French Foreign Legion in popular culture

French Foreign Legion in popular culture

Beyond its reputation of the French Foreign Legion as an elite unit often embroiled in serious fighting, its recruitment practices have also led to a romantic view of it being a place for a wronged man to leave behind his old life to start a new one, yet also being full of scoundrels and men escaping justice. This view of the legion is common in literature, and has been used for dramatic effect in many films, not the least of which are the several versions of "Beau Geste".


Édith Piaf

*There is a French song originally created by Marie Dubas in 1936 but now mainly identified with Édith Piaf, called "Mon légionnaire", about a woman's longing for an embittered Legionnaire with whom she had a brief affair and who refused to tell her his name. The song was reprised by Serge Gainsbourg in the 1980s, the male voice singing the lyrics made famous by Piaf. The new version of "Mon Légionnaire" was a hit on French dancefloors.

*Another of Piaf's songs was "Le Fanion de la Légion" (The Flag of the Legion), describing the heroic defence by the garrison in a small Legion outpost attacked by Saharan tribes. Both songs were written by Raymond Asso, a Foreign Legion veteran who was Piaf's lover in the late 1930s, with music by Marguerite Monnot.

*The Legion adopted still another Édith Piaf song as their own, "Non, je ne regrette rien" (No, I regret nothing), during the 1950s when members of the Legion were accused (not without reason) of atrocities and of being implicated in a failed coup d'etat during the Algerian War . Today it is still a popular Legion "chant" sung when on parade, adapting it to their unique marching cadence of 88 steps to the minute.


*Frank Sinatra performed a song called "French Foreign Legion" about joining up if a girl does not marry him.

*The indie-rock band The Decemberists wrote a song called "The Legionnaire's Lament" on their 2002 album Castaways and Cutouts. The song describes the homesickness of a French legionnaire on duty on the Algerian-Morroccan border in the early 1900s.

* In 1959 Chad Valley released the board game Sahara Patrol. This was a game for two players: who either took the part of the Foreign Legion or the Arabs, and fought for control of forts in the Sahara. A year later in 1960 the English card game manufacturer Pepys produced the Foreign Legion Card Game.

* Radiohead's song "Cuttooth," a b-side to 2001 single "Knives Out," features the lyric "I would lead the wall paper life/ or run away to the Foreign Legion."



*In Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Ultimatum, Jason Bourne enlists the help of a former Legionnaire and a new recruit who fled Tennessee for triple homicide.

* Ouida's 1867 "Under Two Flags" was probably the first English language novel about the French Foreign Legion and was filmed several times, most notably in 1936.
*P.C. Wren's 1924 "Beau Geste" tells the story of three brothers who run away to the French Foreign Legion.

*In "Biggles Foreign Legionnaire" (1954) in W. E. John’s Biggles series set in the '50s, the eponymous hero and his protege Ginger join the Legion as part of an undercover operation trying to unmask a gang of multi-national arms dealers who are instigating war in global conflict zones.

*The chronicle of Richard Halliburton's African flying adventure, "The Flying Carpet", includes a description of the members of the Foreign Legion he befriends, plus several riveting anecdotes he hears from some of the older members.

*"Blood Money" is a thriller about a former French Foreign Legionnaire, who must save the world. It is written by ex-Legionnaire Azam Gill from Pakistan.

* In Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, a minor character named Kurt is introduced; Kurt had joined the French Foreign Legion in the absence of a German army after the First World War, but wounded himself to get out after the friend with whom he joined died.

*The French Foreign Legion was one of the Hungarian novelist Jenő Rejtő's favourite subjects. Notable novels are "The Three Musketeers In Africa" or "The Hidden Legion".

* British publisher John Spencer & Co published 23 paperback / pulp novels in the "Foreign Legion Series" in the 1950s. These were written under pseudonyms such as Bruce Fenton, W.H. Fear, Jud Cary and Paul Lafayette.

* In Ford Madox Ford's novel "Some Do Not...", the first installment in his epic trilogy "Parade's End", Christopher Tietjens reminisces about his pre-war desire to join the French Foreign Legion, should war break out on the continent (he didn't believe England would ever be involved).

cience Fiction/Fantasy

*Poul Anderson and Gordon Dickson, in their "Hoka" books, included a Hoka version of the Foreign Legion on the planet Toka. This was based on the popular culture version, with individual Hokas taking roles reminiscent of the stereotypes found in fiction about the Legion. The Hoka Foreign Legion plays an important role, living up to its model's traditions, in the story "The Tiddlywink Warriors."
*Andrew Keith and William H. Keith, Jr.'s The Fifth Foreign Legion Trilogy chronicles the exploits of Legionnaires around the turn of the 30th century. These Legionnaires are members of the Fifth Foreign Legion which is a direct descendant of the French Foreign Legion. According to the chronology of the novels, the French Foreign Legion is considered the First Foreign Legion which was reorganized into the Second Foreign Legion after the First was destroyed, a process which occurred thrice more to make the present Foreign Legion in the novels the Fifth. The novels are rife with Legion traditions, terminology, and famous quotes. Although the Legion of the novels now serves the human Commonwealth as a whole (made up of Earth plus numerous colonized planets) rather than France alone, its composition and function are virtually identical to that of the French Foreign Legion of the past and present. The three novels are titled: "March Or Die", "Honor and Fidelity", and "Cohort of the Damned".

