive, now he's broke, and in Spain, he's driven to the inevitable corner of the legion, not without a few fights and a heart-pounding chase in the middle of the streets that looks like a foretaste of the cat-and-mouse game with the Police in "Pepe Le Moko" (also directed by Duvivier). But before the Kasbah, the legion, a no less spectacular and fascinating portmanteau of colorful characters, played the part of the necessary hiding place.

    Indeed, there is a commonly known notion that the guys who went to the legion weren't all idealistic young men, some were mercenaries and others had a past they tried to get rid of in order to start a new life, no matter how brief it would be, a new exciting, anonymous short life was better than a miserable one with the burden of an identity. Gilieth chose a life that would equal prison, he's like leading his own quest for redemption for an act he doesn't regret but admits there has to be a price to pay for it. But even an exile in the legion would be too easy, two French guys join him, one is Aimos as Mulot, the jovial street-smart partner, and Robert Le Vigan as Fernando Lucas, the man who starts as a very friendly fellow, but whose smile becomes more suspicious.

    Gilieth discovers later that he's an undercover cop assigned to find the St Vincent killer in exchange of 50 000 francs, a fortune. It's very revealing when the most troubled and ambiguous personality is a law enforcer, more of a bounty hunter actually, and Le Vigan gave an extraordinary depth as the nemesis of Gilieth, the actor had a face chiseled for playing traitors and sneaky characters (he actually was 'Jesus' in "Golgotha") so it's quite ironic that his career was cut abruptly because of his support to the Petain government, one of cinema's collateral losses to the war, along with Mireille Balin. His role embodies the same ethical ambiguity, in a place where men get a second break; the representative of the law becomes the undesirable one.

    To this glorious cast, Pierre Renoir (brother of director Jean) deserves a mention, he who plays the Captain of the fort, protective, tough but fair and Annabella who represents a more or less credible Berber prostitute named Aicha la Slaoui, and contributes to the romantic subplot. Annabella was the star of the 30's so despite her limited screen-time, she gets the top-billing, like Ida Lupino in "High Sierra" where Bogart was obviously the star, but this is Gabin's "High Sierra" and while the romance doesn't hurt the film, we're no fools, we know it's a man's world where everything will be paid or redeemed on the obligatory battlefield, because legion isn't just about fighting a war but getting rid of demons, and sometimes, it takes one fight to make the ultimate one.

    Now, should we root for these men or Gilieth? There is a scene that gives a hint. The Captain gives a legionary four weeks of punishment, two for having promised to kill him and two others for not having done it when he could. As wrong as it was, he should have kept his word. This scene sums up the ethical dilemma of the film, we all make mistakes, and it's not about acting but acting enough to deserve a break. Even the film was dedicated to General Franco for his involvement in the making, needless to say the banner was removed after the events of the Civil War, it's like the film embraced its own poetry about past mistakes.
  • If you like your meat salty and undercooked and have already tasted the treat that is Jean Gabin on film, this is about as early as you can step back in his career and still get a satisfying meal. He is marching toward his roguish best in this foreign legion romance, and the locations and decor are alluring, even in the faded print I have on DVD. I'm guessing this might be the first film in which he performs his slow burn to explosion, and MAN is this scene -- in close-up -- great!

