More than 70 years old, this adventure-romance still entertains. It’s the classic French Foreign Legion story set in Northern Africa. Because of Major Doyle’s (Victor McLaglen) jealousy of suave Sergeant Victor (Ronald Colman) in their relationship with feisty bargirl Cigarette (Claudette Colbert), the sergeant is sent on potentially fatal missions into the desert. The sergeant spurns Cigarette’s advances in favor of Lady Venetia (Rosalind Russell) but the noble Cigarette rescues him from sure death only to later die in his arms. (screening May 31, Los Angeles Ca)
Buoyed by the financial and critical success of Mutiny onthe Bounty (1935), Frank Lloyd filmed January through March 1936 at a ten-acre Arabian desert village built on the Twentieth Century-Fox Westwood lot; the battle scenes were made in the dusty California-Arizona desert using Hollywood extras, local cowboys and Yuma Indians. This turned out to be Lloyd’s last picture with Twentieth Century-Fox; the studio head was allowing distributors to edit down the film (from 110 to 98 minutes and less); in protest Lloyd vowed never to work for 20th Century-Fox again; he kept his word. The budget approached $1,500,000., and made a good profit for the studio. The cast and crew included “riding and falling doubles” for the stars as well as “camel handlers”.
After this film, Colman, realizing his box-office draw, left the studio to become independent, charging $250,000. per picture; he went on to star in The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) and Lost Horizon (1937). Lloyd and he would collaborate again on If I Were King (1938). This was the only film that Rosalind Russell acted with Claudette Colbert. And family friend, Victor McLaglen also acted in Lloyd’s Winds of Chance (1925) and the Second World War thank-you film to Great Britain, Forever and a Day (1943).
Music accompaniment, supervised by Louis Silvers, matched the sentiments of the film: “Marche Slave" by Tchaikovsky,”“ La Marseillaise", One-Two-Three-Four-Hey!" "The Glow Worm" and even “The Blue Danube Waltz”.
Besides Under Two Flags, William Darling, art and set decoration, collaborated with Lloyd on Passport to Hell (1932) Berkeley Square (1933) and Cavalcade (1933) (for which he was awarded his first Oscar).
Even though the film Under Two Flags is not available for purchase commercially, you can occasionally see it on Turner Classic Movies and also at early film festivals. Several film archives hold good copies of the film. Thanks to everyone who attended the screening of UCLA's stunningly restored 110 minute directors cut on Sunday, May 31, 2009 at the Billy Wilder Theater.