MARCH OR DIE sees Gene Hackman and his small force of French Foreign Legionnaires sweating under the broiling Moroccan sun, helping archaeologist Max Von Sydow unearth ‘The Angel Of The Desert’, a relic that will enable “fat, overstuffed Frenchmen to belch their lunch at the sight of gold in the Louvre.”
As they toil, they are probably thinking ‘what a shame’– to spend $9,000,000 on a picture that will pass in the shuffle, thanks to their flat performing of a stillborn and clichéd script, under the lame direction of Dick Richards. Then, over the horizon, a long, black line of horse & camel-mounted tribesmen appear. They charge, the Legion digs in, things crackle. More and more Tuaregs show up, until a tidal wave of wild-eyed, screaming warriors are surging down the sand dunes into a doozy of a fight, a noisy, furious and exciting brawl, one of the better choreographed big-time movie battles since the 60s—a complete surprise considering how staid everything in the movie had been until that point. Action fans will kick themselves for a week if they pass up this gig.
The waste of Hackman and Von Sydow, the chintzy use of beautiful Catherine Deneuve, and the laughable presence of Terence Hill (aka Mario Girotti) in the role of hero—all are temporarily forgiven with the final 15 minutes of epic mayhem. Great sound and color. Director Richards had been building a rep doing genre pictures—the neat little western The Culpepper Cattle Company, a well-reviewed comedy, Rafferty And The Gold-Dust Twins and the good retro private eye noir Farewell My Lovely with a revived Robert Mitchum—and then he massively dropped an expensive ball with this 1977 tanker, which was snuffed by critics and died at the box-office, coming in 126th for the year.
With the exception of Ian Holm, leading the tribesmen, the supporting players are bad, and Hackman acts like he’s asleep. The script stinks, the movie is overall lousy, but that battle is a whopper. Watching the film is like listening to someone sell insurance, but if you occasionally get totally fed up with Stupid Mankind In General and wish they’d hurry up and get it over with, then the wipeout on view here is cathartic.
I saw this in a theater filled with Marines, on liberty from Camp Pendleton. They’d been fidgeting through the boredom (it’s 104 minutes long, but so dull it seems longer): when the fighting erupted, so did they. I thought they were going to tear the seats out of their rows. With Jack O’ Halloran, Rufus, Walter Gotell and Marcel Bozzuffi.