The Mystery of Fort Zinderneuf in Beau Geste by John Davis

 As part of our continuing effort to bring you the Art of Intelligence here's the latest piece from former Army Counter-intelligence author John Davis.

The following was originally posted on on April 19th, 2017.

Perhaps the most mysterious beginning of any movie is the scene at Fort Zinderneuf, in the 1939 film, Beau Geste. Fort Zinderneuf is a French Foreign Legion outpost, standing mute, somewhere in the Sahara. It is approached by a relief column of soldiers, sent to rescue the beleaguered occupants.

Yet, when the reinforcements arrive, no one responds to their bugle call. Sent to discern the problem, the bugler himself disappears after having entered the stucco wall by rope. What makes that even more astounding is that there seems to be a soldier at every firing port. Each stares out into the desert, his rifle protruding at his side.

Finally, exasperated, the major commanding the arrivals ascends the rope himself. To his shock he discovers at the portal that the Legionnaire is dead, shot through the head. Inside, he sees all the Legionnaires are shot dead, each having been purposefully lifted into place, to guard forever the aperture where he was killed.

What happened to these men? There is no one at all who responds to the major’s repeated calls, now including his bugler, who has disappeared as if taken by a jinn. Zinderneuf, and the mystery of what happened there, are enticingly laid out in this perfect opening framework. Beau Geste will be one of the most thrilling, heart breaking, and astonishing tales of mystery and intrigue you’ll ever see.

Percival Christopher Wren, an Englishman, wrote Beau Geste at a time when the world had only just emerged from the First World War. It speaks to ties of brotherly love, of soldierly duty and adventure, and of individual heroics. Each, of course, are Victorian traits which the recent mechanized, industrial war had well and truly wiped away. In that sense it appealed to a simpler, more hopeful age.

Indeed, the characters as played by Gary Cooper, Ray Milland, and Brian Donlevy among a stellar cast, transport the viewer into a time where virtue meant something, a man’s word was his bond, and villainy was to be confronted and fought. If you watch this 1939 movie version of that story, you’ll never think of mystery the same way again.

~By MW Team Writer:  John Davis


John William Davis is a retired US Army counterintelligence officer and linguist. As a linguist, Mr. Davis learned five languages, the better to serve in his counterintelligence jobs during some 14 years overseas. He served in West Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands during the Cold War. There he was active in investigations directed against the Communist espionage services of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact. His mission was also to investigate terrorists such as the Red Army Faction in Germany, the Red Brigades in Italy, and the Combatant Communist Cells (in Belgium) among a host of others.

His work during the Cold War and the bitter aftermath led him to write Rainy Street Stories, ‘Reflections on Secret Wars, Terrorism, and Espionage’. He wanted to talk about not only the events themselves, but also the moral and human aspects of the secret world as well.

Click to Read John’s Complete Profile

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