Director: Andrew V McLaglen
Producer Euan Lloyd
Script: Reginald Rose
From a novel ‘The Wild Geese’ by Daniel Carney
Editing: John Glen
Score: Roy Budd
This tightly directed film by McLaglen
has to be one of my favourites of all time. From the Euan
Lloyd stable is has all the elements you would expect from a classic British
war movie, Overwhelming odds, resilience in the face of danger and a good
moral message. This combined with a well adapted screen play from the book
by Carney gives the veteran actors a chance to shine. Ok down to the movie….
When a ruthless African dictator's rise to power threatens the investments that a multinational corporation owns in his country, the corporation hires a group of Brit mercenaries to go in and rescue the nation's deposed former leader so that he can be restored to power and business can continue as usual.
The man they hire for the job is Colonel Allen Faulkner (Richard Burton), who in turn brings two of his old army buddies into the deal. They are Captain Rafer Janders (Richard Harris) and Lt Shawn Flynn (Roger Moore). After they iron out the details of the contract (the hard-drinking Faulkner semi-jokingly states "There is a clause in all of my contracts that my liver is to be buried separately - and with honours"), they put together a list of fifty men (some of whom have fought with them in the British army begin recruitment.
I’m going to try not to spoil the film for those who haven’t yet viewed it yet so will discuss spoilers generally and not in detail. The action sequences are done well and whilst not always 100% believable are still exciting, reviewers seem to focus on the cyanide quarrels as a point of quibbling. The story is excellent and well paced – not focusing too much on the action but establishing good characters and explaining old relationships. Little details like Sandy Young’s (Sgt Major) not liking Faulkner all tell us something of the past. The first half story line build its onto Africa and the saving of a good black politician.
The backbone of the film is not in any of the elements already mentioned although together they would have made a good film, it’s in the character development that is inherent in the screen play and brought well into the film. I will mention just a couple. The colonels relationship with his old friend Sandy Young. We see Faulkner trying to convince him not to go and then the aftermath after Faulkner eventually says to the Sgt Major,
‘when there’s no one around sandy you can call me Allen’ to which the Sgt Major replies
‘yes sir, I will sir’ despite the fact there is no one around.
Two more poignant moments and the film is full of them because you become involved with the characters. The walk when Harris makes Burton his son’s God father, to which Burton replies,
‘Why me, haven’t; you got any decent friends’. This could sound like a comic line but that’s not the way that Burton delivers it.
Finally the development of the relationship between the South African officer Pieter Coetze (Hardy Kruger) and the black politician. Remember Coetze has been fighting black terrorists for most of his life and isn’t portrayed as racist but someone who has grown up seeing his friends killed and his country destroyed. Yet the relationship progresses, because Winston Ntshona is just so good as the moderate and forward thinking Limbani. I know that those of you have seen this film will be thinking of at least one other scene but lets not spoil such a good movie.
There’s a strong comic line despite the seriousness of the story and the situation they find themselves in. One of my favourite is when Burton and Harris meet Moore for the firs time and Burton asks Rafer what he carrying (in terms of weapons) Rafer replies,
‘I’m carrying this (pistol) and this (grenade)…it sort of balances me up…’
Burton, Moore, Harris, Kruger and Watson deliver some excellent performances here, displaying the kind of charismatic toughness one would expect from hardened soldiers. Ntshona, as I have already mentioned does a good job as the ailing ex-president. The action scenes are frequent and fantastic, and the weaponry and squad tactics displayed seem completely credible. In fact, this 36 year old flick manages to rival and surpass, most contemporary military flicks. While part of its strength is in story line and action the strong characterisations from the leads are the film's most enduring elements.
Allegedly, loosely based on "Mad Mike" Hoares mercenary crew and their incredible adventures controlling tribal violence and rescuing Westerners in the Belgian Congo in the early 60s...."The Wild Geese" never lets up once the action gets going and is full of gritty fire-fights and never say die heroics.