The Wild Geese
April 21, 2003
Andrew V. McLaglen,
Starring: Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris, Hardy Krüger, Stewart Granger, Winston Ntshona, John Kani, Jack Watson, Frank Finlay, Kenneth Griffith, Barry Foster, Ronald Fraser, Patrick Allen, Rosalind Lloyd, ,
The unmistakable voice of Joan Armatrading is heard over Maurice Binder’s opening credits as classic British movie The Wild Geese begins. Based on the book by Daniel Carney it concerns a bunch of middle-aged mercenaries hired by a suspicious businessman to secure the release of a former African president.
Col. Faulkner arrives in typically aggressive mood at the lavish residence of Sir Edward Matherson & is informed of the plan; a small team of mercenaries will infiltrate a heavily guarded compound & extract Julius Limbani, the imprisoned leader of the opposition. Accepting the mission he insists on recruiting a couple of old mates, Rafer Janders & Shaun Flynn. Once reunited they enlist a mix of old friends & battle hungry individuals then up sticks to South Africa where they find themselves on the receiving end of the drill instructor from hell in the shape of another of Faulkner’s old comrades, RSM Sandy Young. Then it’s on to the mission & whilst it runs smoothly enough their exit plan goes tits up & that’s when the trouble really starts!
The film is reminiscent of classics like The Dirty Dozen but is inherently British & all the better for it! These men are no Hollywood heroes, they look grizzled, battle weary, with faces that have seen a lot of action, seen a lot of their friends die in pointless conflicts. Now in an age where the line between right & wrong is blurred these men fight for the one cause that has remained, money. This theme underpins the entire film, with behind the scenes deals affecting the situation out in the field. These soldiers are pawns in a far bigger game, which is motivated by profit, & it is clear that there will not be a happy ending for all concerned.
What secures this film in the status of classic is the casting, with three acting giants of British cinema taking the lead roles. Heading the list is Richard Burton as the cynical hard drinking mercenary Col. Faulkner. He is superb, dominating the screen at all times & as usual he attacks his dialogue with gusto, throwing his lines out like bullets. Faulkner is a man who has seen it all, a man who doesn’t suffer fools gladly & has few morals & Burton appears to be having fun with this character who is appealingly disagreeable. Rafer Janders, expertly played by Richard Harris, is a counterpoint to Burton’s apparent immorality & the emotional core of the movie. He is a disillusioned man, a man who once fought for a cause but now tries to forget his past life & concentrate on spending time with his son. Although quite opposite to Burton it is a testament to their acting that you believe these two are firm friends, a friendship forged in the heat of battle no doubt. Completing the trio is Irishman Shawn Fynn who tends to act before he thinks. Sir Roger Moore brings this character to life with a harder edge than James Bond, the character he was also playing at the time. Although he doesn’t seem to get enough screen time he is a fitting addition to the roster of The Wild Geese, as is German actor Hardy Kruger in the pivotal role of South African Lt. Pieter Coetze.
The whole film is peppered with familiar faces from the British film industry, Stewart Granger brings an aloof air to the role of Sir Edward Matherson & Jack Watson is truly unforgettable as Sandy Young. Also on hand are the likes of Kenneth Griffith, Ron Fraser, Patrick Allen & even room for a cameo by Frank Findlay. But even the greatest of actors can come unstuck with poor material, happily the script is full of unforgettable dialogue – “my liver is to be buried separately, and with honours” – in particular a speech given by Richard Burton is a definite highlight of the movie. The film is efficiently directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, a man who worked with the legendary John Ford he never lets the pace flag & assisted by John Glen creates some memorable set pieces, from the tense covert infiltration to full scale battles. All this is accompanied by the suitably militaristic themes conjured up by film composer Roy Budd, a name familiar to fans of Get Carter. It fits the film perfectly during the action sequences as well as in some of the more emotional moments when he uses subtler cues.
This DVD release comes complete with a small but informative collection of extras. First up is the audio commentary on which journalist Jonathan Sothcott brings together producer Euan Lloyd, star Sir Roger Moore & editor/2nd Unit Director John Glen. This is an interesting track, full of information & anecdotes about the films production; alas they very rarely talk about what is happening on the screen. Euan is particularly guilty, going off on lengthy monologues which are interesting but it would have been nice if there had been a bit more relevance to what they are watching.
An excellent short documentary on the disc entitled The Last Of The Gentlemen Producers focuses on the career of Euan Lloyd from his early days working in a cinema to a fateful meeting with Alan Ladd which would lead to him becoming one of the most respected producers of his generation. He discusses the various films he has worked on, his love of westerns & of course The Wild Geese. You also get Ingrid Pitt, John Glen, Sir Roger Moore & others waxing lyrical about the great man. Rounding off the package is the Wild Geese Charity Premiere footage, this archive featurette is a Movietone news special reporting on the star studded gala premiere. In typical Movietone fashion you get a rather dry & unemotional narrator talking over the footage. It is interesting to see how much the media has changed in the way it reports film premieres.
The Wild Geese is a classic slice of 70s action adventure with a cast of UK movie legends, support from a host of familiar faces from British cinema, memorable dialogue & impressive action scenes. Amidst the bullets & blood the script does address some political issues concerning South Africa but not in an overly heavy-handed way & doesn’t intrudes on the telling of a great yarn. This is a welcome release with a decent collection of extras that should please fans of this great movie, & if you love films such as Kelly’s Heroes & The Dirty Dozen then it’s a worthwhile purchase. As the saying goes, “they don’t make ’em like this anymore!”