Lost Command

Lost Command (aka Les Centurions) is a 1966 American war film directed and produced by Mark Robson and starring Anthony Quinn, Alain Delon, George Segal, Michèle Morgan, Maurice Ronet and Claudia Cardinale. It is based on the best-selling 1960 novel The Centurions by Jean Lartéguy. The film focuses on the story of French paratroopers battling in French Indochina and French Algeria.

Lost Command
Lost Command poster.jpg
Directed byMark Robson
Produced byMark Robson
Screenplay byNelson Gidding
Based onThe Centurions
1960 novel
by Jean Lartéguy
StarringAnthony Quinn
Alain Delon
George Segal
Michèle Morgan
Maurice Ronet
Claudia Cardinale
Music byFranz Waxman
CinematographyRobert Surtees (Panavision)
Edited byDorothy Spencer
Red Lion
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • May 1966 (1966-05)
Running time
130 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,150,000 (est. US/ Canada rentals)[1]
4,294,756 admissions (France)[2]


In the final moments of the 1954 Battle of Dien Bien Phu, a weakened French battalion awaits a last assault by communist Việt Minh troops.

The battalion commander, Basque Lt. Col. Pierre-Noël Raspéguy (Anthony Quinn), has called central headquarters for reinforcements. Headquarters sends only a single plane load of French paratroopers, under the command of Major de Clairefons. Despite Raspéguy's attempts to provide covering fire, the paratroopers are slaughtered as they land. Major de Clairefons is killed when his parachute drags him into a minefield. Raspéguy is enraged that General Melies (Jean Servais) sent only one plane, and further believes that Melies intends to make him responsible for the entire debacle at Dien Bien Phu.

The Việt Minh overrun the French, with the survivors captured and imprisoned. Among Raspéguy's friends are military historian Captain Phillipe Esclavier (Alain Delon), Indochina-born Captain Boisfeures (Maurice Ronet), surgeon Captain Dia (Gordon Heath) and Lt. Ben Mahidi (George Segal), an Algerian-born paratrooper who turns down a Việt Minh leader's (Burt Kwouk) offer for preferential treatment because he is an Arab. Raspéguy's leadership keeps the men together in their captivity. When released after a treaty between the Việt Minh and France, Raspéguy leads his men in demolishing a delousing station that they see as a humiliation.

Upon his return home to Algeria, Ben Mahidi is disgusted at the treatment of his people, especially when his teenaged brother is machine gunned by the police for painting graffiti in support of independence from France. He deserts from the army to join the rebels of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN), becoming a guerrilla leader.

Upon his own return from Indochina, Lt. Col. Raspéguy starts a relationship with Countess Nathalie de Clairefons (Michèle Morgan), widow of the Major who died while trying to reinforce Raspéguy's battalion. The Countess' military contacts result in Raspéguy being given command of the new 10th Regiment of Parachutistes Coloniaux, serving under General Melies in the Algerian war.

The General briefs him that the command is his last chance in the military: if his Regiment fails, Raspéguy's career is finished. Raspéguy recruits his comrades-in-arms from Indochina and trains his battalion with harsh methods, such as using live ammunition on an assault course to encourage speed and initiative.

The building Esclavier leaves at the end was filmed at Cuartel del Conde-Duque, Madrid.

Soon after beginning counter-insurgency operations in both urban and rural environments, Esclavier falls in love with Mahidi's sister Aicha (Claudia Cardinale), who is loyal to the FLN and uses her friendship with Esclavier to smuggle explosive detonators. The previously naive Esclavier begins to have a new view of his nation's conduct as the FLN rebels and French parachutists try to outdo each other in breaking the rules of war. Raspéguy eventually turns on his old comrades who have become too sympathetic to the FLN. Referred to as General (but still wearing Lt. Col. ranks), Raspéguy's last scene shows him receiving a medal while his Regiment is presented with a unit citation. Outside the compound where this is happening Esclavier, who has left the army in disgust, laughs when he sees a child painting a pro-independence slogan on the wall.




Mark Robson bought the novel's film rights for his Red Lion company in March 1963. The screenplay was written by Nelson Gidding, who had previously adapted Nine Hours to Rama for Robson.[3][4]


Robson reportedly held off making the film for a year so he could get Anthony Quinn for the lead.[5] Quinn's character is loosely based on Marcel Bigeard, the actual commander in French Indochina, who led the unit that was the predecessor to the 6th Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment (the 6th Colonial Parachute Battalion). Bigeard later commanded the 3rd Colonial Parachute Regiment in French Algeria.


The film was shot on location in Spain.[6] Technical support was provided by Commandant René Lepage, who had served in the 6th Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment of the French Army.


Despite the novel's success, the release of another film called The Centurians led to the film's title being changed. At one stage it was going to be From Indo-China to the Gates of Algiers then Not For Honor and Glory before it was decided to use Lost Command.[7][8] It premièred in the United States in May 1966.[9] It was released in France a few months later.

Box OfficeEdit

The film was not particularly popular in the US, earning rentals of $1,150,000.[1] However, it was the fifth most popular movie at the French box office in 1966, after La Grande Vadrouille, Dr Zhivago, Is Paris Burning? and A Fistful of Dollars.[10]

Critical receptionEdit

The film received mixed reviews. The New York Times described it as mundane concluding it "is all too reminiscent, except for the labels of name, time and place of the many standard war films that have preceded Lost Command."[11]


In 1963 Robson also bought the rights to Larteguy's The Praetorians, a follow up to The Centurions; however, the film was never made.[12]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Big Rental Pictures of 1966", Variety, 4 January 1967 p 8
  2. ^ Box office information for film at Box Office Story
  3. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (May 9, 1963). "Robson Will Depict Paratrooper Novel: MGM's 'King of Gypsies'; Algonquin Crowd' Revived". Los Angeles Times. p. C11.
  4. ^ http://content.cdlib.org/view?docId=tf1t1nb12v&chunk.id=c02-
  5. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (Apr 13, 1964). "Robson 'Centurions' Enlists Tony Quinn: Jennifer Jones in Perry Play; Strange Case of Segal-Sagal". Los Angeles Times. p. E21.
  6. ^ "Robson Tethered to Hollywood Base". Los Angeles Times. Jan 25, 1966. p. c8.
  7. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (Sep 9, 1963). "Drama Bow Hardly a First for Mindy: 'South Pacific' Turning Point for Actress Due at Hartford". Los Angeles Times. p. D17.
  8. ^ http://issuu.com/boxoffice/docs/boxoffice_121365/13
  9. ^ p.25 Loufti, Martine Astier Imperial Frame: Film Industry and Colonial Representation Sherzer, Dina (Editor) Cinema, Colonialism, Postcolonialism: Perspectives from the French and Francophone World 1996 University of Texas Press
  10. ^ "French Box Office 1966". Box Office Story.
  11. ^ "Lost Command". New York Times. September 15, 1966. Retrieved 14 October 2015.
  12. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (Oct 7, 1963). "The Conjugal Bed' Target of Italians: Comedy Cynical but Funny; Mirisch Slate $17 Million". Los Angeles Times. p. D15.

External linksEdit