Adventure in Sahara – 1938, 57 mins, Blu-ray
My second review of a film included within Indicator’s tremendous Fuller at Columbia boxset, which was my Christmas-present highlight. This boxset is now sadly OOP, but thankfully the four individual discs are now available separately, albeit minus booklets.
Sadly, Adventure in Sahara is one of those films where the story behind it is better than anything in the film itself. The story goes, recounted in this set’s booklet, that Sam Fuller was approached by producer Sam Briskin if he had any ideas for a film- initially caught off-guard and at a loss, Fuller assured him that he did, buying time by lighting up a cigar before finally coming up with an idea- “William Bligh meets Victor Hugo!” he announced, much to Briskin’s bemusement. William Bligh, of course, was a reference to Mutiny on the Bounty, which had been a big hit starring Charles Laughton a few years prior, and Victor Hugo a reference to the novel Ninety-Three, another story of revolt which Fuller had read. Fuller was pitching a Mutiny on the Bounty set in the French Foreign Legion, and that’s pretty much summing up Adventure in Sahara entirely. The screenplay by Maxwell Shane based upon Fuller’s story lacks many details of Fuller’s idea, notably (albeit not surprisingly) a more downbeat ending inspired by the Victor Hugo novel, in which the nominal hero of the film and leader of the mutiny is, following an awarded act of gallantry in battle, is nonetheless sentenced to execution because of his part in the mutiny. Try selling THAT to audiences back in 1938; or 2022 for that matter. The final film would end with something much more traditional and consequently far less interesting.
Adventure in Sahara is a fairly limp, pedestrian adventure yarn with several troubling aspects, only one of which is its treatment of a black character (which considering current sensitivities would likely earn this film a warning prior to any network airing) and another its horribly irritating musical score which intrudes upon everything. The chief problem, with all deference towards Fuller, is its predictable and quite preposterous story, although I guess he could point an accusing finger at Shane’s screenplay. It begins with American pilot Jim Wilson (Paul Kelly) learning of his younger brother’s death in the French Foreign Legion, upon which he immediately volunteers for the service albeit on the proviso he is sent to the command of Commandant Savatt (C Henry Gordon) where his brother was based. Savatt is the William Bligh of the film, a sadistic and twisted military commander whose punishment of the men under his command is brutal and ultimately leads his desperate men to mutiny, led by Wilson who is seeking revenge for his brother’s death at Savatt’s punishment. Its almost remarkable how the films romantic interest is thrown into the film- Carla (Lorna Gray), an Amelia Earhart-like pilot who literally crashes into the desert near to the Fort where Wilson is based. It takes some nerve being as blatantly ridiculous as your film’s love-interest literally falling out of the sky mid-movie.
Perhaps the films biggest asset is its brevity- at 57 minutes it doesn’t linger too long; its clearly a b-movie supporting feature and nothing more than that. C Henry Gordon as the dastardly villain is great value, but Paul Kelly is pretty bland- and Lorna Gray even worse than that- although to be fair to them the screenplay leaves them little to work with, and the shoot was likely very quick and very cheap: there’s no aspirations for greatness here, that’s for certain. Adventure in Sahara is far inferior to the first film in this set, but thankfully things improve greatly with the next film…