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Beau Ideal
Beau Ideal (1931)
  • Director:
    Herbert Brenon
  • Category:
  • Writer:
    Percival Christopher Wren,Elizabeth Meehan
  • Cast:
    Frank McCormick,Ralph Forbes,Lester Vail
  • Time:
    1h 19min
  • Year:
In England, Otis Madison learns from the girl that he loves, Isobel Brandon, that the man she loves is his best friend, John Geste, and so there is nothing that Otis can do but stiffen his upper lip and set sail for Morocco and tell John that he is the man that Isobel loves. This is not easy to do as John is confined to a prison for disgraced Legionaires and the people who put him there aren't overly concerned about who Isobel loves. But the resourceful John promises his love to an Arabian beauty, Zuleika, the 'Angel of Death', which gets him out of prison, and then he has to go after the evil Emir who caused him to fall into disgrace. Isobel waits patiently in England.
Complete credited cast:
Frank McCormick Frank McCormick - Carl Meyer
Ralph Forbes Ralph Forbes - John Geste
Lester Vail Lester Vail - Otis Madison
Otto Matieson Otto Matieson - Jacob Levine (as Otto Matiesen)
Don Alvarado Don Alvarado - Ramon Gonzales
Bernard Siegel Bernard Siegel - Ivan Badinoff
Irene Rich Irene Rich - Lady Brandon
Myrtle Stedman Myrtle Stedman - Mrs. Frank Madison
Loretta Young Loretta Young - Isobel Brandon
John St. Polis John St. Polis - Judge Advocate (as John M. St. Polis)
Joe De Stefani Joe De Stefani - Prosecuting Attorney (as Joseph De Stefani)
Paul McAllister Paul McAllister - Sgt. Frederic
Hale Hamilton Hale Hamilton - Maj. LeBaudy
George Regas George Regas - The Emir
Leni Stengel Leni Stengel - Zuleika

Beau Ideal (1931)

A colossal flop, the film lost nearly $350,000, an astronomical amount of money in the early 1930s. As a result, the story of the Geste family was considered such a financial risk that producers weren't sure that making Beau Geste (1939) eight years later was a good idea.

The third film in the trilogy, this one may seem slow to viewers who haven't been able to watch the previous two (Beau Geste, Beau Sabreur). This story wraps up all the loose ends of the other two and throws in some new and interesting twists as well. The film follows the "Geste" saga from the perspective of two other characters originally introduced in Beau Geste and again featured in Beau Sabreur. Early black and white, kind of rough around the edges by today's standards but still well worth watching.
P.C. Wren wrote the story "Beau Geste" and several film versions have been made. However, few would know that he wrote two sequels, of sorts, and one of them was "Beau Ideal". I have not read the stories so I cannot say how close they are to this movie, but I felt completely underwhelmed by "Beau Ideal". It SHOULD have been a lot better, but the story just wasn't written very well--and perhaps that's the fault of the screen writer. So much of the story just didn't make any sense.

The story begins in a dank prison in the African desert--filled with starving and dying prisoners. Then, abruptly, it jumps back 15 years to England. A group of children are playing at some country estate and one of them is told that it's time for him and his mother to return to their home in America--and he bids them goodbye and his eternal friendship. Then, years later, John Geste (Ralph Forbes) returns from America to England--with the intention of asking the young girl from earlier in the film to marry him. I KNOW this made no sense--they don't seem to have seen each other in the many intervening years. How could a 10 year-old expect, when he grows, to marry a girl he never saw until over a decade later?! But what happens next REALLY makes no sense. He learns that the boys he adored on his previous trip to England had joined the French Foreign Legion (the film was VERY vague as to why). And, all but one of them had died....and the last surviving boy had been sent to a Legion prison!!! Okay...but Geste then tells the grown girl (Loretta Young) that he would take care of the problem. Huh?! Next, you see Geste joining the Foreign Legion. Wow. What a dummy. Friendship is one thing, but this is just dumb. But it gets a lot dumber! He's a good soldier but when there is a mutiny, he claims he was involved and gets himself sent to the same prison as his friend--who he couldn't even recognize because so many years have passed! Hmmmm. Might this be the dumbest character in film history?! Perhaps. I don't know about you, but entering a North African prison does NOT sound like something I'd do voluntarily!!!! Duh...

