Cast & Crew
J. Carrol Naish
In 1939, Jala, the brother of the Dylak sheik in French Morocco, arranges to assassinate his sibling, whom he considers a weakling. The assassins are dressed as French Legionnaires, and the sheik's young children, El Zanal and Princess Zara, witness the killing and vow never to forgive the foreigners. Fifteen years later, the soldiers at Ft. Valeau in the Sahara Desert eagerly await the relief column that is marching toward them. Jala, disguised as a wine merchant, arrives at the fort and questions Sgt. Diepel about a rumor that no radio reports have been received from the relief troops. The men are surprised when the new commander, Capt. David Malcolm, arrives ahead of his troops in a helicopter, but Malcolm explains to Capt. Montclair that he received his orders too late to join the march. Montclair warns Malcolm that there has been no radio contact with his troops, but Malcolm is not worried, as the neighboring Dylak tribes have been peaceful for years, and Montclair turns over his command and departs in the helicopter. After Montclair's departure, Malcolm interviews Pvt. Pete Havers, an alcoholic but charming Englishman, and sends him to the guardhouse for being drunk while on duty. That night, a sentry spots a burning cross in front of the fort, and the men are horrifed to discover the mutilated bodies of eight men from the relief column. Malcolm orders Dr. Kleiner to revive his friend, Lt. Rene, despite the great pain it will cause him, and before dying, Rene whispers that El Zanal, the current Dylak sheik, was responsible for the massacre. The next day, the men, especially the cowardly Ducco, bemoan their situation, but Malcolm is encouraged by a radio report that Maj. Henri Panton is marching with a full battalion to aid them. While Malcolm is wondering what drove El Zanal to commit such an atrocity, a large group of Arabs appear before the fort. When three of the men wave a flag of truce, they are taken to Malcolm's office, and there the spokesmen order Malcolm to surrender. Knowing how well-provisioned the fort is, Malcolm dismisses the mens's threats, but as they leave, they blow up the fort's gates. During the ensuing battle, wave after wave of Arabs descend upon the fort, until finally, the legionnaires are forced to surrender. The remaining soldiers are confined to the barracks, and there El Zanal tells Malcolm that he knows about Panton's imminent arrival and intends to rebuild the fort and ambush the unsuspecting battalion members when they enter. El Zanal informs Malcolm that he has gathered intelligence on the fort's men and knows which ones will cooperate with him to save their lives, then offers safe passage to Malcolm and the others if they will also assist in luring Panton. Knowing that the traitors will help anyway, and that the only way he can save the battalion is to stay alive, Malcolm accepts El Zanal's offer, much to the astonishment of his men. Hot-headed Texan Rex Tyle hits Malcolm, but after the captain explains his reasoning, the chagrined soldiers vow to stand beside him. Malcolm also informs his men that there are explosives hidden in the vault below his office, with which they can warn the approaching column, even though it will mean blowing up the fort and everyone in it. Meanwhile, Zara, who always rides at her brother's side, has become intrigued by Malcolm and sends for the handsome American. Zara reveals that legionnaires assassinated her father, and becomes enraged when Malcolm protests that soldiers would never commit such an act. The next morning, the tribesmen begin rebuilding the fort, and El Zanal receives a radio report that Panton will arrive the following day. While discussing Malcolm with El Zanal, Zara learns that her brother intends to kill all of the fort's legionnaires, regardless of their actions. El Zanal warns Zara that no foreigner could ever understand their way of life, but nevertheless, Zara attempts to persuade Malcolm to join them. Malcolm kisses the princess but rejects her offer, then rejoins his men. While Malcolm plots with the soldiers, Zara informs her brother that she has fallen in love with the captain, and he promises to allow Malcolm to live if he proves trustworthy during the coming battle. Malcolm meets with Zara again, and to her chagrin, ties and gags her before stealing her bodyguard's robes. Several other soldiers join him in the vault to get the explosives, but they are caught by El Zanal, who reprimands his sister for believing that Malcolm loved her. The next day, Ducco and several other traitors, along with the Dylaks, stand guard on the fort walls, while the rest of the soldiers are locked in a barn with the horses. Malcolm is tied to a post in his office, so that he can watch the slaughter of the battalion, while in another room, El Zanal reveals to Jala that he knows the true identity of his father's murderers. Afraid that he is going to be killed, Jala tries to explain himself and is astounded when El Zanal thanks him for his act and for teaching him to rule without sentiment. Zara, who overhears the exchange, is infuriated and swears that she will never stand beside her brother again. While the tribesmen prepare for the arrival of the battation, Zara and her maid, Alita, kill Jala and rush to free Malcolm. The fort gates open and Panton's men advance as Malcolm frees his men and finds weapons. A huge gun battle ensues, during which Havers is killed and Malcolm shoots El Zanal. Later, with peace restored, the remaining Dylaks are rounded up, and Panton assures Malcolm that Zara's efforts to help him will earn her a lenient sentence. Malcolm smiles at Zara as she joins her people, then watches proudly as the French flag is raised.
