Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Last Remake of Beau Geste (1977)

          Best known in the U.S. for his hilarious performance as Igor in Young Frankenstein (1974), odd-looking Englishman Marty Feldman was an accomplished comedy writer before he started acting, so it’s not surprising he used his mid-’70s visibility to launch a career as a feature filmmaker. Unfortunately, his directorial debut, The Last Remake of Beau Geste, is a dreary compendium of painfully obvious jokes with only a few flashes of real wit. As the title suggests, the picture riffs on a manly-man tale that was adapted for the screen several times previously, P.C. Wren’s 1924 novel about the French Foreign Legion, Beau Geste. The story concerns a pair of orphaned brothers, Beau and Digby, who are raised in an aristocratic French home. Once they reach adulthood, the brothers become suspects in the theft of a precious jewel, so noble Beau withdraws honorably to join the Foreign Legion. In Feldman’s version of the story, inept Digby gets thrown into prison while Beau is away, then escapes and joins Beau in Morocco for adventures that lead to the recovery of the jewel.
          Feldman assembled a great cast, with Michael York as Beau, Ann-Margret as the brothers’ conniving mother-in-law, and Peter Ustinov as the brothers’ psychotic Foreign Legion commander. (Feldman, of course, plays Digby.) Actors essaying cameos and minor roles include Henry Gibson, Trevor Howard, James Earl Jones, Roy Kinnear, Ed McMahon (!), Spike Milligan, Avery Schreiber, and Terry-Thomas. On the bright side, the picture has a few imaginative gags like an elaborate scene during which Feldman magically travels into footage from a 1939 version of the same story, resulting in a dialogue scene between Feldman and Gary Cooper. These kicky sequences demonstrate that Feldman had a deep knowledge of cinema devices and a vivid comic imagination.  More typical, however, is the bit depicting a commercial for a used-camel salesman whose slogan is “Let Harik hump you.” Ustinov is the only actor who really shines here, since he has a field day with physical gags like interchangeable peg legs. As for Feldman, sporadic funny moments cannot disguise how ill-suited he was for playing leading roles. (Available as part of the Universal Vault Series on

The Last Remake of Beau Geste: FUNKY

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