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Friday, November 30, 2012

THE WILD GEESE -- Blu-Ray/DVD review by porfle

When THE WILD GEESE (1978) first played theaters, I actually went to see it a couple of times.  This doesn't necessarily indicate how good a movie it was but how boring my college days were, especially before home video.  (I also went to see Gil Gerard's dopey "Buck Rogers" movie twice.) 

Now that Severin Films is releasing it on Blu-Ray/DVD, I find it enjoyable for three reasons: nostalgia, an entertainingly cheesy ambience, and a wealth of genuinely thrilling action sequences.

One of Maurice Binder's lesser quasi-007 main titles creations gets things off to an interesting start, accompanied by a tweety Joan Armatrading theme song that took a while to grow on me.  (Joan gets a picture credit along with the cast at film's end.)  We find further Eon touches in the presence of co-star Roger Moore (circa MOONRAKER) and editor/second-unit director John Glen, who would go on to helm FOR YOUR EYES ONLY and other 007 adventures.  Even Sean Connery's stunt double Bob Simmons is the action coordinator.

Director Andrew V. McLaglen's work (CHISUM, McCLINTOCK!, THE UNDEFEATED) has always been blandly competent at best, but his stodgy, get-'er-done style is what helps make THE WILD GEESE such perverse fun.  From the first scene, the bad dubbing and chintzy production values play right into the film's pleasantly tacky 70s ambience. 

As an actor, Richard Burton's bad performances were just as interesting to watch as his good ones, and here he straddles the line in fine form as Colonel Allen Faulkner, a mercenary hired by wealthy bigwig Sir Edward Matherson (a nicely stuffy Stewart Granger) to lead a dangerous mission in Africa.  ("I don't discuss fees," Faulkner tells Matherson.  "I get what I want.") 

Faulkner's task will be to rescue progressive African leader Julius Limbani (Winston Ntshona) from the military dictator who has taken over his country, with the help of old friends Capt. Rafer Janders (Richard Harris) and Lt. Shawn Fynn (Roger Moore), plus a handpicked platoon of fifty soldiers-for-hire.

Back in 1978, an action film could start out slow and then gradually build toward the good stuff without audiences fidgeting in their seats like speed freaks.  Here, Burton takes his time recruiting old pals Harris (who would rather spend dad-time with his son Emile than return to the field of battle) and Fynn (Moore's introduction is a corker of a scene in which he forces a heroin dealer at gunpoint to eat his own product), after which they and the fifty other soldiers are trained quick and dirty by gruff old sergeant Sandy (Jack Watson, EDGE OF DARKNESS).  The wonderful Hardy Kruger (FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX, HATARI!) also joins the group as South African explosives expert Lt. Coetzee, who just wants a ticket back home.

Once these guys finally get to Africa, THE WILD GEESE shifts into high gear with a stunning parachute sequence that has the entire platoon pouring en masse out the back of the plane and into an exhilarating freefall before opening their chutes.  The assault on the military dictator's compound features a scene that I found queasily disturbing in 1978 and still do--dozens of sleeping soldiers literally being exterminated in their bunks like bugs as the mercenaries silently move down the rows spraying them with cyanide.  This ruthless manner of neutralizing the enemy is shown in a matter-of-fact way that leaves the viewer to deal with his or her own moral/emotional reaction to it.

Next comes the usual machine-gun blasting, grenade-chucking battle action as President Limbani is rescued and our heroes head for a nearby airstrip for extrication.  But they've been double-crossed by Sir Edward (which comes as no surprise considering Stewart Granger plays him with an extra helping of slime) and discover that they must make their own way out of Africa as hundreds of hardcore African soldiers known as "Simbas" start coming out of the woodwork with guns blazing. 

This is where THE WILD GEESE really hits its stride and director McLaglen manages to string together a series of explosive action setpieces that almost rival the edge-of-your-seat excitement of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. 

Burton, of course, in unrivalled when it comes to delivering such lines as: "Me, I'll work for anybody as long as they pay's an ineradicable flaw in my character."  The always quirky Harris gives the Janders character his own off-kilter persona and makes us sympathize with his desire to spend Christmas with his son (we fear he'll never get another chance).  Moore, meanwhile, is all cigar-chomping badassedness, which he seems to be having a lot of fun playing at even though he's definitely no Lee Marvin. 

Frank Finlay (LIFEFORCE), Jeff Corey (TRUE GRIT), Ronald Fraser (FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX), and Barry Foster (SMILEY'S PEOPLE, FRENZY) make brief but welcome appearances.  As the racist Coetzee and the wounded African leader whom he must carry on his back, Hardy Kruger and Winston Ntshona bring another vital emotional element to the story, with Coetzee gradually realizing the error of his ways.

The 2-disc Blu-Ray/DVD combo from Severin Films is in 1.85:1 widescreen with Dolby 2.0 sound.  (I noticed a slight flutter in the music during a couple of scenes.)  No subtitles.  In addition to a trailer and a juicy commentary track featuring Sir Roger, producer Euan Lloyd, and second unit director John Glen, extras consist of several choice featurettes.  These include interviews with Andrew V. McLaglen and ex-mercenary military advisor Mike Hoare, a profile of maverick producer Euan Lloyd with appearances by Roger Moore, Ingrid Pitt, Joan Armatrading, and others, a vintage making-of short, and a star-studded Movietone newsreel of the film's royal charity premiere. 

While liberally topped with finely-aged 70s cheese and at times a bit rough-hewn technically, THE WILD GEESE remains an impressive large-scale independent production that delivers big-time on the kind of battle action that war movie fans crave.  It may not be the equal of the all-time great war epics, but it certainly deserves to be on the same shelf with them.

Buy the Blu-Ray/DVD combo at


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