“The highest honor that can be bestowed on man or beast – Stout Fellow!!”.
This makes the 3rd movie in a row that I’ll have seen as part of the Rave Motion Pictures Southington Cinema Classics series about male American expatriates temporarily holed up in Morocco: On Jan 23, in The Flying Deuces, it was Laurel & Hardy as themselves; on Feb 27, Bogey as Rick Blaine in Casablanca; and today, Lester Vail as Otis Madison in Herbert Brenon’s Beau Ideal (pronounced, bow Ee-Dee-el).
Brenon directed 71 feature films between 1913 & 1940 including the silent film to which this movie is a sequel, Beau Geste, adapted from the first novel of a trilogy by P.C. Wren. He was nominated for Best Director for Sorrell & Son at the first Academy Awards.
Beau Ideal, adapted from Wren’s final book in Beau trilogy, stars Vail, Ralph Forbes reprising his Beau Geste role as John Geste, and Loretta Young as Isobel Brandon. Young, who won the Best Actress Oscar in 1947 for The Farmer’s Daughter, is given top billing along w/ Forbes even though her role is relatively small.
Although Ideal was made just after the silent film era, histrionics are rare. There are only the white-on-black setting storyboards throughout the film to remind us of how new “The Talkies” were. The movie follows the lives of Otis & John from childhood until they’re young adults in the French Foreign Legion, as they vie for the love of Isobel. Otis, an American boy, spends time in England w/ the Gestes where he meets & falls in love with Isobel. But then must return home to New York. When he finally returns, 15 years later, he intends to ask Isobel for her hand in marriage only to find out that she’s betrothed to John. Unfortunately, John has been court martialed & sentenced to 10 years in the French Foreign Legion’s Penal Brigade. Otis enlists to find & return him to Isobel.
The major themes of the film are love, friendship and healthy competitive rivalry. One minor theme, the religious prejudice between Muslims & Christians makes it surprisingly current. It’s played out by the evil Emir’s favorite belly dancer, the Angel of Death. But we soon learn that she’s not anti-Western at all. In fact, she’s quite the opposite but assumes that characteristic as a survival mechanism. For historical context, the French Foreign Legion was formed to combat northern African Muslim forces. The Christians & Muslims had been at war for centuries, from the Crusades through the 17th century, when Muslim pirates were seizing European trading ships and invading their harbors for abduction & enslavement.
The best scene in the film is the Angel of Death’s belly dance. It’s amazing that, in 1931, it wasn’t censored. It’s not only erotic, but provocative. She calls John a “Christian dog” and spits in his face! So, if you get a chance, go to the Rave Southington on Monday March 12 at 3:00 and check out Brenon’s Beau Ideal. It’s only $3 and comes with a small popcorn & a small soft drink!!