Friday 23 February 2024

March or Die (film review)

 March or Die

Just randomly flicking through the freeview channels yesterday (22/02/24) here in Spain (we don`t have Sky or any streaming service) I stumbled across this piece of classic cinema. Now as many of you know I am a bit obsessed with the Rif War in Morocco, so anything remotely connected has me hooked.

This 1977 movie stars Gene Hackman, Terence Hill, Catherine Deneuve & Max von Sydow, set just after the end of WW1 in Morocco. 

The film opens with Major Foster`s (Hackman) Legion unit returning from the horrors of the WW1 trenches, the sight of the maimed and wounded legionnaires evokes feelings of pride and loss on the croud of civilians watching who break out in a rousing rendition of La Marseillaise. 

Whilst boarding a train volunteers and recuits for the legion join the company these include cat burgler Marco the gypsy (Terence Hill). Major Foster is later introduced to the archaeologist Francois Marneau (Max von Sydow) from the Louvre who wants to reopen a dig in hostile Morocco to find the resting place of  a Berber saint - The Angel of the Desert. Foster has been chosen to protect and escort the mission because he is one of the few surviving officers who had helped develope diplomatic ties with the tribes and their defacto leader "El Krim" played by British actor and future Bilbo Bagins Ian Holm.  

On the ship across the Med. Foster, Gypsy & Marneau encounter Simone Picard the daughter of another archaeologist lost and feared dead in Morocco, played by Catherine Deneuve at her ethereal best, just a stunning beauty and pure class. 

On the train ride to the Legion base, El Krim stops the train and warns his old friend Foster that the French are no longer welcome in Morocco he also returns the captured archaeologists (including Simone`s father) both blinded as a punishment, Foster shocks everyone by shooting them both dead. 

During the tough, brutal training Gypsy proves himself a leader, but incurs punishment at the hands of Foster in an attempt to break him.

After a brief period the company heads out into the desert to the ruins at Erfoud and the dig site, Foster immediately orders the site fortified against any future attacks. One of Foster`s men is taken by the Arabs leading to a tense stand-off at El Krim`s camp where Gypsy shoots an Arab violating the boys corpse.

Back at the dig, Marneau finds The Angel, but Foster steals her and gives her over to El Krim in an attempt to avert hostilities, but El Krim uses the French discovery and disturbance of the saint`s tomb to incite the tribes to holy war!

The final battle is something to see, waves of Arab/Berber/Tuareg charging in from all sides against the legionnaires defending Erfoud. The legionnaires have 65mm mountain guns, MG08 Maxim guns, 1917 Hotchkiss and Lewis guns plus their Lebel rifles. The enemy are just armed with rifles and swords, but they have the numbers and the battle is a close run thing. At the end Foster is killed and El Krim halts the attack, the few suvivors are sent back to tell the tale and warm the French of the rise of the tribes and they are no longer in charge.

The film ends with Marco (obviously promoted to NCO) taking command of new legion recruits whilst Simone leaves for France.

An interesting movie with a good story and a great cast. 

The writers were obviously trying to create a story around the Rif Rebellion of Abd el Krim, but set the date a little early (1918/19) and set the action in the desert (where all classic movies about The Legion are set). Weapons and equipment are pretty good, I`m not sure about MG08 or Lewis guns, but OK - the major issue for the period accuracy is the blue frock coat (again a classic prop used in every film about The Legion), by 1918 the blue coat had long been replaced by a brown/khaki one; which in this film are only worn by Foster and his Lieutenant!  


  1. Nice review and great work. Ill try to see it again as I´m now around the FL at Gallipoli.

    1. I have a half written article about the French at Gallipoli somewhere? Maybe I`ll dig it out and finish it :)

  2. Who needs historical accuracy in a historical film? No, that’s not a Ridley Sc*tt quote 🤣😂
    I dare say that the directors/producers probably reckon most people won’t know “stuff” with any degree of accuracy. Sure, some of us may well watch a film (“Battle of the Bulge” I’m talking about you here) and cry “that’s an M47 Patton, not a King Tiger” but, to the majority it’s probably just a tank. Yet, on the other hand, file makers often seem to put effort into trying to get some details right whilst ignoring other details entirely. Anyhow, action/adventure/a bit of romance and plenty of fightin’ and shootin’- what’s not to like?

    1. In these occasional film reviews I try NOT to be to picky and only point out obvious historical errors. Movies are meant to be entertaining, I like film and have a huge collection on DVD - anything from British 1970s comedy to weird and wonderful foreign horror.

  3. Another excellent descriptive review. And a great film to watch!

    1. Classic, great to see it on Spanish freeview TV.