THE WILD GEESE—with an impressive cast and location filming in South Africa, action fans had hopes for blood & thunder adventure from this 1978 outing. But director Andrew V. McLaglen is about as subtle as a rocket-launcher, and almost everything about the film is a letdown.
The story, about mercenaries rescuing a black African leader, was timely enough, but the narrative mixes loud, cheap sensationalism with outdated romanticism, and it’s phony from the get-go. There is some badinage about racial harmony that’s so heavy-handed it might make your set drop through the floor.
As for the actors, you might have fun watching them pose ballsy and hiss at one another. Richard Burton and Richard Harris are too far gone from alcohol abuse* to accept in this sort of rigorous exercise, and Roger Moore playing tough is a gag in itself. Ever-able Brit-types Jack Watson, Frank Finlay, Ronald Fraser and Percy Herbert give as much supporting gusto as they can muster, but Kenneth Griffith as a mincingly queenish medic is totally absurd–whose brainstorm was this? Stewart Granger is wasted, playing a bad guy. Everyone is too old for their parts.
Only Hardy Kruger emerges with any verve (he has a great death scene); ironically his portrait of a taunting racist has more energy than the brotherhood sops mentioned above. He felt McLaglen “butchered” his part in the editing, at cross-purpose to his playing, but regardless at least it briefly shakes things up.
The picture is full of blood-spurting action, but it’s staged so obviously that you never forget for a moment that it’s just a bunch of actors and stuntmen playing soldier. The best item in this overlong (132 minutes) bull session is the brilliant title credits montage designed by Maurice Binder, but even that is mitigated by a rotten song that accompanies it.
Costing $11,600,000, the film was poorly marketed in America, but was a hit elsewhere, coming in #14 for the year worldwide. With Winston Ntshona, Jeff Corey, Barry Foster, John Kani, David Ladd (Alan’s kid) and real former mercenary Ian Yule (also acting as technical advisor). Followed by a sequel seven years later. For this sort of tale, stick with the 1968 classic Dark Of The Sun.
- *According to Moore, both Burton and Harris were on the wagon during the shoot, but, geez, they look like mummies.