Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Beau Geste (1939)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Beau Geste (1939)

In director William Wellman's epic adventure drama, a tale that emphasized loyalty and brotherly love, it told about three adopted brothers (Beau, John, and Digby in the Geste family, raised by their Aunt Lady Patricia Brandon) who joined the French Foreign Legion in N. Africa:

  • the opening forward: 'The love of a man for a woman waxes and wanes like the moon... but the love of brother for brother is steadfast as the stars, and endures like the word of the prophet.' Arabian Proverb
  • the film began with the perplexing yet unforgettable opening sequence of a French Foreign Legion relief patrol on the Saharan desert sand dunes coming upon a seemingly-deserted and completely silent Fort Zinderneuf. In command, Major Henri de Beaujolais (James Stephenson) rode closer and discovered dead Legionnaire soldiers propped up against the parapets, lending an air of mystery and drama to the story
  • one of the three brothers Geste, bugler Digby Geste (Robert Preston) was chosen to climb the wall and investigate the unusual scene, but failed to return to his company. Upon entering the fort, the dead commanding Sergeant (with a French bayonet in his chest) was found with a hand-written confession admitting the theft of a precious family gem: "...and I hereby confess that it was I who stole the great sapphire known as the "Blue Water" from Brandon Abbas." There was also the body of a young legionnaire next to him, but then both bodies disappeared. Then shortly later, the fort was destroyed in flames
  • [Note: In explanation, the dead body of legionnaire Michael "Beau" Geste (brother of Digby) was lying nearby the body of commanding legionnaire Sgt. Markoff (Brian Donlevy), who was pierced with a French (rather than Arab) bayonet. It was Beau's confession that was found in the Sgt.'s hand.]
  • the film then flashbacked to fifteen years earlier to introduce the three Geste brothers: Michael "Beau" Geste (Gary Cooper as adult, Donald O'Connor as child), John (Ray Milland as adult, Billy Cook as child), and Digby (Martin Spellman as child). The boys lived at Brandon Manor in England, as wards of their impoverished Aunt, Lady Patricia Brandon (Heather Thatcher). After growing up, the brothers all joined and served in the Foreign Legion together, and had to persevere against Arab attacks and their tyrant Sgt. Markoff; the brothers all suffered under the brutality of sadistic tyrannical officer Sergeant Markoff
  • the events at the fort were eventually sorted out.
    (1) Beau had died in the fort at the hands of the vicious Sgt. Markoff, but then John Geste was able to bayonet Markoff in the heart with his sabre - in revenge. John held his lethally-wounded brother Beau in his arms, and was handed a note publically confessing that he had stolen the Brandon family's "Blue Water" sapphire. John was also given a private letter written for Lady Brandon; then, John escaped from the fort

    (2) after Digby entered the fort, he fulfilled and honored his heroic brother Beau's childhood request for a fiery "Viking's funeral," and also set the fort on fire in the process. Digby escaped off the back wall, but was later shot dead by an Arab sniper
  • the story, now in flashback, centered around the financial difficulties of the Brandons, who were left with the choice of selling the family's rare gem known as the "Blue Water" sapphire. [Another twist was added: "Beau" was the only one who knew that the family's real "Blue Water" sapphire had been sold many years earlier to an Indian buyer by Lady Brandon, and replaced with a worthless fake jewel.] "Beau" confessed to the theft of the "Blue Water" sapphire (the fake) to save the honor of Lady Brandon - a dramatic scene during a viewing of the gem when the lights went out and he disappeared
  • the three boys eventually joined up together in the Foreign Legion, and fought long enough to save and clear the family name
  • in the concluding scene, John Geste, the only surviving Geste son, presented Lady Brandon with the private letter from his deceased brother Beau, disclosing that her prized valuable gem - "The Blue Water" sapphire, had been sold years before and that Beau had stolen a substitute gem to save her the embarrassment of selling it - she read the letter aloud at the foot of the stairs: ("Dear Pat: I was inside the suit of armor in the hall the day you sold the Blue Water to the Maharajah's agent and received an imitation to take its place. When the wire from Sir Hector came, I thought I could repay your devotion to us by giving Brandon Abbas its first robbery. So the lights went out and so did Beau. Lovingly, Beau Geste") - the mystery of the sapphire was finally unraveled
  • the final line was tearfully spoken by a grateful Lady Patricia Brandon after she finished reading Beau's letter, realizing that he had spared her humiliation years earlier over the jewel's sale: "Beau Geste? Gallant gesture. We didn't name him wrongly, did we?"

Desolate Fort Zinderneuf

Brutal Sgt. Markoff (Brian Donlevy)

"Viking's Funeral Pyre" For Heroic Beau Set Inside Fort by Digby

Lady Brandon Regarding Beau: "We didn't name him wrongly, did we?"


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