The Wild Geese
is absolutely ludicrous. Absurd, daft, antiquated nonsense. If you thought Sly, Arnie and Bruce kicking ass in The Expendables
was beyond belief then you've never seen an aged Richard Burton fight off hoards of African militia. Andrew V. McLaglen's British mercenary flick is a period piece, boys' own adventure from 1978 that overcomes its hackneyed plot by way of an astonishing cast of British luvvies, most notably Burton, Richard Harris and Roger Moore. It's Royal Shakespeare Company meets The A-Team
In London, Col. Allen Faulkner is tasked by a nefarious industrialist with leading a group of mercenaries into Africa to rescue a political leader. Deposed and imprisoned by the now ruling dictator, the 'Geese' must intercept before said dictator offs him. Faulkner rounds up the best team he knows in the form of old buddies Fynn (Moore), Janders (Harris) and Coetze (Hardy Kruger). Together they hire some other graying military veterans and make a plan. In Africa things go smoothly until the team are double crossed by their employer and have to make their own way out of the country, battling the dictator's army on the way.
An archetypal 'men-on-a-mission' movie, the style flits between late Moore-era Bond movie daftness (Moonraker was in the works by now) and hard-boiled war picture. As Moore chomps a cigar whilst casually dispatching an anonymous bad guy, it's tongue-in-cheek Bond all the way. Yet an earlier scene is far more hard-edged. When Fynn (Moore) forces a drug dealer to eat a whole bag of heroin powder at gun point until he overdoses and dies, it feels rather more gritty than The Spy Who Loved Me. Even if Moore is inevitably typecast as the ladies' man, with. The Bond links don't end with Moore either, as John Glen (who subsequently directed Moore three times as Bond, and Dalton twice) serves as editor and second unit director. Aside from the action set-pieces, the colour filtered credit sequence in particular feels very 70s Bond, with its lounge club theme song lending a casual absurdity to proceedings.
McLaglen's perfunctory direction takes nothing away from the thesping and Burton in particular gets some choice lines, and embraces sharp references to his hard-drinking on and off screen. Harris plays the straight guy with aplomb and adds tepid emotional resonance via some sentimental father-son bonding. Once the adventure kicks off though, it becomes a rollicking action pic that happily refuses to guarantee any of the cast a safe journey home. Don't think they won't buy it just because they're famous. As is typical for the period there are some lazy stereotypes - the gay medic, affectionately mocked by the team, and Kruger's dodgy-accented South African in particular betray differing socio-cultural attitudes of the time. That aside, half the fun of The Wild Geese is in the long lost bastions of masculinity on show - hard drinking, womanising, loveable rogues may not be in fashion, but they're still terribly entertaining.
In the end, it's a silly but thoroughly engaging Sunday afternoon distraction (albeit with added blood squibs and cursing). Moore, Burton and Harris carry the picture, but other old hands including Jack Watson and Stewart Granger add support with real class. Forget that most of the cast could barely jog to the letter box, let alone fight off a marauding African army many times their size. Ludicrous is rarely this enjoyable.
Detail and sound is strong, but the picture has noticeable damage in some shots, though it's not overly troubling. Although far from a top notch restoration seen on some Arrow releases, it still manages to make the hi-def upgrade worthwhile.
World Premiere (7 mins approx)
A period piece of new coverage from the Leicester Square premiere is a mildly diverting curiosity, that helps contextualise the film's age if nothing else.
Audio Commentary with Roger Moore, John Glen and producer Euan Lloyd.
Taken from the 2004 Warner DVD, this disappointing commentary is a little turgid with a lot of background chatter around the production and lacking commentary around what's happening on screen in some potentially fascinating areas. Still, some parts are of interest, but there's not quite the thrilling anecdotes you might expect from this trio.
Trailer (3.5 mins)
Yep, you guessed it.
Bonus Feature: Code Name: Wild Geese
This macaroni combat flick from Antonio Margheriti is a nice to have, but hardly essential viewing. But since given Arrow are releasing it separately under the Arrowdrome label it's a welcome addition.
Please note this review is based on a pre-production screener and so I am unable to review the packaging and physical extras detailed below.
The Wild Geese is available to buy on blu-ray from 8th October 2012 through Arrow Video.
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