The Wild Geese
|The Wild Geese|
Original movie poster
|Directed by||Andrew V. McLaglen|
|Produced by||Euan Lloyd|
|Screenplay by||Reginald Rose|
|Based on||novel The Wild Geese by
|Music by||Roy Budd|
|Editing by||John Glen|
|Studio||Richmond Film Productions (West) Ltd
Varius Entertainment Trading A.G.
|Running time||134 minutes|
|Box office||$1,423,104 (US)|
The Wild Geese is a British 1978 adventure film directed by Andrew V. McLaglen about a group of mercenaries in Africa. It stars Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris and Hardy Krüger. The film was the result of a long-held ambition of its producer Euan Lloyd to make an all-star adventure film similar to The Guns of Navarone or Where Eagles Dare.
The film was based on an unpublished novel titled The Thin White Line by Daniel Carney. The film was named The Wild Geese after a 17th-century Irish mercenary army (see Flight of the Wild Geese). Carney's novel was subsequently published by Corgi Books under the same title as the film.
The novel was based upon rumours and speculation following the 1968 landing of a mysterious aeroplane in Rhodesia, which was said to have been loaded with mercenaries and "an African President" believed to have been a dying Moise Tshombe.
Colonel Allen Faulkner (Richard Burton), a British mercenary and former army officer, arrives in London to meet the rich and ruthless merchant banker Sir Edward Matherson (Stewart Granger). The latter proposes a risky operation to rescue Julius Limbani (Winston Ntshona), imprisoned leader of a central African country, who is due to be executed by his own generals. Limbani is currently being held in a remote prison ("Zembala"), guarded by a crack unit of African troops known as the Simbas.
Faulkner provisionally accepts the assignment and sets about recruiting his officers, all of whom have worked with him on previous operations. They comprise:
- Shawn Fynn (Roger Moore), a British pilot. He is initially working as a currency smuggler, but is unwittingly duped into peddling illicit drugs for the local mafia. Upon discovering the truth, Fynn forces his employer to consume the tainted merchandise; the prominent crime families retaliate by ordering his assassination. Matherson and Faulkner, however, persuade them to retract it.
- Penniless Afrikaner Pieter Coetzee (Hardy Krüger), a former special forces operator in the South African Defence Force, whose only wish is to return to his homeland and buy a farm.
- Rafer Janders (Richard Harris), a logistics genius and skilled military tactician. He initially turns down the job due to a steady civilian income in artwork and a planned vacation with his only son, Emile. However, Faulkner plays on Rafer's political admiration for Julius Limbani to successfully secure his employment, despite Rafer's reluctance.
- Retired R.S.M (Regimental Sergeant Major) Sandy Young (Jack Watson), who is recruited as a drill sergeant to train and discipline the mercenaries. He hopes and eventually gets to see combat, but his wife, who loathes Faulkner, strongly disapproves.
With the tacit approval and support of the United Kingdom's government, fifty hired soldiers, including sergeants Tosh Donaldson (Ian Yule), Jesse Blake (John Kani) and Jock McTaggart (Ronald Fraser) and medic Arthur Witty (Kenneth Griffith), are transported to Swaziland to be equipped and mercilessly trained by Young. The day before the operation is set to begin, Janders exacts a promise from Faulkner to watch over his son Emile should he fail to return from Africa.
The mercenaries are transported by hired aeroplane into the central subcontinent and parachute into a region near Zembala Prison. Upon infiltrating the facility, Pieter Coetzee uses a powerful crossbow with cyanide-tipped quarrels to eliminate the sentries, while the rest of the guards are killed silently with cyanide gas. They rescue Limbani, but he is clearly a sick man and is later wounded by rifle fire. The group then makes its way to a small airfield to await pickup, deeming their mission a success. Back in London, however, Matherson opts to back out at the last moment, having secured his own private deal with Limbani's captors. He cancels Faulkner's exfiltration flight, hoping to wash his hands of the matter.
Stranded deep inside hostile territory without a clear exit plan, the abandoned mercenaries are forced to fight their way through the bush country, pursued mercilessly by Simba troopers.
Meanwhile, the relationship between Limbani and Coetzee develops from initial animosity ("I bleed red like you, white man; don't call me kaffir") to one of understanding, as the South African comes to understand and appreciate Limbani on an individual level.