*In Terry Brooks' "The Elfstones of Shannara", there is a unit of Callahorn's army that is quite similar to the French Foreign Legion, named the Free Corps. Anyone is allowed to sign up with them, no questions asked.

*In Jerry Pournelle's [ "Future History"] , involving a future soldier of fortune named John Christian Falkenberg, there is a central role to the CoDominium Armed Forces, which fights on all kinds of planets far away in space, and which had been created out of the French Foreign Legion and still keeps many of its traditions such as the aforementioned "Camerone Day".

*Pournelle's fellow SF writer David Drake, the author of the Hammer's Slammers series, also bases his mercenary unit on the French Foreign Legion. More specifically, the Legion after the Second World War, when most of its members had fled from prosecution from the Allied War Crimes Commission.

* Yet another SF depiction is Frank Herbert's "Man of Two Worlds" (1986). Part of the story takes place on Venus, with a war occurring on the planet between the French and their Foreign Legion and the Chinese. Foot soldiers on both sides wear armored suits made of "inceram", an incredibly heat-resistant material, to protect them from the planet's surface temperatures. Any damage to a soldier's armor which allows the Venusian atmosphere inside results in his body literally boiling into vapor.

*In British comic fantasy author Terry Pratchett's "Discworld" novels, the "Klatchian Foreign Legion" parodies the French Foreign Legion (the region of Klatch itself being roughly analogous to the Middle East/North Africa). It is generally regarded as a "place men go to forget", and appears to be very effective in this, as evidenced by its members' frequent failure to recall its name, or in many cases, their own names. It is jokingly described as "Twenty years service and all the sand you can eat."

*Science Fiction author William C. Dietz has written a future history where the Legion is now the official armed forces of the "Confederacy", a multi-species political entity. The books to date are: "Legion of the Damned", "The Final Battle", "By Blood Alone", "By Force of Arms", "For More Than Glory", "For Those Who Fell", "When All Seems Lost" (2007), "When Duty Calls" (2008). The Legion in Dietz's novels still celebrates Capitaine Danjou and the Battle of Camarón.

*The Night's Watch in George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series is a military organization similar to the romantic view of the French Foreign Legion. Many of the members of The Watch are sons of nobles with little claim to their father's holdings or criminals that chose lifelong service with The Watch instead of suffering the typical punishment for their crime (usually execution). One of the tenets of the organization is that all men are equal once they "take the black", regardless if they were noble or commoner before joining.

*Robert Asprin's "Phule's Company" novels revolve around a "Space Legion" that any being can join. They choose a new name and their crimes are erased.

*Philip Gordon Wylie's "Gladiator" (1930) follows the adventures of Hugo Danner, an American man born with superhuman strength, speed, and bulletproof skin via prenatal chemical experimentation. He later joins the legion during WWI and uses his skills to combat the German Empire.


*Ante Gotovina's biography "The General", written by Croatian writer Nenad Ivankovic, is mainly about Gotovina's life in the Legion.

*"Legion of the Lost", an autobiography by Jaime Salazar published in 2005, chronicles his experience as an American citizen who joined the Legion out of boredom and disenfranchisement from white collar America.

*British writer Tony Sloane wrote an autobiography titled The Naked Soldier, published in 2004, describing his five years of service in the Legion with the 2e REP and 13th DBLE.

*Milorad Ulemek wrote a partially biographical novel, "Legionar" (Legionnaire), describing his early years in the French Foreign Legion.


*G.I. Joe villains Tomax, Xamot, and Major Bludd served in the French Foreign Legion before joining the Cobra Organization.

*Mickey Mouse joined the Foreign Legion in a 1936 story by Floyd Gottfredson
*In the 1960s, the British boys' comic "Eagle" featured a popular adventure strip called "Luck of the Legion", set in the classic period before WWI, of soldiers in blue coats, white kepi covers, white scarves and white (or red) trousers marching across endless desert under the gaze of treacherous Arab warriors.

*The long-running British war strip "Charley's War" spent many weeks telling a side story about the exploits of a Legionnaire called "Blue", most of which was based around the Battle of Verdun.

*The Legion is the setting for the UK comic strip "Beau Peep".

*Snoopy, from the "Peanuts" comic strip, often imagines himself as a member of the Foreign Legion, usually defending or reclaiming Fort Zinderneuf (a reference to "Beau Geste"). He often embarrasses himself and his troops, the birds. Snoopy often leads them through the desert (the sand traps on the golf course), and in one story line went to Charlie Brown's school on the bus (apparently their "camel broke down"), and he and his troops were sent to the Principal's office, where they were attempting to be generous in surrender, offering the Principal a "free balloon if you surrender immediately". In the end, the "Foreign Legion" was seen next to Snoopy's dog house, when Snoopy explained that they forgot that Fort Zinderneuf was closed on Saturday.

