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The Wild Geese 1978 ****

As played by Richard Burton, Colonel Allen Faulkner was a thinly disguised version of Captain ‘Mad’ Mike Hoare, a celebrated mercenary whose death was announced earlier today at the age of 100. Given the way he was portrayed as alcohol driven (“my liver is to be buried with honours’), a heavy smoker and a general meddler in covert non-government military action, it would have been remarkable if Hoare had lived to half that age; perhaps there’s something to be said for living dangerously.

Taking inspiration from his own upbringing and from Irish history, Hoare’s men liked to be known as the Wild Geese, and Andrew V McLaglan’s super-charged action movie for producer Euan Lloyd was a popular UK tv staple in the 1980’s. A few posters have commented negatively about this widely-seen film, and they’ve got a point. But The Wild Geese, as shown on ITV in time-slots which restricted length and content, was quite a different film to the full uncensored cut; it’s a film that you might think you’ve seen, but there’s more to it that just Boys Own thud and blunder.

ITV film-buyer Leslie Halliwell noted a few breezy touches in the script of this tale of British mercenaries rescuing a beleaguered African president; Halliwell would have known that many of these breezy touches (ie salty swearing) would have to be cut for tv showing. But it’s unforgivable that most tv screenings cut a good half-an-hour from the film. This section of the film dealt specifically with a racially charged relationship between cross-bow whizz Pieter Coetzee (Hardy Kruger) and President Limbani (Winston Ntshona). Coetzee, a veteran of the South African Defence Force, is overtly racist to the African politician, but when Limbani is injured, is forced to carry him on his back. The sheer number of racial epithets used in the featured dialogue would have made it problematic at any time, but censors found it easier to delete outright the several sequences depicting the bond between the men. Kruger later regretted taking part in these scenes, but they’re actually far more progressive than might be expected.

Elsewhere, The Wild Geese takes pot-shots at many targets; Shawn Flynn (Roger Moore) is introduced forcing drug-dealers to eat their own product at gun-point, with the heroin laced with strychnine for added oomph. Captain Rafer Janders (Richard Harris) is characterised mainly through the unfortunate timing of the Wild Geese’s mission, which unfortunately coincides with his son’s school holidays. And there’s a role call of British character actors, from Ronald Fraser to Stewart Granger, Barry Forster, Patrick Allen and Frank Finlay, all uniformed and ready to go down in a blaze of machine-gun fire. Of course, these mercenaries are portrayed as good guys, and Reginald Rose’s script is careful to position them on the right side of any political divide.

Racism, homophobia and patriotism all feature prominently as The Wild Geese get double-crossed, and have to fight their way out of the Congo, blowing up large parts of Rhodesia on the way. With big stars and explosive action, The Wild Geese is fondly remembered today, even if the political content is obscured. Either way, ‘Mad’ Mike Hoare is probably laughing about it right now, in whatever or wherever the place is where mercenaries go to die.

 

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  1. While I’m one of those not keen on the film (except for Hardy Kruger) I enjoyed your review, and it’s a reminder that films fall into that “eye of the beholder” region: what works well for one viewer, leaves another shrugging. In that case, the lucky one is the person who enjoyed the picture (unless it’s torture porn, in which case heads should examined, and maybe chopped off). When I write up a picture that I don’t care for, I may slam it, but I do try to avoid conflating the film and its limitations or flaws to the relative intelligence or passion of another audience member. Too many critics (I don’t think of myself as one, just a moderately informed fan who likes to talk about movies) are so nasty they not only disparage a picture but effectively insult those who might like it. Some people can never be pleased—every unassailable classic you can think of has someone who thinks it stinks. There are some movies that draw universal praise and leave me D.O.A., and others that get slammed by everyone from Manson to Moses–that I think are good. When I wrote up “The Pride And The Passion”—which I really like—I half expected to have my blog attacked as a terrorist front. Sorry for the long-winded, uh, wind: hot air seeks release on the innocent. Again, cool review: digging your site. Cheers, Mark

  2. Hey Mark,
    I’m finding more critics I want to read on wordpress than in newspapers; I guess not having an editor to answer to frees the mind. There’s a films that are easy to recommend, and films that you or I might love for their idiosyncracies, and this is one that I still enjoy decades after my first viewing. I’d rather read honest reviews than virtue signaling, and so I’ll be reading your blog because it’s got the kind of character that I can’t find elsewhere. Thanks for the comment!

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