Soon the film is where it began--with another uprising in this work camp, he and the rest were thrown into a deep pit to rot. Days have passed since they received and food or drink. Eventually, a group of Bedouins arrive and let out Geste and his dying friend--the rest had long since died. It seems the men were left there because the camp had been wiped out--all were dead other than the two. Where all this goes next, you'll have to see for yourself. But understand that once again, some of what happens makes no sense--especially the woman who helps him late in the film AND Geste's apparent ability to dodge bullets! The bottom line is that the desert locale is great and the film has a bit of an epic feel to it. But the script is just bad--very bad. Geste seems idiotic and none of the film seemed the least bit possible. Not a brilliant triumph, my suggestion is to see one of the versions of "Beau Geste" instead.

By the way, the animals used in the films are Bactrian camels from Asia not the single-humped camels from North Africa and Arabia. Perhaps they had trouble getting the correct animals but they hid the second hump very well. But, the Bactrian is much shaggier and stockier and the ones in the movie are indeed Bactrians, not Dromedaries. Wow. I bet you biology professors out there are thrilled to hear this. Others, well...bear with me and my love of minute details!
This needless sequel to 1926's "Beau Geste" suffers from that stiff, stagey quality common in early "talkies." The slightly-muffled nature of its sound recording merely emphasizes the lifeless quality of its dialog - perhaps its most dated feature. There are some good desert-scapes showing lines of Legionnaires crossing the Sahara, and the final reel has a rousing, if politically-incorrect, assault by rebellious tribesmen, but in general, "Beau Ideal" is little more than a mild curiosity for film historians. Loretta Young gets prime billing but has only a modest part.
... with an overall incoherent story to boot. The beginning really interested me, as I found myself dropped into a story in progress, with no real context, making me want to know the whys and the hows and the whos of the situation. You see half a dozen men at the bottom of an underground grain pit that is acting as a prison in the middle of the desert. They are wailing about how it has been six days since they had rations. There are two left alive, one looks at the one who has just died and says "Stout Fellow" then collapses himself. The one left conscious says, with great interest, "What did you say??" At this point the story goes back 15 years to England and shows the Geste brothers, Isobel Brandon, and Otis Madison as children. There really is no point to this part of the story other than to show the camaraderie among the four even at this early age. American Otis returns to England years later as an adult to propose to Isobel (Loretta Young). Funny how he'd take such a long journey believing that time had stood still for Isobel, but it is just the first of many odd things Otis does.

Instead of tears of joy, Otis is greeted by just plain tears before he even gets to pop the question. Apparently the Geste brothers joined the French Foreign Legion because of an indiscretion one had committed but, heck, those Geste boys always do things together don't you know! When John's mortally wounded brother is attacked by a sadistic officer, John in turn kills the officer. The military court shows mercy since the officer struck one of his own men and sentence John to ten years in the French Foreign Legion Penal Battalion rather than hang him. Oh, and by the way, John and Isobel were engaged to be married prior to all of this and have tried and lost all appeals to the French government.

Otis, being all dressed up with no place to go, decides to go to Africa, get John, and bring him back to Isobel. Now, remember, Otis doesn't know what John looks like anymore, apparently doesn't know what last name he is using - it is not Geste, and for that matter doesn't even know if there is more than one French Foreign Legion penal battalion on the continent of Africa. Then there would be the little matter of escaping from the French on the continent of Africa where their white skin would hardly make them blend into a crowd. James Bond would shake his head at the lack of prep work in this operation.

Now I could take this outlandish plot if it wasn't for the poor overall technique. At some points there is pretty good dialogue, but for the most part this film lapses into pantomime-like silent film acting with the players actually saying the kinds of things that they would have said during the silent era when filming just to get in the mood - the kind of stuff the audience was never intended to hear lest they break out laughing. Towards the end it just gets so ridiculous. Maybe the problem here was that the director for this film also directed the silent version of "Beau Geste" in 1926 and just had a hard time moving the story ahead in time. Between the odd plot, the silent film acting coupled with a multitude of title cards, and the fact that top billed Loretta Young is only on screen between five and ten minutes, I'd recommend you pass on this one unless you are just interested in film history.
American adventurer Lester Vail (as Otis Madison) joins the French Foreign Legion to find boyhood pal Ralph Forbes (as John Geste). They face danger and fight Arabs. Although the men often seem like they'd be more interested in each other, they are rivals for beautiful Loretta Young (as Isobel Brandon). This sequel to "Beau Geste" (1926) features the same sort of story, but falls like sand through an hourglass. Reprising their parts in the earlier film are Mr. Forbes and director Herbert Brenon. After guiding several classics, Mr. Brenon was highly regarded. He seems to be having some trouble coordinating the new sound of motion pictures with his usual skill. The script is confusing and the performances histrionic.