Fighting off massed assaults and a napalm strike, the mercenary force makes its way towards Limbani's home village Kalima, with the intention of rallying support there for the deposed leader. But before everyone can reach the destination, Faulkner is forced to shoot his own gravely injured colleague rather than leave them at the mercy of their pursuers. Coetzee and Witty are also killed while shielding Limbani during an ambush.
At the village, an Irish missionary alerts Faulkner and his surviving men to the presence of an old Douglas Dakota transport aircraft near their location, which the mercenaries may use to flee the country.
As the Simba troops close in, the group reaches the aeroplane and stage a last stand on the empty airfield while Fynn attempts to get the stalled Dakota started. He is ultimately successful, and the mercenaries attempt to board under a hail of bullets fired by their opponents. Young, McTaggart and Janders, however, are mortally wounded, and the latter implores someone to finish him off since he cannot make it. As Janders shouts his son's name, Faulkner reluctantly complies with his friend's wishes.
Although low on fuel, the Dakota manages to cross into nearby Rhodesia, where Fynn is refused landing permission until the Rhodesian authorities learn that Julius Limbani is on board. By the time the aircraft touches down near Kariba, it is too late, Limbani has died from his injuries.
Several months later, Faulkner returns to England and breaks into Matherson's home, pilfering all the cash he can find from a wall safe to compensate for the payment originally promised for Limbani's rescue. He then exacts his revenge on Matherson by killing him before making a swift getaway with Fynn.
Faulkner fulfills his promise to Janders by visiting Emile at the latter's boarding school, hoping that they can talk freely about his father.
Principal filming took place in South Africa, with additional studio filming at Twickenham Film Studios in Middlesex. The 'rugby' scenes were filmed over a period of two days at Marble Hill Park in Twickenham with extras drafted in from nearby Teddington Boys School. Marble Hill Close near Marble Hill Park was also used as a location. The fictional country is said to lie on the border with Burundi; Rwanda and Zambia are also mentioned to be close by.
United Artists was enthusiastic about the film, but insisted Lloyd give the director's job to Michael Winner. Lloyd refused and instead chose Andrew V. McLaglen, son of Victor McLaglen, a British-born American previously known mainly for making westerns. Euan Lloyd had a friendship with John Ford who recommended McLaglen to direct the film. The finance for the film was raised partly by pre-selling it to distributors based on the script and the names of the stars who were set to appear. This later became a more common practice in the film industry, but was unusual at the time.
The music, by Roy Budd, originally included an overture and end title music, but both of these were replaced by "Flight of the Wild Geese", written and performed by Joan Armatrading. All three pieces are included on the soundtrack album, as well as the song "Dogs of War" that featured lyrics sung by the Scots Guards to Budd's themes. Budd used Borodin's String Quartet No. 2 as a theme for Rafer. The soundtrack was originally released by A&M Records then later released under licence as a Cinephile DVD.
Although Lloyd had both Richard Burton and Roger Moore in mind for their respective roles from a relatively early stage, other casting decisions were more difficult. As the mercenaries were mostly composed of military veterans (some of whom had fought under Faulkner's command before), it was necessary to cast a number of older actors and extras into these physically demanding roles. A number of veterans and actual mercenary soldiers appeared in the film.
Irish actor Stephen Boyd, a close friend of Lloyd's, was originally set to star as Sandy Young, the Sergeant Major who trains the mercenaries before their mission. However, Boyd died shortly before filming commenced and Jack Watson was chosen as a late replacement. He had previously played a similar role in McLaglen's 1968 film The Devil's Brigade.
Lloyd had offered the part of the banker Matherson to his friend Joseph Cotten. However, scheduling difficulties meant that he also had to be replaced, this time by Stewart Granger. This was Granger's first film part since 1967.
Burt Lancaster originally hoped to play the part of 'Rafer Janders' who in Carney's book was an American living in London. However, Lancaster wanted the part substantially altered and enlarged. The producers declined and in his place chose Richard Harris. Lloyd initially had reservations about casting Harris because of his wild reputation and hard drinking but reluctantly agreed to cast him as long as both Harris and Burton agreed to stop drinking for this film, having them survive on nothing but soft drinks for the duration.
