A Gander at the Wild Geese movie…
A bunch of (at least) middle-aged mercenaries aim to rescue the imprisoned President of an African State.
The Wild Geese Trailer (1978), Yorkie1978 and photos © Rank / Allied Artists
Did you hear about the one with an Englishman, an Irishman and a Welshman who signed up for shared top billing for a 1978 movie? The film, of course, The Wild Geese (1978) and the stars – in no particular order – Roger Moore, Richard Burton and Richard Harris.
These stars heading a then-controversial film, as made in South Africa during the time of apartheid. These actors supported by a cast of actors including Stewart Granger, Hardy Kruger and Frank Finlay. Along with character actors – you’ll kick yourself at not recognising – including Kenneth Griffith and Winston Ntshona. Ronald Fraser making this a totally British movie as Scot, Jock McTaggart.
The film starts with the title track, Flight of the Wild Geese. The lyrics – written and sung by Joan Armatrading – annoyingly gives some of the plot away. So moving on swiftly – so you don’t have time to check this song out – let’s talk about this movie. Cue Richard Burton as one time just British Army Colonel, now mercenary, Allen Faulkner.
On arrival in London the grumpy, Faulkner arrives from his first-class flight with an unsigned cheque. The flight paid and cheque duly signed by Sir Edward Matheson (Stewart Granger), a merchant banker who wants to enrol Faulkner’s services as a mercenary. This despite Faulkner’s last gig not working out as planned, as seen in a nifty wee tell-all flashback.
The men then discuss how President Limbani was overthrown by a dictator General Ndofa. Limbani is now imprisoned awaiting execution in Zembala. Matheson hopes Faulkner will rescue Limbani, and bring him to London. Matheson, not doing this for all the right reasons.
He hopes he can use Limbani as a bargaining chip with copper mine assets at stake. Faulkner asked to assemble a team of fifty men, to assist in this mission. Faulkner barks his orders of who and what he needs (in a way that only Burton can).
Faulkner agrees to this gig as long as this team includes his two best mercenary buddies. These men are Capt. Rafer Janders (Richard Harris), an Irishman with a knowledge of explosives (and it seems always with a grenade handy) and Englishman, Shawn Fynn (Roger Moore), due to his extensive range as a pilot. Fynn’s impressive introduction includes the fact he is able to fly any plane.
Janders is introduced as a single father, to the most precocious and annoying on-screen child since time began. Janders is now an art dealer, has promised son Emile a skiing trip over Christmas. Which Emile is more than super excited about, with him annoyingly yahoooing (as kids don’t do, but this one does with an extra o for obnoxious).
The kid is sent out of the room, while the men talk business. It’s apparent that this mercenary gig appeals to Janders, and he agrees to take part with his idealist past reawakened. Meanwhile, Fynn gatecrashes a 1970s party. There Fynn deals with some mobsters and in doing so impersonates Michael Caine, with a Get Carter (1971) throwaway line. He says this was an act of revenge for the death of a teenage girl. He leaves the mobsters in a sorry state. Fynn is now a marked man. His death threat is called off with the increasingly shady Matheson talking to the powers that be.
So the trio then calls on some old army buddies and then hold the equivalent of an X Factor (2004) audition for the job. However, the trio’s friends are also enrolled. Sgt Major Sandy Young (Jack Watson) joining willingly, possibly as a possible escape from his nagging wife and suburbia.
Boer Lieutenant Pieter Coetzee (Hardy Kruger) is also recruited, despite his apparent racist feelings. Once the final fifty are signed up, these men discover the plans have changed with Christmas Day chosen as the now planned rescue date. This new date means the men must leave much earlier than expected. It leads to a heartbreaking scene with Janders and his son, Emile. With their farewell not going as Janders hoped, as he visits his son at boarding school.
On telling him the news, the boy runs away from him. The Christmas presents, Janders brought unopened. Janders not hearing his son tell him he loves him. Janders asks Faulkner to look after his son, should anything happen to him. Soon after the men parachute into Zembaya. This followed by some training scenes. All goes as planned with half of the men capturing Limbani from the Simba guarded prison, while the other men gain control of the airport.
