Desert Sands (1955)
The French Foreign Legion is the order of the day in this Sunday matinee for the kiddie crowd with Ralph Meeker leading the charge.
Surprisingly in color, this Lesley Selander adventure by way of producer, Aubrey Schenck begins with a massacre leaving two small children alive. The two children will grow up to be the protagonists to Meeker and company believing it was members of the Legion that left them orphans. If I suggested that John Carradine was lurking in the background, would you be surprised to learn that his sheik like character might have been behind the entire episode?
I thought not.
This is a bit of an Alamo styled tale when the on duty troops at the desert Fort are awaiting their relief column which is to be commanded by the tough American member of the Legion, Meeker. Ralph arrives by helicopter and renews his friendship with the gruff Sergeant at the Fort played by the wonderful J. Carrol Naish. It’s beginning to look as if the troop that is marching in are missing in action. It won’t be long before Meeker and his new command find the replacements slaughtered. There’ll be no relief for the men on duty that aside from Naish includes a young John Smith.
When the Arab forces led by Carradine and the now grown up Keith Larsen arrive, a full scale battle begins featuring plenty of gunfire and bloodshed. When incoming mortar shells blast the Legion members to hell, a surrender is in order. This allows Larsen to ride in at the head of his command. Carradine in tow and more importantly for the paying audience, Marla English as Larsen’s sister and the film’s leading lady and love interest.
Improbable as it may seem, I did say love interest. She’ll take one look at Meeker and swoon after knocking him about with a riding crop for his insolence. The Legion members are to be put to death but first Larsen needs them to play traitors so that a large column of troops heading their way will ride into the Fort unsuspecting of any enemy forces within. Time for Meeker to play cat and mouse with Larsen and capture the heart of Miss Marla.
It’s not going to be an easy comeback for Meeker and his troops and not all are going to make it out alive. When a romantic disagreement intervenes, Meeker himself might pay the ultimate price. Thankfully our villains Larsen and Carradine just might overplay their hand. in this by the numbers adventure that makes for a diverting entertainment on a rainy afternoon.
Released in 1955, this easily proved to be the weakest of Meeker’s three films in release that year. While it may have been the only one in color, Kiss Me Deadly is considered by many as a Noir classic from Robert Aldrich, while Big House U.S.A. is a gritty convicts on the run tale that pulls few punches circa 1955. Meeker’s relationship with Miss Marla here is pure hilarity but fills that need for the token woman in the middle of the Sahara desert as a troop of Legionnaires fight off a tyrannical enemy bent on murder and savagery. We also get Lita Milan as Marla’s Harem girl for window dressing. Lita was two years away from her starring role opposite Paul Newman in The Left Handed Gun.
Fluff for the adventure crowd and thankfully each and every wall around this Fort had a good two or three feet of hay piled up for the many stunt men who make the death fall from the heights of the balcony’s that circle the fortress walls.