Hardy Krüger was not the first actor considered for the role of 'Pieter Coetzee'. Lloyd originally thought of Curd Jürgens, but felt that "Hardy seemed to fit." Krüger was also impressed by the script scenes played with Limbani.
Lloyd hesitated before offering the role of 'Witty' (the homosexual medic) to his longtime friend Kenneth Griffith. When finally approached, Griffith said "Some of my dearest friends in the world are homosexuals!" and accepted the part.
Percy Herbert, who played the role of 'Keith', was a veteran of World War II, in which he had been wounded in the defence of Singapore, then captured by the Imperial Japanese Army and interned in a POW camp.
Ian Yule, who played 'Tosh Donaldson', had been a real mercenary in Africa in the 1960s and '70s. He was cast locally in South Africa. He then brought his former commanding officer, Michael "Mad Mike" Hoare, who had led the actual Wild Geese mercenary troops in the Congo Crisis of the 1960s, to be the technical advisor for the film. Yule also acted as a technical advisor for the film.
John Kani played 'Jesse Blake' a mercenary who had previously served with Faulkner and was struggling to live before the chance to work with Faulkner again. Palitoy based the Figure 'Tom Stone' (part of the Action Man team) on 'Jesse Blake' after looking at the Pre-Production photos and Posters of the film. Subsequently some modifications to the figure were made. Kani made his debut in the film after years of acting and stage performances with Winston Ntshona. Ntshona was 'Limbani' in the film and continued to make many more films with Kani after The Wild Geese.
The film was a considerable commercial success in Britain and other countries worldwide  but was hit by the collapse of its American distributor Allied Artists, and by the lack of an American star. As a result, the film was only partially distributed in the United States, where it was a box-office disappointment.
The production was also the subject of controversy because of the decision to film in South Africa during the apartheid regime, and because of the film's portrayal of black characters. There were protests by anti-apartheid campaigners at the film's London premiere. Warned of the protest, producer Lloyd brought copies of newspaper articles reporting the film's premiere in the black township of Soweto, where it had been received with enthusiasm and approval.
The Wild Geese holds a 60% "fresh" rating in Rotten Tomatoes and also won a Golden Screen. As for the negative side of its reviews, it was chosen as "Dog of the Year" by film critic Gene Siskel, who accused the movie of being "deadly dull" and claimed that it "exploits racism as some kind of sporting entertainment."
- Richard Burton (Colonel Allen Faulkner)
- Roger Moore (Lieutenant Shawn Fynn)
- Richard Harris (Captain Rafer Janders)
- Hardy Krüger (Lieutenant Pieter Coetzee)
- Stewart Granger (Sir Edward Matherson)
- Winston Ntshona (President Julius Limbani)
- John Kani (Sergeant Jesse Blake)
- Jack Watson (RSM Sandy Young)
- Frank Finlay (Father Geoghegen)
- Kenneth Griffith (Medic Arthur Witty)
- Barry Foster (Thomas Balfour)
- Ronald Fraser (Sergeant Jock McTaggart)
- Ian Yule (Sergeant Tosh Donaldson)
- Patrick Allen (Rushton)
- Percy Herbert (Keith)
- Rosalind Lloyd (Heather)
- Valerie Leon (Croupier)
- Jane Hylton (Mrs. Young)
- Paul Spurrier (Emile Janders)
- David Ladd (Sonny Martinelli)
- Jeff Corey (Mr. Martinelli)
- Chris Chittell (Mercenary Driver)
- Brook Williams (Samuels)
After seven years the makers were persuaded to mount a sequel Wild Geese II, based on the novel Square Circle (later republished as Wild Geese II), also by Daniel Carney. Burton was planning to reprise his role as Colonel Allen Faulkner, but he died days before filming began. Roger Moore had also considered reprising his role in the sequel, but declined. In the sequel, Edward Fox played Alex Faulkner (the Burton character's brother), who is hired to break Nazi war criminal Rudolf Hess (played by Laurence Olivier) out of Spandau Prison so he can appear for a media interview.
- "Would You Believe an Industry Could Die?" Sunday Times [London, England] 15 June 1980: 63. The Sunday Times Digital Archive. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.
- http://www.screenonline.org.uk, Lloyd, Euan (1923-), BFI Biography
- IMDb.com Wild Geese II