As the men are awaiting the flight home, the aeroplane is spotted. It comes in as if to land, then takes off again. It seems Matheson may have double-crossed them… and for more on this adventure tune in to the film for the gripping second half.
It was wonderful to see this ensemble of actors sharing the screen. I feel all these men shared a great on-screen camaraderie. All showing wonderful on-screen respect, rapport and a firm relationship. These attributes were reportedly just as good off-screen. Roger Moore tells of offset pranks between him and Harris. He adds that he was in awe working with Stewart Granger, his one-time film idol.
These actors were all fabulous in showing their talents in their own unique ways. Their chosen roles show just how well these actors were selected. Each of these actors in a role that befitted their persona, which they played as an ensemble rather than jostling for the limelight.
Within the headlining trio, it was good to see Moore with some fun quips, orders barked by Burton and a more sensitive acting piece from Harris. The film was a wonderful movie in that it encapsulated the characters with both backstories and shared their part in this tale.
This making the characters more than a caricature, and as more rounded and stronger characters knowing their full story. Janders character was particularly well drawn with this with a touching and heartrending performance from Harris. His scenes showing a more human side to his mercenary character, and one who hoped to take part for the right reasons.
After seeing Stewart Granger in the initial scenes, I feared this was the first and last moments with his apparently villainous character. I was happy to see this actor reappear at times throughout the movie. His small but pivotal role was expanded in the second half of the film.
It was interesting to learn his character was initially to be played by Joseph Cotten. Others turning down roles in this film included Burt Lancaster and Michael Caine and those considered included O J Simpson and Stephen Boyd.
I particularly liked how the film storyline changed to a different kind of film after the men were deserted by the plane. This unseen twist changing the plot made the second half more compelling than the first.
The men were now in a battle of survival against the Simbas, and that a situation they didn’t anticipate or prepare for. This storyline led to casualties on both sides and thus adding to the poignancy of the story. More of the happenings back home in London added to the plot in a chilling and frightening way.
I would have loved instead of a sequel to this film, to have a prequel. Perhaps showing these men as they first came to know each other. This film’s sequel, Wild Geese II (1985) initially was to have starred Burton, until his passing just before filming. Moore had already turned the film down for the less credible plot.
The main thing that irked me most about The Wild Geese was the title track not only for those spoilers but for its presentation. Seeming as out of tune with this movie – as the title track for another film of this year, The Legacy (1978) – and sounding more like a James Bond theme than a thrilling adventure movie.
This musical number should have been cut from the film like Fynn’s potential love interest, a plot device which I was happy to see was removed from the storyline. This would have distracted from the tone and pace of the film.
The Wild Geese may feel like a more credible British testosterone-filled Expendables film made in the 1970s. The Expendables (2010) cast primarily with favourites from American action films. However, this movie compared more favourably with British acting greats from all genres in those starring roles.
Much has been made of the ages of both this film and The Expendables casts, with many of the actors middle-aged and more. In The Wild Geese, there are even a few quips in the cast to remind us of such (reminding me bizarrely of when Clark Gable was cast in Teachers Pet (1958)).
The average age of the headlining trio was fifty years old and the supporting cast appeared significantly more. So it was nice to see them not fall into cliché by coming back for one last job. The Wild Geese paving the way for at least two other actor-led fun action and adventure movies, with similarly aged actors. It’s important to remember that;
Age is a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦😦😦 😦 😦😦/10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: /10
The Stewart Granger Blogathon 2019, No 19
This review was entered into Maddy Loves Her Classic Films Stewart Granger blogathon. Other films with this cast include Richard Harris in Juggernaut, The Cassandra Crossing and Robin and Marian. Richard Burton starred in The Medusa Touch, Where Eagles Dare, The Fall Guy and Anne of a Thousand Days and his blogathon. Roger Moore starred in North Sea Hijack, and his tribute HERE. Stewart Granger starred in Hotel, The Love Boat and Murder She Wrote.