Outpost in Morocco (1949)
I couldn’t help but wonder while watching this French Foreign Legion tale from director Robert Florey if there were ever any actual Frenchman in the ranks of the Legion. The two male leads starring here are George Raft and Akim Tamiroff while their commanding officer back at headquarters is John Litel. Two Americans and one Russian. I can easily toss out names of others who enrolled in the Legion on the big screen and nary a Frenchman among them. Cooper, Milland, Savalas, Meeker, Abbott and Costello, Hackman and even The Muscles From Brussels, Jean Claude Van Damme etc. etc.
Outpost in Morocco casts the top billed Raft as a Captain in the Legion who doubles as a ladies man when not fighting enemies on the front lines. Conveniently this will allow him to make his screen entrance on the dance floor where an Emir’s daughter will take notice of the smooth hoofer in the white dinner jacket. It’s none other than Noir favorite, Marie Windsor, playing our leading lady who takes a decided interest in Raft. She even offers a gold coin as a tip for the dance allowing Raft to once again enact his classic coin flip on screen which dates back to his 1932 role in Scarface. Little does she know that he’s in the Legion and is going to be assigned to lead an escort patrol that will travel across the desert to return her to the city ruled by her Father.
Might romance be in the cards on the trek across desert dunes?
Upon arriving at their destination after a ten day march, the pair are lovers and Raft is willing to give up his little black book of names and numbers across the middle east. No wait, I’m serious. He really does have such a book and it’s guarded by his Man Friday, Erno Verebes, who makes for a fine comedy relief. Unfortunately for Raft and Windsor, her Father despises the French and is calling upon his countrymen to revolt and drive the Legion from their lands. Poor Miss Windsor is going to have to choose sides over the final half of this 90 minute black and white adventure.
Sure it’s all rather pedestrian and makes one realize just how far Raft’s choice in roles had fallen since his days under the Warner Bros. banner. Thankfully at this point in our story the always entertaining, Akim Tamiroff, turns up as a dogged member of the Legion who swears his loyalty to Raft in the inevitable battle that is sure to take place in what’s left of the company Fort that the pair command by default. This after Windsor’s Father, Eduard Franz, as the Emir slaughters those soldiers who Raft and his troops were commanded to join as well as bringing down the walls of the Fort leaving it vulnerable to a second attack. Most affecting scene in the film is having Akim, a two time Oscar nominee, recite the Lord’s Prayer ahead of the battle which is beginning to look like a sure fire re-enactment of The Alamo.
You won’t catch me playing spoiler but I can’t help myself when I say this one didn’t quite end the way I had expected. It does throw a curveball at the audience I didn’t see coming.
Keen eyed film fans will be sure to recognize Michael Ansara as one of the Emir’s fighters and also John Doucette as a tough minded soldier under Raft’s command. What you’ll also come to realize is that not one of the leading actors or Miss Windsor ever left the confines of Samuel Goldwyn Studios in Hollywood where this was primarily filmed. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of second unit work filmed on location in Morocco by Richard Rosson. Rosson by chance is listed as the co-director of Scarface, Raft’s breakout role. This leads to a good portion of the film seeing Raft and company acting in front of a back screen projection. Far too often it’s painfully obvious that Raft is not on the same continent as the men he’s commanding or riding a horse side by side with those on the screen in the backdrop.
There’s so much second unit work here I almost suspected this was a case of a movie producer buying a film from overseas and taking the scissors to it while inserting a “name” actor from Hollywood. Maybe this idea hadn’t been invented yet but wait for it, Roger Corman, wasn’t far off. Truthfully this plays more like a Victor Mature effort of the 1950’s than it does a George Raft film. After all, we expect to see Raft wearing a suit and tie in gangster films. Not as a member of the French Foreign Legion.
On director Florey, I’ll leave you with this. Who knows how movie history might have differed if he had directed Bela Lugosi in the 1931 adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as was originally intended by Carl Laemmle Jr. Instead Lugosi supposedly bowed out and James Whale laid claim to the project making Karloff a star. In the end Florey and Lugosi gave us the 1932 thriller Murders In the Rue Morgue by default.
Outpost In Morocco should be easy to locate as it’s in the public domain field and available in most any bargain bin collection if you dig deep enough.