"Keep shooting, you scum! You’ll get a chance yet to die with your boots on!"
Description: Brian Donlevy as the sadistic Sgt. Markoff shouts to his French legionnaire troopers who are defending an isolated desert fort against attacking desert tribesmen in the motion picture Beau Geste (1939).
Markoff is a Sergeant in the French Foreign Legion stationed at Fort Zinderneuf in the Sahara Desert. Rumor has it that he was expelled from a Siberian penal colony for cruelty. As he greets his new recruits, he growls,
“I am Sergeant Markoff. I make soldiers out of scum like you, and I don't do it gently. You're the sloppiest looking lot I've ever seen. It's up to me to prevent you from becoming a disgrace to the Regiment. And I will prevent that if I have to kill half of you with work. But the half that lives will be soldiers. I promise you!”
Eventually, Markoff cruelty sparks a mutiny among the troops, but their plans fails and they are once again at the mercy of Markoff's menacing ways.
"And now, you scum, it's my turn. I'm going to give you a lesson in putting down an attempted mutiny that'll be the last thing you'll ever see. Maybe this'll make you die happy. Markoff thanks you. When he's an officer and has the Legion of Honor, he'll think often of the stupid, blundering pigs that put him where he is."
Suddenly, the fort is attacked by Bedouin tribesmen and Markoff orders his troops to fight, but they suffer major loses. To give the appearances of more soldiers, Markoff props up the dead bodies of his men on the battlements. "Everybody does his duty at Zinderneuf, dead or alive! We'll make those Arabs think we've got a thousand men." Then he shouts, "The rest of the bullets you stop won't hurt as much as that first one."
As the Arabs retreat Markoff shouts, "Look at them. They come when I want them, and they go when I don't need them anymore. They're beaten, but they've put down a mutiny for me. They've given me the Legion of Honor, and they've made me an officer!"
With the attack repulsed, the only men left standing are Markoff, and brothers Beau Geste (Gary Cooper), now mortally wounded and his John Geste (Ray Milland). Markoff sends John to get some food but upon returning, he see Markoff looting Beau's body in search of an alleged jewel he had in his possession.
When John objects to Markoff's search (which produced two letters and a pouch) Markoff decides to kill John and eliminate any witnesses. But Beau, not yet dead, distracts Markoff, allowing John to kill the madman with a bayonet.
Before Beau dies in John's arms, a bugle announces the arrival of reinforcements. Beau instructs John to take one of the two letters home to Lady Brandon and leave the other, a confession of the robbery, in Markoff's hands. Then John sneaks away unseen into the desert.
Digby Geste (Robert Preston), at the head of the column of reinforcements, volunteers to approach the fort when no one answers and finds his brother Beau dead. Carrying his body into the barracks, Digby places it on a cot and prepares a funeral pyre in the style of a Viking funeral.
As Digby lays Markoff's body at the base of the fire, he fulfills the Viking custom of placing a “dog” at the foot of a slain warrior. Then Digby ignites the funeral pyre and flees the fiery fort. Before Beau died, Markoff, continually urged Beau to give him the stolen jewel he thought John had in his possession.
Note: John, Digby and Michael "Beau" Geste were orphan boys who were adopted by Lady Brandon (Heather Thatcher). Years later, the master of the house, Sir Hector Brandon considered selling a valuable family possession known as the "Blue Water" sapphire. While the family viewed the jewel for the last time, the lights went out and the jewel disappeared. Before Lady Brandon could call the police, one by one, the Geste brothers flee, each leaving a note confessing to the robbery. They eventually reunite at Fort Zinderneuf.
When John returns to England (Digby died in the desert along the way), he presents a letter from Beau explaining the theft of the family jewel. Beau stole the jewel because he knew it was fake and that Lady Brandon had sold the real one years ago to pay bills run up by her spendthrift husband. Beau witnessed the transaction as a child while hiding in a suit of honor at the family estate.
For his noble attempt to protect the family honor, Lady Brandon refers to the boy's name: "Beau Geste...gallant gesture. We didn't name him wrong, did we?"
In the motion picture spoof The Last Remake of Beau Geste (1977) Peter Ustinov as Markov, the sadistic French Legionnaire commander, says, "Life is as brief as a butterfly’s fart, but death is something that you have forever. From now on, you will march until you drop, and when you have dropped, you will crawl. Some may consider that I am excessively cruel, but there is a reason for this cruelty: I enjoy it.!"