Looking at the glorious cover art for Severin’s recent release of the 1978 action film, The Wild Geese, one can just feel the epic sturm und drang emanate from it. We’re talking macho splashes of earth tones, weathered faces and a sense of complete, virulent action, all telling you that this is not your average uber-masculine, gun-toting, white-knuckling film. No, because while The Wild Geese has all the key elements to make your garden variety violence loving film fan happy, it also has more on the ball than that. This is a film that you can love for more than just its body.
The Wild Geese stars Richard Burton as Col. Allen Faulkner, a highly seasoned mercenary who is hired by the impossibly rich industrialist, Sir Edward Matherson (Stewart Granger), to put together a team of the best mercs in the business. The reason? To pull off a rescue mission for President Limbani (Winston Ntshona). Limbani has been imprisoned in his own African nation after being overthrown by a rabid dictator. The goal is to get him to safety and set off the domino effect to get the dictator out and to get their fair, if sickly, President back in his original position.
The real fun begins as Faulkner starts to put together his dream of mercenaries, including the dashing Sean Flynn (Roger Moore), single dad and the Colonel’s best friend Captain Rafer Janders (Richard Harris), retiree and gardening enthusiast Sandy Young (Jack Watson) and the wild card from South Africa, Pieter Coatzee (Hardy Kruger), among others. After one fantastic hard-boiled training sequence, the men are ready. The mission is pulled off with all the finesse and fine honed technique of a Russian ballet, but the worm turns and their employer pulls a double cross. It is then up to the titular Wild Geese to get out of Africa alive.
The Wild Geese is a quality film with an interesting and initially, controversial history. The film was protested for being (falsely) assumed to have sympathetic leanings towards Apartheid. Naturally, the protestors had not seen the film and in fact, pointedly refused to even read anything informative about it. In fact, while the film was partially filmed in South Africa, the integrated cast were kept together and left alone by the government. The stench of Apartheid is one that still haunts modern history and with The Wild Geese, there is a crystal clear message of unity at its core. This is especially true with the interactions between the initially hostile Pieter and the infinitely more patient Limbani. Both of them Africans, with the President at one point telling Pieter that for the greater good of their homeland, they must work together, race be damned. Given how much the action genre gets criticized for being anti-intellectual, this is some sweetly refreshing stuff. Don’t get me wrong, there are still enough explosions and bullets to satisfy your inner Old Testament blood lust, but it has something for the ole noggin as well.
Of course, the most standout feature of The Wild Geese is undoubtedly, the cast. Richard Burton shines the brightest as the adroit, tough but with a heart leader Faulkner. Burton, in his early 50’s here, has the perfect blend of talent and manly gravitas that seals the deal. Richard Harris is sweet, in a rough and tumble, whiskey drinking, I’ll-kick-your-ass sort of way. The real revelation though is Roger Moore, who is not only more suave but also more virile here than he was in any of his Bond films. He’s wooing the ladies (well, like the one out of two women in the whole film), when he isn’t flying planes, dodging the mob or giving drug pushers their just desserts. Veteran character actor Frank Finlay, whose resume ranges from I’ll Never Forget What’s’isname to Polanski’s The Pianist, stands out in his brief role as a hot tempered priest. He gets one of the best lines with, “Good luck to you, you Godless murderers!”
The Wild Geese is a piece of cinema rich with blood, 80-proof sweat and tears. While the film was a massive success overseas, it never soared past cult status in the States, namely due to Allied Artists, which had backed the film, folding right before the release. Now thanks to the fine folks at Severin Films, The Wild Geese has a chance for the US Market again, with this loving and thorough DVD/Blu Ray release. In addition to being remastered, there are also some choice extras, including interviews with Roger Moore, Director McLagen, audio commentary, trailers and more.
The only real misstep here is the film’s over-dramatic theme song, courtesy of Joan Armatrading. Nothing against her body of work, but it does not fit the film at all. The Wild Geese may have some heart but it’s still covered by a calloused, hard bitten exterior. If the film was more purely a political creature, maybe, but its action roots are too strong for extra-reaching folk music.
If you’re wanting to ring in 2013 with one fine, cult-action film with a cast that would make any repertory theater with a well stocked liquor cabinet happy, then check out Andrew McLagen’s The Wild Geese