Lost Command (Les Centurions) (1966): Mark Robson’s War Film, starring Anthony Quinn, Alain Delon, George Segal, Michèle Morgan

Mark Robson directed Lost Command (Les Centurions), a war film about the story of French paratroopers battling in French Indochina and French Algeria, based on Jean Lartéguy’s best-selling 1960 novel, “The Centurions.”

The international cast included Anthony Quinn, Alain Delon, George Segal, Michèle Morgan, Maurice Ronet and Claudia Cardinale.

Set at the end of the 1954 Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the tale centers on a weakened French garrison as it is awaiting last assault by communist Việt Minh troops.

The garrison commander, Basque Lt. Col. Pierre-Noel Raspeguy (Anthony Quinn), has called central headquarters for reinforcement. Among Raspeguy’s friends are military historian Captain Phillipe Esclavier (Alain Delon), Indochina-born Captain Boisfeures (Maurice Ronet), surgeon Captain Dia (Gordon Heath) and Lt Ben Mahidi (George Segal), an Algerian-born paratrooper who turns down a Việt Minh leader’s (Burt Kwouk) offer for preferential treatment because he is an Arab.

Raspeguy’s leadership keeps the men together in their captivity, but when released after treaty between the Việt Minh and France, Raspeguy leads his men in demolishing a delousing station they see as a humiliation.

In the last scene, promoted to general, he is shown receiving a medal, while outside the compound, Esclavier, who has left the army in disgust, laughs when he sees a child painting a pro-independence slogan on the wall.

Mark Robson bought the novel’s film rights for his Red Lion company in March 1963. The screenplay was written by Nelson Gidding, who had previously adapted Nine Hours to Rama for Robson.

In 1963 Robson also bought the rights to Larteguy’s “The Praetorians,” a follow-up to The Centurions; however, the film was never made.

Of Similar Interest

Quinn’s character is loosely based on Marcel Bigeard, the actual commander in French Indochina, who led the unit that was the predecessor to the 6th Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment (the 6th Colonial Parachute Battalion). Bigeard later commanded the 3rd Colonial Parachute Regiment in French Algeria.

The film was shot on location in Spain. Technical support was provided by Commandant René Lepage, who had served in the 6th Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment of the French Army.

Despite the novel’s success, the release of another film called The Centurians led to the film’s title being changed.

It premièred in the U.S. in May 1966, and was released in France a few months later.

The film was not particularly popular in the U.S., earning rentals of $1,150,000. However, it was the fifth most popular movie in France, after La Grande Vadrouille, Dr Zhivago, Is Paris Burning? and A Fistful of Dollars.

 

The Battle of Algiers, a 1966 Italian docudrama on the Algerian War

Chronicle of the Years of Fire, a 1975 Algerian drama historical film directed by Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina. It depicts the Algerian War of Independence as seen through the eyes of a peasant.

Lion of the Desert, a movie about Omar Mukhtar’s Libyan resistance against Italian occupation.

Cast
Anthony Quinn as Lieut. Colonel Pierre Raspeguy
Alain Delon as Captain Phillipe Esclavier
George Segal as Lieut. Mahidi
Michèle Morgan as Countess Natalie de Clairefons
Maurice Ronet as Captain Boisfeuras
Claudia Cardinale as Aicha
Grégoire Aslan as Doctor Ali Ben Saad
Jean Servais as General Melies
Maurice Sarfati as Merle
Jean-Claude Bercq as Orsini

Note:

TCM showed the movie on August 31 as part of tribute to Alain Delon.