    I don't know much about the beginnings of the poetic realist movement in French cinema, but Duvivier was one of its main practitioners, and this is a precursor to his great PEPE LE MOKO, where the powerful, rash man is driven to destruction by love. Though not as accomplished as the later Gabin romances PORT OF SHADOWS, THE HUMAN BEAST, or LE JOUR SE LEVE, LA BANDERA has its charms. In addition to a great role and performance by Gabin, there is a strong supporting cast including Raymond Aimos, Pierre Renoir, and the indispensable Gaston Modot. Recommended!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Duvivier, Gabin, what's to be bad, right. W - e - e - ll, I have to say right off that this could have been better; Gabin had already appeared in an earlier Duvivier entry, Maria Chapledaine and within a couple of years he would score really heavily in Duvivier's Le Belle equipe and Pepe Le Moko - in fact you could argue that this is something of a dress rehearsal for Pepe given that in both films Gabin winds up in North Africa escaping a criminal past in France. Most of the faults are in the script. After a brief opening sequence in Paris - which anticipates Le Jour se leve with Gabin starting the film by ending a life - we switch abruptly - and for no satisfactory reason - to Barcelona where Gabin has his pocket picked with nothing more made of it. Then he enlists in the Spanish Foreign Legion and this is where the story really starts - again there is a foretaste of Pepe Le Moko in that a relentless cop, Robert Le Vigan, clearly mistaking Gabin for Jean Valjean, hounds him as he would be hounded in the Casbah. Top-billed Annabella doesn't really convince as an Arab dancing girl anymore than the instant attraction and marriage between her and Gabin. Another poster has pointed out the ludicrousness of having a well OUTSIDE the fort which makes it that much easier for the enemy to pick off the Legionnaires as they venture outside lest they dehydrate. On the other hand this IS a Duvivier film and Duvivier WAS a genius so there are moments to savour and as I've said before even an off-form Duvivier is light years better than Godard on the best day he ever had.
  • tomquick4 May 2009
    I read La Bandera a year or two ago and finally hunted down the DVD. It's pretty faithful to Mac Orlan's text (Dumarchais? IMDb must be putting on airs). This adventure yarn is better than a lot of his pirate stories, but still doesn't rise much above an adolescent's fantasy of the Spanish Foreign Legion. I especially liked Gabin - young, athletic, dumb and out of control. The love story with Annabella seems tacked on and out of the blue, but it's true to the text it's taken from.

    The random stupidity of racing through the desert on Model A flatbeds after phantom snipers and gun-runners rings truest. This film is not on a humanist/moralist level with La Grand Illusion or Paths of Glory. It's an existential image of war-as-it-happens. The settings are stark, bright and always exposed. Sudden death is intertwined with the boredom of the barracks.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    A few observations before I discuss the film in detail. First, the English captioning of this DVD is rather poor. While the body of the text seemed okay, the grammar wasn't and a few times sentences just didn't make much sense. Second, Annabella is billed first. However, she's not even in the film until it's half complete and even then, it's clearly a Jean Gabin starring film. She was a bigger star at the time and later married Tyrone Power, incidentally. Third, the film is about the Spanish Foreign Legion--a group started in 1920. Despite three Frenchmen and an American in the regiment, apparently there were actually very few foreigners in its ranks. And, those who did serve were mostly Hispanics from the Americas--especially Cuba.

    The film begins with Pierre (Gabin) in Spain--having run away from a murder he committed back home in Paris. He's broke, hungry and homeless. In desperation, he enlists in the Spanish Foreign Legion. However, there is an odd man who also enlists, Fernando (Robert Le Vigan)--an odd man who begins bating Pierre. Perhaps Fernando knows about Pierre's past. Regardless, Pierre goes to the commanding officer to request that the two be put in separate units--which is done. However, a bit later, Fernando is back--and a showdown is certain between them.