J. Carrol Naish
Robert S. Comer
George W. George
Charles D. Hall
Wesley Y. Jeffries
Howard W. Koch
John F. Schreyer
George F. Slavin
John G. Stephens
Ralph Meeker, fresh off his unforgettable turn as Mickey Spillane's private eye Mike Hammer in Kiss Me Deadly (1955), released just a few months earlier, stars as Capt. David Malcolm, an American commander who arrives at his post via helicopter (one of the few signs that the story is actually set in the present). Shapely, exotic Marla English (a former model and beauty contest winner born in San Diego) is his love interest; she plays the fiery Princess Zara, who rides in on a horse and strikes Meeker with a whip before speaking a word. The role was something of an advancement for the dark-haired starlet, whose career up to this point had been mostly playing various bit characters called "girl," aka "Harem girl," "Girl on bridge," and most notably "Girl at songwriter's party" in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954).
The cast of Desert Sands also boasts some well-known and respected character actors, including J. Carrol Naish, a New Yorker of Irish ancestry who was best known for playing a range of decidedly non-Irish ethnicities, including Arabs, Latinos, and Indians, both Eastern and Western. John Carradine is the despicable Jala, whose plot against his own brother years earlier sets into motion the anti-foreigner sentiments of Zara and her brother.
The picture, under the working title "The Desert Battalion," was directed by Lesley Selander, a B-movie director with a long and prolific career, mostly in Westerns. His release immediately before this was Fort Yuma (1955). Selander must have liked the setting because, according to many reports, Desert Sands was shot in Yuma, Arizona (although Fort Yuma was actually shot in Utah). Like many B directors, Selander found a lot of work later in his career in television, and he earned a Directors Guild of America nomination for his outstanding work on an episode of the popular show Lassie.
According to an item in the Hollywood Reporter on January 4, 1955, executive producer Aubrey Schenck originally intended to shoot the picture in CinemaScope. A March 25, 1955 news bit in the same publication noted that the picture was being converted to SuperScope instead, and that the release date had been pushed back to allow for the conversion. SuperScope was one of the few wide-screen competitors to offer even a marginal challenge to the hugely successful CinemaScope developed by 20th Century Fox. SuperScope was quickly adopted by RKO and smaller, independent studios because it could be rendered with conventional photographic equipment and no fees had to be paid to Fox. Perhaps the most successful SuperScope production, and maybe the best, was Vera Cruz (1954), a Robert Aldrich Western starring Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster.
Director: Lesley Selander
Producers: Aubrey Schenck, Howard W. Koch
Screenplay: Danny Arnold, George W. George, George F. Slavin, based on the novel Punitive Action by John Robb
Cinematography: Gordon Avil
Editing: John F. Schreyer
Art Direction: Daniel Hall, James W. Sullivan
Original Music: Paul Dunlap
Cast: Ralph Meeker (Capt. David Malcolm), Marla English (Zara), J. Carrol Naish (Sgt. Diepel), John Carradine (Jala), John Smith (Pvt. Rex Tyle).
by Rob Nixon
The working title of this film was The Desert Battalion. Although a December 3, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that John C. Higgins was working on the film's screenplay, the extent of his contribution to the completed picture, if any, has not been determined. Marla English was borrowed from Paramount for the production. Numerous contemporary sources reported that exteriors for the picture were shot on location in the desert near Yuma, AZ. According to a January 4, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, executive producer Aubrey Schenck originally intended to shoot the picture in CinemaScope. A March 25, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that instead, the picture was being converted to SuperScope, and that the release date had been pushed back to allow for the conversion.
Released in United States Fall September 1955
Released in United States Fall September 1955