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The Wild Geese
cast: Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Roger Moore, Hardy Kruger, and Stewart Granger

director: Andrew V. McLaglen

133 minutes (15) 1978
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Mosaic DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Donald Morefield
After the closure of the house of Hammer, and the lapse into tired formula of the Carry-On series, truly British cinema was rarely successful overseas again (unless you want to count the Bond movies as homegrown?) until the 1980s' video boom. However, alongside Ian Sharp's under-appreciated SAS thriller, Who Dares Wins (aka: The Final Option, 1981), this lively adventure showed that UK productions could still compete with American blockbuster movies in the gritty action stakes. Adapted by Reginald Rose from a novel by Daniel Carney and directed by Andrew V. McLaglen (best known as a maker of westerns for John Wayne and James Stewart) The Wild Geese was not a critical success but proved to be a hit with audiences.
   Colonel Allen Faulkner (Richard Burton), Lieutenant Shawn Fynn (Roger Moore) and Captain Rafer Janders (Richard Harris) head a team of mercenaries hired by shady businessman Edward Matherson (Stewart Granger) to rescue kidnapped African leader Julius Limbani (Winston Ntshona) from prison in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Their men include racist Pieter Coetze (Hardy Kr�ger), gruff ex-RSM Sandy Young (played by Jack Watson), two Sergeants Tosh Donaldson and Jock McTaggart (Ian Yule and Ronald Fraser), and openly-gay medical orderly Arthur Witty (Kenneth Griffith). Among the civilians we find Frank Finlay playing Irish priest Father Geoghagen. There are minor roles for Barry Foster as Thomas Balfour, and Patrick Allen as Rushton, while the producer's daughter Rosalind Lloyd has the only female role (as casino hostess Heather), in the whole film.
   Although there are two heavy drinkers (Burton and Harris) in lead roles, this was a largely untroubled shoot on excellent locations in southern Africa, and the story of gentlemanly mercenaries betrayed by their unscrupulous paymasters is, at turns, excitingly dramatic and somewhat blackly humorous. The cast includes some real mercenaries led by Colonel 'Mad' Mike Hoare (who acted as technical advisor to the filmmakers). John Glen, later a director in his own right on James Bond movies, was in charge of the second unit and stunt work, and the excellent pyrotechnic and special effects were supervised by the legendary Kit West - who went on to big scale movies like Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981), Return Of The Jedi (1983), and David Lynch's epic Dune (1984). In spite of the anti-apartheid message, the film has hardly dated, with only 1970s' hairstyles and London fashions, to remind us this was made over 15 years ago (and that two of its main cast are now dead and gone).
   The 'romantic' element in this Boys' Own adventure is replaced by a father and son relationship - Richard Harris' reluctant tactician Janders is the single-parent who dotes on his only child - but all scenes with the schoolboy are cloying at best. What makes The Wild Geese so enjoyable, still, is the starry cast and the unfussy, straightforward direction. McLaglen simply gets on with telling the story without a hint of pretension, and there's a memorable theme song written and performed by undervalued soul 'diva' Joan Armatrading.
   A sequel, Wild Geese II (1985), about a European mission to spring aged Nazi Rudolf Hess from Spandau prison, was derived from Carney's novel The Square Circle. Although this somewhat belated follow-up, directed by Peter Hunt, failed to match the impact of the original, it starred Scott Glenn, Edward Fox, Laurence Olivier (as Hess), Barbara Carrera, Robert Webber, Stratford Johns, and Derek Thompson, and the watchable cast ensured it was essential viewing for all fans of espionage and action cinema.
   DVD extras: a fine audio commentary with Roger Moore, John Glen, producer Euan Lloyd, is moderated by journalist Jonathan Sothcott, and this will certainly be of interest for the ever-witty Moore's amusing reminiscences about working alongside legendary hellraisers such as Burton and Harris, and also for his fond memories of the movie's other main players. There's also a very fine biographical featurette on Mr Lloyd, The Last Of The Gentleman Producers (37 minutes), and seven minutes of news footage about the world charity gala premiere of the movie at Leicester Square in London.

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