The Wild Geese

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For other uses, see Wild Geese (disambiguation).
The Wild Geese
The Wild Geese (1978 film) poster.jpg
Original movie poster
Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen
Produced by Euan Lloyd
Screenplay by Reginald Rose
Based on novel The Wild Geese by
Daniel Carney
Starring Richard Burton
Roger Moore
Richard Harris
Hardy Krüger
Music by Roy Budd
Cinematography Jack Hildyard
Edited by John Glen
Richmond Film Productions (West) Ltd
Varius Entertainment Trading A.G.
Distributed by Rank (UK)
Allied Artists (US)
Release dates
Running time
134 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $11.6 million[1]
Box office $1,423,104 (US)[2]
1,037,275 admissions (France)
1,446,874 admissions (Spain)
3.9 million (Germany)[3]

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The screenplay by Reginald Rose was based on an unpublished novel titled The Thin White Line by Daniel Carney.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.

It has been suggested that Sir Edward Matheson was based on the very real international businessman, Tiny Rowland.


Allen Faulkner (Richard Burton), a British mercenary and former army colonel, arrives in London to meet the rich and ruthless merchant banker Sir Edward Matheson (Stewart Granger). The latter proposes a risky operation to rescue Julius Limbani (Winston Ntshona), the imprisoned leader of a central African nation who is due to be executed by General Ndofa, the man who deposed him. Limbani is currently being held in a remote prison in Zembala, guarded by a unit of Ndofa's personal troops known as the "Simbas".

Faulkner accepts the assignment and begins recruiting fifty other mercenaries for the job, including officers he had worked with on previous operations: Rafer Janders (Richard Harris), a skilled military tactician who's made a living as an art dealer, and Shawn Fynn (Roger Moore), an ex-pilot who had been working as a currency smuggler for the London mafia. Shawn also brings in penniless Afrikaner Pieter Coetzee (Hardy Krüger), a former soldier in the South African Defence Force who wishes to return to his homeland and buy a farm. Hired soldiers include sergeants Tosh Donaldson (Ian Yule), Jock McTaggart (Ronald Fraser), Jesse Blake (John Kani), Derek Frice (Joe Cole), and a homosexual medic named Arthur Witty (Kenneth Griffith). Additional members in the group are Esposito, (Glyn Baker), Samuels (Brook Williams), Keith (Percy Herbert), Alexander (Ken Gampu), Newman, (George Lane Cooper), Finchley, (Ryno Hattingh), Gennaro (Graham Clarke), and many others. With the tacit approval of the United Kingdom's government, the hired soldiers are transported to Swaziland to be equipped and physically trained. Before the operation begins, Janders exacts a promise from Faulkner to watch over his only son Emile should he fail to return from Africa. Their celebration of Christmas Day is postponed to the 26th, after their scheduled return, instead of the 25th.

The mercenaries are then transported by hired aeroplane to Zembala and parachute in near the prison. They infiltrate the facility and rescue a live (though very sick) Limbani. The group then makes its way to a small airfield to await pickup, deeming their mission a success. Back in London, however, Matherson cancels the exfiltration flight at the last moment, having secretly secured mining assets from Ndofa in exchange for Limbani. The plane takes off as soon as it has landed, without explanation. Stranded deep inside hostile territory, the abandoned mercenaries are forced to fight their way through the bush country, pursued mercilessly by Simba troopers. While crossing a river they are attacked by an aircraft which kills several mercenaries and destroys the bridge, trapping a small group on the wrong side of the river. Faulkner, Coetzee, Blake, and Witty protect Limbani while searching for another way across the river.

The mercenaries make their way towards Limbani's home village of Kalima intending to rally support for a rebellion, but they find the people are too ill-equipped to fight. At the village, an Irish missionary informs 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 troopers close in, the group reaches the plane and stage a last stand on the airfield while Fynn attempts to get the stalled Dakota started. He is ultimately successful and the surviving mercenaries attempt to board under a hail of bullets, however in the battle most of the mercenaries including Esposito, Keith, Alexander, and Young, are killed. Janders, McTaggart, Finchley, and Gennaro stay behind to cover the group; however on the run to the Dakota, Finchley is shot and killed while McTaggart is mortally wounded, and Janders helps him and the last mercenary Gennaro, into the Dakota. Janders is wounded and left behind on the runway. Limping behind the accelerating aircraft he implores Faulkner to kill him to spare him from capture and torture, and Faulkner reluctantly complies. On the way home McTaggart dies from his wounds; Faulkner, Fynn, Donaldson, Blake, Samuels, Gennaro, and six other mercenaries are all that's left. Fynn manages to cross into nearby Rhodesia and land the aircraft, but it is too late — Limbani has died from the strain of the journey.

Several months later, Faulkner returns to Britain and breaks into Matheson's home, forcing him to empty all the cash in his wall safe — which amounts to half-a-million dollars. Faulkner then kills Matheson before making a swift getaway with Fynn. The film ends with Faulkner fulfilling his promise to Janders by visiting Emile at his boarding school.


Principal filming took place in South Africa in the summer and autumn of 1977, 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.[4] 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.


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 Matheson to his friend Joseph Cotten. However, scheduling difficulties meant that he also had to be replaced, this time by Stewart Granger.

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.

Alan Ladd's son David Ladd and Stanley Baker's son Glyn Baker also had roles in the film. Baker played "Esposito". With the cast made up from so many "veteran actors", Baker claimed that the only reason he stayed alive in the plot so long was that he was one of the few actors young and fit enough to carry President Limbani for any period of time.

Ian Yule, who played "Tosh Donaldson", had been a real mercenary in Africa in the 1960s and 1970s.[5] He was cast locally in South Africa. He then brought his former commanding officer, Michael "Mad Mike" Hoare, who had led one legion of mercenaries, 5 Commando, Armee Nationale Congolaise (not to be confused with 5 Commando, the Second World War British Commando force), in the Congo Crisis of the 1960s, to be the technical advisor for the film.[6] Yule also acted as a technical advisor for the film.[7]

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.

Rosalind Lloyd, who played "Heather", is Euan Lloyd's daughter. Her mother, actress Jane Hylton, played "Mrs. Young".



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.


The film was a considerable commercial success in Britain and other countries worldwide,[8] easily recouping its cost,[1] but was hampered 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[9] and also won a Golden Screen Award.[10] As for the negative side of its reviews, it was chosen as "Dog of the Year" by film critic Gene Siskel, who accused the film of being "deadly dull" and claimed that it "exploits racism as some kind of sporting entertainment."[11]


Euan Lloyd produced a sequel Wild Geese II (1985), 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.[12] 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The Global Film: Will It Play in Uruguay?: The Global Film By JOHN M. WILSON. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 26 Nov 1978: D1.
  2. ^ "Would You Believe an Industry Could Die?" Sunday Times [London, England] 15 June 1980: 63. The Sunday Times Digital Archive. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.
  3. ^ Box office information for Stewart Granger films in France at Box Office Story
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ "'Wild Geese' star Sir Roger Moore on making the action classic, now out on Blu-ray" By Clark Collis Entertainment Weekly Dec 10, 2012 accessed 23 December 2014
  7. ^ Tonyearnshaw
  8. ^, Lloyd, Euan (1923-), BFI Biography
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ Wild Geese II

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