March or Die (film)

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March or Die
Theatrical release poster by Tom Jung
Directed byDick Richards
Screenplay byDavid Zelag Goodman
Story byDavid Zelag Goodman
Dick Richards
Produced byJerry Bruckheimer
Dick Richards
StarringGene Hackman
Terence Hill
Max von Sydow
Ian Holm
Catherine Deneuve
CinematographyJohn Alcott
Edited byStanford C. Allen
O. Nicholas Brown
John C. Howard
Music byMaurice Jarre
Distributed byColumbia Pictures (through Columbia-Warner Distributors[1])
Release date
  • 5 August 1977 (1977-08-05)
Running time
104 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$8 million[2]
Box office$3,243,088 (USA)[3][4]
373,848 admissions (France)[5]

March or Die is a 1977 British war drama film directed by Dick Richards and starring Gene Hackman, Terence Hill, Catherine Deneuve, Max von Sydow and Ian Holm.

The film celebrates the 1920s French Foreign Legion. Foreign Legion Major Foster (Hackman), a war-weary American haunted by his memories of the recently ended Great War, is assigned to protect a group of archaeologists at a dig site in Erfoud in Morocco from Bedouin revolutionaries led by El-Krim (based on Moroccan revolutionary Abd el-Krim).

The song "Plaisir d'amour", a tune about lost love and regret, is played repeatedly throughout the story as the film's theme song.


Soon after the Great War, Major William Foster (Gene Hackman), an American commander in the French Foreign Legion, suffers the haunting memories of leading an army of more than 8,000 men and watching them slowly get whittled down to just 200. He has become an alcoholic as a result, and his only friend is his faithful Sergeant, Triand (Rufus).

Foster arrives in Paris to assume a new command: taking the Legion to Rif in Morocco to re-establish French authority, as the Bedouin and Berber tribes have begun to revolt against French rule. Foster is also ordered to escort archaeologists from the Louvre, who are uncovering an ancient city near Erfoud, buried by a sandstorm 3,000 years ago. The site is the final resting place of a Berber saint known to the French as "The Angel of the Desert". Foster was specifically chosen for the assignment as he is the only French officer alive who served in Morocco before the war. He had helped to develop diplomatic ties with the tribes by negotiating with El Krim (Ian Holm), the de facto leader of the scattered Rif tribes; one condition of peace was that the French cease all archaeological expeditions without the tribes' approval.

Foster receives fresh Legion recruits for his assignment. Among those who volunteer, willingly or unwillingly, is "the Gypsy" Marco Segrain (Terence Hill), a charming jewel thief famous for a three-year crime spree on the Riviera before getting arrested. Gypsy befriends three other recruits: the Russian giant Ivan (Jack O'Halloran), formerly a member of the elite bodyguard of the deposed Russian Imperial family; "Top Hat" Gilbert Francis (André Penvern), a fashionable man and musician who lacks the physical traits needed in a soldier; and Fredrick Hastings (Paul Sherman), a romantic young English aristocrat who longs for the days of the Great War.

The four friends are soon disillusioned by the harsh realities of life in the Legion, including heavy physical labor, little food and water, and scorching heat. A fatal fight breaks out among the men while traveling to Morocco over an insult to Foster's honor, to which Triand takes exception. Foster does not hesitate to harshly discipline his men, especially the insubordinate Marco, though he makes sure never to go too far and actively works to make sure his men are fit and ready for the hardships ahead. During the voyage, Marco charms one of the accompanying archaeologists, Madame Picard (Catherine Deneuve).

During their journey, the train carrying the Legionnaires and the archaeological team is stopped by El Krim and his men. El Krim greets his old friend Foster, but also declares that Morocco belongs to his people and the French are no longer welcome. El Krim gives a "gift" to Foster to take back to the Premier of France: the archaeologists of an earlier dig, who have had their eyes and tongues gouged out and subjected to exposure. He warns Foster to turn back while he still can. In response, Foster shoots the two mutilated archaeologists to end their suffering; afterwards, it is revealed that one of them was Madame Picard's father.

