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DESERT SANDS(director: Lesley Selander; screenwriter: Danny Arnold/George W. George/George F. Slavin/from the novel Punitive Action by John Robb; cinematographer: Gordon Avil; editor: John F. Schreyer; cast: Ralph Meeker (Capt. David Malcolm), Marla English (Zara), J. Carrol Naish (Sgt. Diepel), John Smith (Pvt. Rex Tyle), Ron Randell (Pvt. Pete Havers), John Carradine (Jala), Keith Larsen (El Zanal), Philip Tonge (Cpl. Sandy Mc Tavish), Jarl Victor (Lt. Gina Mackie), Lita Milan (Alita), Albert Carrier (Ducco), Ben Wright (Commandant Captain), Bela Kovacs (Major Panton), (Major Peter Norman (Dr. Kleiner); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Howard W. Koch/Aubrey Schenck; United Artists; 1955)
“Conventional adventure film about the Foreign Legion soldiers fighting off attacking Arab tribesmen in their fort outpost in the Sahara Desert.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Conventional adventure film about the Foreign Legion soldiers fighting off attacking Arab tribesmen in their fort outpost in the Sahara Desert. Veteran B-film director Lesley Selander (“Fighter Attack”/”Fort Vengeance”/”Flat Top”) does well on the fight scenes and the lush desert photography gives it a torrid atmosphere, but a ridiculous love story is introduced which throws everything off kilter. It’s based on the novel Punitive Action by John Robb and written by Danny Arnold, George W. George and George F. Slavin.

It’s set in 1954, when El Zanal (Keith Larsen) and his sister Zara (Marla English) have grown into adults after 15 years ago witnessing their father, the sheik ruler of the Dylak tribe, slain by Foreign Legionnaires. The siblings swear revenge when they are grown. Even though El Zanal later on learns the execution was carried out by his Uncle Jala (John Carradine), who hired assassins to dress as French Legionnaires to kill their weak leader, he still goes through with the attack on the fort as he envisions himself kicking out every French Legion fort in North Africa and with him then chosen to lead all the Arab tribes. The soldiers expect a relief column to replace them, but can’t imagine what happened to them. Their new commander, the hard-nose American Capt. David Malcolm (Ralph Meeker), arrives ahead of his troops in a helicopter. Even he doesn’t know what happened to the troops. When a burning cross is sighted in the desert, the troops discover there the mutilated bodies of the eight men from the relief column. A spokesman for the Dylak tribe meets with Malcolm and asks him to surrender; when he doesn’t, the Arabs attack and eventually capture the fort. Major Panton is set to arrive with his battalion replacements for the fort, as El Zanal plots to use Malcolm’s men to set a trap for the major. But who was to know that Zara has the hots for the hunky Malcolm and frees him to fight her brother. It leads to the action-packed climactic big showdown battle between the troops and the Arabs.

It’s not bad when the Arabs and the troops are doing battle, but it becomes hard to take when it manufactures a totally unbelievable romance between the black haired Arab beauty Zara and the square-jawed Malcolm. The acting is uniformly uninspiring, with the main villain Larsen speaking like a privileged white man preppie while Meeker acts as if the desert is just an hallucination and he’s really on the frontier fighting off Indians.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”