March or Die (Beyond Home Ent) (1977)

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Released 5-Jan-2011

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1977
Running Time 102:21
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5 Directed By Dick Richards

Beyond Home Entertainment
Starring Gene Hackman
Terence Hill
Catherine Deneuve
Max Von Sydow
Ian Holm
Jack O'Halloran
Marcel Bozzuffi
Case Amaray-Opaque
RPI $14.95 Music Maurice Jarre

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     At the end of World War I the remnants of a force of French Foreign Legionnaires led by American Major William Foster (Gene Hackman) are sent back to Morocco. Their number include men scarred and wounded by life in the trenches of the Western Front, captured German volunteers, a giant émigré Russian (Jack O’Halloran) and Marco, a jewel thief on the run from the Police (Terence Hill, real name Mario Girotti, best known for the Trinity spaghetti westerns or more recently the long running Don Matteo TV series). Their mission in Morocco is to protect an archaeological dig in the Sahara at Erfoud being conducted by Professor Francois Marneau (Max Von Sydow); they anticipate trouble as one company of legionnaires at Erfoud has already been slaughtered by Arabs led by El Krim (Ian Holm looking very young and nothing like Bilbo Baggins!). Foster bitterly opposes the mission; he does not believe that archaeological treasures are worth the life of any of his men and, indeed, to keep the Arabs neutral, before the start of the war he had promised El Krim that the French would not resume excavating Erfoud.

     On the boat to Morocco, they encounter Simone Picard (Catherine Deneuve), a widow travelling to Morocco with an agenda that only later becomes apparent. In Morocco, the legionnaires are first toughened up with drills and forced marches into the desert, while in the fort Marco, Foster and Marneau compete for Simone’s company. But all too soon the outnumbered company of legionnaires must march out to Erfoud to face an explosive confrontation with El Krim’s Arab forces, from which not all will return.

     March or Die had the talent to be an exceptional film. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, with actors of the calibre of Gene Hackman, Terence Hill, Catherine Deneuve, Max von Sydow and Ian Holm, cinematography by long term Kubrick collaborator and Oscar winner for Barry Lyndon (1975) John Alcott, Moroccan locations and a score by Maurice Jarre, who was no stranger to big pictures (Lawrence of Arabia(1962), Doctor Zhivago(1965) and Oscar winner for A Passage to India (1984)) March or Die should have been better than it is.

     My feeling is that director Dick Richards, with Farewell, My Lovely in 1975 staring Robert Mitchum (also produced by Jerry Bruckheimer) as his major credit, was not capable of getting the best out of the talent involved. The film never gets us involved: there are some quite jarring and abrupt scene changes, although whether this is the work of the director or editor is unknown. The film also feels pedestrian: it is slow moving and while some of the points being made about the evils of colonialism vs. self determination, and whether the treasures of antiquity and heritage are worth one human life, are important, the dialogue is often quite stilted and uninvolving. None of the characters seem rounded; Gene Hackman and the impossibly blue-eyed Terence Hill feel as if they are in different films, the transformation of Hackman at the end just doesn’t gel, and Catherine Deneuve’s character, while looking great, is basically superfluous to the plot and delays the action. In addition, the music score is seldom memorable and not enough is made of the Moroccan locations. One remembers the use David Lean made of the desert in Lawrence of Arabia with individuals in the distance dwarfed by the landscape; here most of the shots are quite tight to the marching soldiers, only occasionally opening out to give a sense of the vastness of the Sahara. The result is a “small” epic that could have been much better.

     However, no Foreign Legion film can ever be uninteresting and March or Die does include some very good sequences: the opening at the Paris railway station sets the mood well with very little dialogue, the sequence in El Krim’s camp where one company goes to retrieve a captured soldier is tense and the climactic battle is exciting and well staged. This battle is quite old fashioned, with men being shot and stabbed, horses and camels charging, machine guns firing and explosions flinging sand all over the place; it is without blood spurts or limbs flying, yet is still very effective.

     In the end, March or Die is worth watching; no Foreign Legion film can ever be all staid. There are some impressive sequences, but really the film is not enough result for the wealth of talent involved, both in front and behind the camera. A missed opportunity.

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Transfer Quality


     March or Die is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and is16x9 enhanced. The original ratio was 1.85:1.

     The print is generally quite soft and lacking in clarity. Colours are flat but do look natural, except that skins tones do occasionally tend to red, and brightness and contrast varies. Blacks are only OK, and shadow detail can be indistinct at times. There are also constant artefacts, some quite obvious such as the white marks on Max Von Sydow’s forehead at 48:04 and heavy grain. However, while noticeable, I have seen worse and the artefacts do not really distract from the enjoyment of the film.

     There are no subtitles, not even for the sentences where French was spoken.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     Audio is an English Dolby Digital 2.0 at 192 Kbps. This is a mono track however, with all sounds in the centre speaker; not a big deal, as this was the original audio mix. Dialogue is mostly clear although some of the accents could be difficult and the lack of subtitles didn’t help. Effects such as gunshots and explosions were fine, if understandable flat, but the audio got the job done. The surrounds and sub woofer were not used.

     The score by Maurice Jarre has some Arab flavours but didn’t contain any memorable themes.

     I did not notice any issues with lip synchronization, which was pretty good given the international cast.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


     Absolutely nothing.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     From reports, both the Region 1 US and Region 2 UK releases are not 16x9 enhanced and are in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. I have read that the version shown on US TV was longer, with extra scenes and an extra battle, but as far as I can see no available DVD version has a different the same running time from our all Region release. With the 16x9 and widescreen ratio (at least closer to the original 1.85:1 than 1.33:1), this Australian release seems the best available worldwide.


     March or Die is worth watching; no Foreign Legion film can ever be too staid. There are some impressive sequences, but really not enough for the wealth of talent involved, both in front and behind the camera. The video is flawed but watchable, the audio the original mix and there are no extras.

     If you are interested in this film, however, our Australian release is the best available version worldwide.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Monday, February 14, 2011
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 42inch Hi-Def LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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