Upon reaching their fortress, Foster puts the men through brutal and unforgiving training exercises; Top Hat collapses during a march and is left to die of thirst but manages to return to camp; he ultimately commits suicide rather than endure any further abuse. Later, at the digging site, Hastings is kidnapped while on guard duty and tortured to death by a tribal raider, whom El Krim excuses as being merely over-zealous. Marco retaliates by killing his friend's murderer. Instead of disciplining him, Foster defends him by using the same excuse, and El Krim accepts it.

Eventually, the tomb of the Angel of the Desert is found, and her golden sarcophagus is excavated. Foster offers it to El Krim as a token of peace, but El Krim rallies the warriors of the Bedouin tribes to slaughter the Europeans. The well-trained Legionaries shoot down dozens of tribesmen but are eventually overrun. Ivan is fatally stabbed, but Marco fights on, single-handedly killing several enemy horsemen as they try to outflank his unit. When Foster is finally shot dead, El Krim immediately calls off the fight, sending the surviving Legionnaires "to tell the world what happened" and allowing them to take Foster and the remains of their fellow soldiers back home.

There are two endings: the TV version ends with Marco taking up Picard's offer to desert the Legion and leave with her. The theatrical ending shows Marco (after having been promoted for his bravery in battle) staying behind and training more Legionnaire recruits, welcoming them by reiterating Foster's warning: "If the Legion doesn't get you, the desert will. If the desert doesn't, the Arabs will. And if the Arabs don't, then I will. I don't know which is worse."

Additional scenes

In the TV version, there were several scenes that were not included in the theatrical or in the video/DVD versions of the film. One pivotal extra scene occurs when the excavation work has commenced and it is discovered that two of the Legionaries, both of them German recruits, have deserted. The sadistic second-in-command of the company, Lt. Fontaine and his equally vicious crony, the Corporal, lead a patrol to capture them. They catch up with the two Germans and Fontaine orders the patrol to shoot them. The noise attracts a large group of Bedouin tribesmen and, disregarding the warnings from his men, Fontaine orders his men to open fire, igniting a battle. The Corporal is shot dead and Fontaine breaks down in fear and kills himself. Marco displays his courage and natural flair for leadership by rallying the survivors of the patrol and successfully beating off the attackers. In the video release, this scene was omitted but brief shots of Fontaine and the Corporal were taken from this scene and edited into the climactic battle at the digging site so it appears that both men died there instead.



Dick Richards had been interested in the French Foreign Legion ever since he found out a friend of his uncle's had joined the legion.[6]

Most of the finance was provided by Lew Grade's ITC Company on the basis of Terence Hill's popularity. It was Hill's second film aimed at the American market.[2]

Filming started 23 August 1976.[7] It was mostly shot in Spain.[2]

Gene Hackman was injured during filming after he was thrown off a horse.[8] This caused filming to be suspended.[2] Columbia only agreed to distribute in the US because they wanted to distribute Grade's The Eagle Has Landed.[9] In most markets, March or Die played theatres in a double-bill with Eagle.


According to Lew Grade the film "went well over budget when Gene Hackman suffered an accident, and lost money".[10]

See also


  1. ^ "March or Die (1977)". BBFC. Retrieved 30 October 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d Mills, Bart (16 January 1977). "Movies: 'March or Die' a Dusty Venture for Terence Hill". Los Angeles Times. p. t36.
  3. ^ "March or die (1977) - JPBox-Office".
  4. ^ "March or die".
  5. ^ French box office figures for 1978 at Box Office Story
  6. ^ "Legends of Film: Dick Richards" (Podcast). 28 August 2016.
  7. ^ Kilday, Gregg. (9 June 1976). "MOVIE CALL SHEET: Film Company as 'Foreign Agent'". Los Angeles Times. p. f9.
  8. ^ "Hospital mum on condition of Hackman". Chicago Tribune. 19 November 1976. p. 2.
  9. ^ ALJEAN HARMETZ (26 June 1978). "Studios Are Picking Up More Films From Independents". New York Times. p. C18.
  10. ^ Alexander Walker, National Heroes: British Cinema in the Seventies and Eighties, 1985 p 197

External links

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