Friday, March 29, 2019
Beau Ideal (1931)
Most of the film is occupied by a series of flashbacks. First we go back fifteen years, to the childhood games of Beau Geste and his band - his brothers and a young American named Otis Madison (Lester Vail). Otis and John Geste are jousting to determine who will win the hand of the fair Isobel Brandon.
To do this Otis has to find a way to get into the penal battalion. But how? He can’t do anything dishonourable. That would be unthinkable. Fortunately fate steps in.
Naturally there has to be a beautiful but bad woman mixed up in the story somewhere. Zuleika (Leni Stengel) is half-French and half-Arab, a dancer known as the Angel of Death for all the men she has lured to their dooms. Now she is involved in a particularly nefarious plot.
Interestingly enough, given the extent to which the Legion so often gets glamourised, this movie portrays it as extremely brutal and rather incompetent. So it’s also a movie to offend French patriots!
Part of the reason this film didn’t set the box office alight may be the extraordinarily grim beginning.
It also suffers from a less than brilliant cast. Ralph Forbes and Lester Vail lack charisma and the chief villains aren’t colourful enough.
Modern audiences will also find Otis’s motivations distinctly puzzling. It’s not just that he has a strict code of honour, he also has a deliberately self-sacrificing streak that may annoy some viewers. In 1931 it would have made sense.
This movie is in the public domain. I have the Alpha Video version (which is pretty much your only choice) and it’s what you’d expect. It’s not good but it’s viewable.The sound quality is quite uneven although the dialogue is understandable.
Beau Ideal is by no means as bad as it’s often made out to be. It’s an average if slightly clunky movie of its type but it’s watchable if you’re in an undemanding mood. However, given the iffy Alpha Video transfer, I’d hesitate to recommend a purchase (I got it for a dollar in a bargain bin so I’m not complaining). Maybe worth a rental.