*In a French sci-fi comic "Aquablue", the hero, Neo, must defend himself and his people against the Légion, an Earth Special Force which uses the same uniforms as the Légion Étrangère.

*In the manga and anime "Area 88", the protagonist, Shin Kazama, was tricked while intoxicated into joining the French Foreign Legion to serve in a mercenary airforce in the fictional Asran Kingdom of North Africa. The office that handled his contracts was located in Paris, France.

*Jeremy MacConnor, the main character in the Australian comic "Platinum Grit", is depicted wearing a French Foreign Legion hat.

* The long-running King Features Syndicate daily comic strip "Crock", by Bill Rechin, Don Wilder and Brant Parker, depicts the French Foreign Legion.

*Jean-Paul "Frenchie" DuChamp, sidekick of the Marvel Comics hero Moon Knight, is an ex-legionnaire.

* "Alien Legion", created by Carl Potts (Marvel Epic Comics) depicts a military unit called Force Nomad and comprised of the "dregs of the universe". It mirrors the French Foreign Legion in many respects, right down to a heroic figure whose prosthetic hand is considered a holy relic to the unit.

* Kyle Baker's "The Cowboy Wally Graphic Novel" included long sequences in which the main characters humorously joined the French Foreign Legion.

* In the comic strip "Modesty Blaise", Modesty's side kick Willie Garvin is a former member.

Films and television

*In BBC sitcom "Only Fools and Horses", Grandad recalls the time he attempted to join the French Foreign Legion.
*In the show "Johnny Bravo", Johnny says that he was once kidnapped and forced to join the Legion.
*P.C. Wren's "Beau Geste" has been the basis for three movies in 1926, 1939 and 1966, one parody in 1977 and one BBC mini-series in 1982. The stories all feature three brothers who hide out in the French Foreign Legion. The Carry On team added their version of the story in "Follow That Camel" in 1967.

* The 1939 comedy, "The Flying Deuces" is one of the most popular films to star the duo Laurel and Hardy. The film begins with the pair joining the Foreign Legion and much of the comedy comes from their experiences. Laurel and Hardy had made an earlier comedy also set in the Legion, "Beau Hunks", in 1931.

* In his interview with David Bowie in 2003, British TV presenter and interviewer Jonathan Ross remarked that he surprised by Bowie's newfound heterosexuality, as he was under the impression that coming out as gay was "like joining the foreign legion", i.e. 'theres no coming back'.

* In 1951, Burt Lancaster starred as a sergeant in the Foreign Legion in the movie "Ten Tall Men".

* In the 1952 animated cartoon "Little Beau Pepé", Pepé Le Pew tried to join the Foreign Legion and evacuated a desert fort with his stench.

*In 1962, Stewart Granger starred in the Italian-made "Marcia o crepa", released in the U.S. as "Commando" and in the UK as "The Legion's Last Patrol". Captain LeBlanc (Granger) leads a group of men across the desert to capture a rebel leader during the Algerian independence war. The haunting theme music was a number 4 chart hit in the UK the following year.

* "March or Die" (1978), (also known in France as "Marche ou Crève") stars Gene Hackman as Colonel Foster, an embittered Legion veteran who returns to Algeria from the Western Front shortly after the end of World War I.

* In the "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" episode "Tales of Innocence", Indiana Jones joins the French Foreign Legion in Morocco during World War I.

* "Legionnaire" (1998), starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, depicted the Foreign Legion's battles against Algerian Berbers. In the 1990 film "Lionheart", Van Damme stars as a Legionnaire who deserts in order to help his sister-in-law and niece after his brother is killed.

* In "Savior" (1998), Dennis Quaid is a former Legionnaire who has become a mercenary for the Serbian militia.

* "The Mummy" (1999) stars Brendan Fraser as a member of Foreign Legion at the beginning of the film.

* "Beau travail" (1999) by Claire Denis adapts Herman Melville's novel "Billy Budd" to take place in today's Foreign Legion. While stationed in Djibouti, a sergeant-major feels increasingly threatened by a popular new recruit.

* Most recently, the Legion was revealed in a July 2005 documentary "Escape to the Legion", commissioned by the British television channel, Channel 4. In this four-part series, 11 volunteers with Bear Grylls explored the myths, romanticism and rigours of basic training in the French Foreign Legion.

* "Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion" is a television series which ran on the NBC network from 1955 to 1957. Buster Crabbe starred as the title character, while his real-life son Cullen played his ward, "Cuffey" Sanders.

Video games

* In "", all prime targets are revealed as former members of the French Foreign Legion.
* In "World in Conflict", if the player is commanding NATO forces French Foreign Legion soldiers can parachute into the battle.

External links

* [ Channel 4 documentary website]

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