AUBAGNE, France -- The Foreign Legion isn't what it used to be. Killers on the lam are no longer welcome, and unhappy recruits have a year to back out without being branded deserters.
These days a bigger issue faces the 175-year-old force that made its name fighting France's overseas battles in jungle and desert. Its primary mission -- to be a crack professional force of non-French volunteers available for instant, no-questions-asked deployment in far-flung conflicts -- has all but evaporated.
The Legion has long had an aura of "march-or-die" camaraderie and brutality. A century ago, it was said to punish deserters by burying them up to the neck in sand and abandoning them to the jackals.
It was also romanticized in pop culture, most memorably in the 1939 Hollywood classic "Beau Geste," in which Gary Cooper battled Sahara Bedouins on camels.
This is where the article goes astray. The best French Foreign Legion movie starring Gary Cooper is Morocco, which costars Marlene Dietrich. The final scene where she follows him through the desert may be the most romantic shot in cinema history.