    This film, superficially, looks like "Beau Geste". However, in style it's quite different. "Beau Gest" is quite sentimental and the important part of the film is the back story. You also really like the characters--they are noble and decent. However, "La Bandera" is more existential--perhaps like a novel by Camus. Yes, there is a past--but the film really is set in the present and there is very little sentiment. Plus, Pierre is NOT a good guy--and the film is a much more amoral or non-judgmental sort of picture. This makes "La Bandera" seem a bit more realistic but also a lot less satisfying. It's just hard to really care about the guy. This, by the way, is true in several of Gabin's films of the era, such as "La Bête Humaine". Well worth seeing but I think I prefer the sentiment and style of the American film.
  • I grabbed La Bandara because it reunited Jean Gabin and Julien Duvivier, whose Pepe le Moko is a noir masterpiece. I'll give it a few points because Gabin is in it, but the clumsy plot, cheap sets and the ludicrous Annabella making like an Arab princess put the film on my `to sell' shelf. If you watch it, you'll find yourself asking, why didn't the idiots build the fort *around* the well, instead of a deadly few yards away from it. And why use tin roofs in the middle of the desert? But by then the sheer perversity of contrivance that makes up the script should numb you to any further contemplation.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    A loose and baggy French orientalist romance, in which tough guy Pierre Gillieth (Jean Gabin) flees Paris after killing a man in the midst of a violent disagreement, winds up in Barcelona, where he decides to join Spain's Foreign Legion. He and a bunch of other colourful guys do so, and wind up somewhere in North Africa, wearing the tasseled caps of Spanish soldiers and hanging out in an exotic bar where the beautiful dancer Aisha (Annabella) and Gillieth fall in love instantaneously and they marry. She's sparky and irrepressible and he's solid and happy, until the scarily jolly bad guy, actually a cop, shows up and disturbs the escape plan. Fortunately, the Legion needs 24 volunteers to hold off an uprising, and nobody is expected to survive, and of course both Gillieth and the cop go, and everybody dies except the two of them, and just as the relief arrives, Gillieth takes the last bullet, leaving the cop, who has relented, to declare his friend's heroism and deliver the bad news to Aisha, who has a close-up in which her huge eyes fill with tears and her lips tremble and she turns away. The film is mostly awful, a nasty piece of European colonialism, complete with a merciless and faceless enemy. The scenery is interesting, the dialogue mostly tepid, Gabin predictable, leaving only Annabella to stand out, with her exotic dances and her filmy gowns and her enchanting smile for Gabin and the curious henna markings on her forehead and chin.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    It made me nostalgic for a time and place I never experienced: the mid 1930 in Barcelona, Paris and North Africa. The range of everyday objects is so radically different from my time and space that it makes those olden times simpler, thus more meaningful. This is before TVs, commercial airplanes, computers. It made it easier to concentrate on the scenery, the people themselves, the story and morals behind it, there was less distraction. The protagonist, played by 31 year old Jean Gabin, kills someone in Paris, flees to Barcelona, runs out of money joins the foreign legion, but a cop follows him there too. I won't give away the end of the action though. Despite being a(n accidental) murderer, Gabin plays an honorable man.

    The movie's focus is about honor as the title (meaning Flag) suggests too. But looking from today the concept of honor is limited: women and Arabs are excluded by default. The former group is clearly subservient and in best case are good looking prostitutes. The latter group is not even shown (with one short exception) despite that the second half of the movie is about the heroic European soldiers who fight them, the inferior "bastards". So maybe, thinking about my 21st century social sensitivity I should not think so nostalgically of that era. I loved the overhead shots on the street of Barcelona's markets. They were so full of life.
  • The Spanish Foreign Legion this is set in was founded in 1920 modeled on the French one to be an international vanguard to crush an uprising by Berber tribes of the Riff mountains in Spain's Protectorate of Northern Morocco. They called themselves the Bridegrooms of Death, 10,000 killed in its first 20 years. Francisco Franco was first Deputy Commander, then Commander, it was said, could terrify murderers with just a glance. It has never been as international as the French, usually 90% native Spanish, in the multinational mix in its history an ex-Texas Ranger, Australian undertaker, Cambridge law student, Polish count, Sikh from India. It acquired a reputation for brutality, in training and combat, worse than the French.The film's climax was based on an actual incident. The actual Legionnaires filmed here a year later went into the Spanish Civil War on Franco's side,, few surviving. It crushed an uprising in the Spanish Sahara in 1957-1958, left there in 1976, served in U.N. Peacekeeping missions, with NATO in Afghanistan. Reports by two British deserters of brutality in the 1980's led NATO on admitting Spain in 1987 as conditions to curb mistreatment, not to accept recruits from member nations. It was closed to non-Spanish in 1987, opened again in 2000, draws non-Spanish recruits from Africa and Latin America, and garrisons two fortress enclaves on the Moroccan cast, Mellila and Ceuta, dating from the 1500's the Spanish consider their soil Antonio Banderas' character Galgo in the third Expendables movie sings and talks about being in the Legion.