**** Beau Ideal (1/19/31) Herbert Brenon ~ Lester Vail, Ralph Forbes, Loretta Young, Don Alvarado
Alpha have given us quite an acceptable 8/10 print of Beau Ideal (1931) which, partly thanks to Loretta Young, contrives to be one of the worst films ever made. Well, at least for the first 20 minutes or so.

If you're watching this, fast-forward immediately after the credits past the scene with the chained prisoners (it's repeated later in the movie) and all the terrible stuff with a group of the worst child actors ever assembled, and all the tripe with Loretta Young (she is absolutely dreadful - and is photographed most unattractively to boot).

Commence watching as soon as the Foreign Legion scenes appear. They may seem rather dull and over-familiar at first, but they do build up to a splendid all-action climax.

Alas, director Herbert Brenon, a master of visual excitements, proves an almost total loss with his leads. Admittedly, given his ropey dialogue, Lester Vail is not too bad, but Ralph Forbes proves even more insufferable than Miss Young. And that's saying something!
It's too bad they don't make films like this anymore. They apparently used the wrong sorts of camels. I think they also used Europeans instead of Arabs, but as none of the Arabs do anything important, except for one or two of the most atrocious and treacherous ones, it doesn't matter.

It could be a film noir, with the grim prison cell in stark contrast to the childhood Camelot at the opening. I think it was too early for the genre, but it's very dark, with the abandoned prisoners starving to death in the underground silo. But there is a happy ending, especially as the hero is freed from his promise to marry the half-caste who hated living among brown people. In fact, I think it's racism is cheerily redemptive, and no one of importance dies in the silo.
Beau Ideal (1931)

** (out of 4)

Pervical Christopher Wren's sequel to Beau Geste has John Geste (Ralph Forbes) joining the French Foreign Legion after his love Isobel (Loretta Young) informs him that their friend (Frank McCormick) has joined. Pretty soon Geste finds himself in the desert and accused of leading a mutiny that he had nothing to do with. BEAU IDEAL has pretty much been forgotten today and if someone has heard of it it's probably because of how poorly it did when it was originally released. The film's quality also has a pretty low reputation but I didn't find the movie all that bad, although there's clearly something missing from it. The entire film has an incredibly strange structure that starts off with the two friends in the bottom of a dungeon and then we flashback to when they were children and then we flash-forward to a sequence between jumping yet again. I'm really not sure what the point of this was as it really adds nothing to the film and it also seems that more footage is missing. The film runs 80-minutes and while watching it I really wondered if perhaps it originally ran a lot longer but the studio cut it down before release. There are so many side plots that happen yet seem to never be mentioned again. The film also has some pretty bad moments that could become a cult classic if people actually watched the film. One example is the poor acting during the opening sequence and another happens during the mutiny in the desert. Both of these scenes are so poorly done that they will bring laughs when they're meant to be dramatic. Forbes isn't too bad in his role but he's certainly far from memorable. Young is pretty much in thankless cameo and it's funny seeing her working with the director again after the abuse he gave her on LAUGH CLOWN LAUGH.
This early version of Beau Geste deals with the youngest brother. It is still French Foreign Legion adventure, and looks more like a stage adaptation than a large budget movie.

Like any Beau Geste, it deals with childhood companions who grow up and join the legion, and find themselves in heroic circumstances which remind them of their childhood.

The Geste movies don't usually get into the grit and grim the way most modern movie makers like to. They generally speak in "larger than life" terms, which hold for a few minutes of a man's life.

The acting leaves something to be desired. The plot is coherent, but barely. As adventure yarns go, there is no more silliness than usual.

There is some grit and grind, which is theatrically done instead of graphically. The men in a prison pit languish from days of thirst and hunger. A few things that happen seem inconsistent, but we get the gist of the plot.

Each Geste film has something going for it. One had Cooper, Milland, and Preston well cast. One had an introspective reluctant Cool Hand Luke sort of Geste, who was seen as a "mover" who wrote a letter, although the letter was really written by Leslie Nielson as a legion commander.

This one has a historic novelty, an American who is gayer than the British characters. This apparently was not lost on the audience of the day, and was intentional, as we see from a bit of comic relief.