The 70s was the Golden Age of Parody films. The start of this was probably the 1969 film, Take The Money and Run, which was Woody Allen's poke at TV "true crime documentaries," gangster and prison films. The peak of this was around 1974 when Mel Brooks gave us both Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein and the Monty Python's gave us Monty Python and the Holy Grail. At that point, major studios were wanting parody films. Shortly after Mel Brooks Silent Movie came out, Universal Studios hired Young Frankenstein/Silent Movie star (and Monty Python friend) Marty Feldman to write, direct and star in a film parody version of the story of Beau Geste, which had been filmed numerous times since the beginning of the movie industry.
The plot of the novel (and later movies) revolves around a British military man, Sir Hector, adopting sons (The novel has three although this movies only has two boys: Beau and Digby) after the disappointment of his wife dying while giving birth to a daughter. When Sir Hector marries a young golddigger, Beau takes the family's valuable diamond and flees to Morocco to join the French Foreign Legion. His brothers follow him.
The stories of Universal being run in the 70s by clueless old white, conservative guys who didn't know what audiences would like and not could fill a book. They didn't understand the popularity of The Six Million Dollar Man among children and they just about pulled the plug on both American Graffiti and Animal House. They also turned down another George Lucas project called Star Wars. So it is not surprising that they didn't like Marty Feldman's finished version of the film and had it re-edited before it was released. Even after test audiences preferred the Feldman version, Universal released their version.
While there is apparently no surviving version of the "Director's Cut," the Universal version is nothing to sneeze at. There are numerous great gags in the film from Feldman trying to stop the 30's Universal logo from spinning, an abundance of funny signs on walls, pokes at movie cliches, camel humps being deflated after being shot, a commercial for a used camel salesman and cameos by Ed McMahon and Garry Cooper. Contrary to what IMDB and other resources say McMahon is not a "Arab horseman," he is really playing Ed McMahon in Arab clothing. Cooper appears in footage from the 1939 version in which he played the main character. He offers Feldman a cigarette.
Michael York plays a dashing version of Beau opposite Feldman as Beau's less-perfect brother Digby. Ann Margaret plays the sexy step-mother after the family jewel, Sinead Cusack as the daughter of the boy's adoptive father, Henry Gibson is the French general, Ted Cassidy as a blind cook, James Earl Jones is a Sheik, who talks like comedian Terry Thomas (who is also in the movie) and Peter Ustinov as Sgt. Markov, who not only has a prosthetic leg, but so to does his horse and teddy bear.
However, of all the great performers in the movie, my favorite is Michael McConkey (above), who plays young Digby. Where did they find a child that looked exactly like Marty Feldman???
Sadly, Universal still doesn't understand that there is a market for a great DVD release of this fun movie. You can buy it from Universal on-demand, however fans have said they only got a transfer of the movie on DVD. No menu, no chapters, no extras. If they could release both the released version and the director's cut, I'm sure there would be quite a few people who would buy it. Also it should have a good version of the trailer. I kept finding the same one on various websites and it has glitches.
If you can find a copy on VHS or watch it on You Tube, do so. It deserves more of an audience than it has gotten in the past few years.