Monday, February 28, 2022

The Wild Geese: Action in Africa

Richard Burton as Faulkner.
When an African dictator's actions threaten to lower British copper prices, influential banker Sir Miles Matheson seeks to discredit the man. Matheson (Stewart Granger) knows that the dictator kidnapped the country's popular president and then spread rumors of his death. So, Matheson contracts with a former Army colonel, Allen Faulkner, to form a mercenary force to rescue the hostage president. 

Faulkner (Richard Burton) reunites with two trusted subordinates: a former captain (Richard Harris), who is an expert at planning complex missions, and an ex-lieutenant (Roger Moore), a highly skilled as a field commander. Their rescue mission goes off without a hitch--until their escape plane lands, turn arounds, and departs without them.

Hardy Kruger.
Made and set in 1978, The Wild Geese is a military action picture along the lines of the superior Where Eagles Dare--which also starred Burton. To his credit, veteran screenwriter Reginald Rose (12 Angry Men) tries to inject some gravitas into the proceedings. For much of the mission, the frail President Limbani (Winston Ntshona) is carried by a prejudiced South African officer (the late Hardy Krüger). Their dialogue inspires the latter to at least reconsider his views. It also elevates The Wild Geese from more conventional run-of-the-mill action pictures.

Roger Moore.
The biggest names in the cast at the time were Burton and Moore (The Spy Who Loved Me came out the previous year). Alas, they're saddled with stereotypical roles: Burton is the crusty leader who inspires loyalty and loves his soldiers; Moore plays the cigar-chewing, devil-may-care adventurer swooned over by the opposite sex. That leaves the juicy roles to Richard Harris and Hardy Krüger.

Harris was the second choice to play Captain Rafer Janders after Burt Lancaster turned down the role. As Janders, a single father devoted to his young son, Harris shows his character's sensitive side--a effective contrast to his military bearing in the field. His nuanced acting reminds one that Harris could be a fine performer when he wasn't slumming in movies beneath him. As for the always reliable Krüger, he creates a believable, interesting character in just a few scenes. It's a model of concise acting. (Incidentally, Krüger and another co-star, Ronald Fraser, appeared together in the earlier classic Flight of the Phoenix).

Richard Harris as Janders.
Andrew V. McLaglen directs with a sure hand, which is unsurprising since he follows a formula similar to his earlier World War II effort The Devil's Brigade (1968). He reteamed with Roger Moore, playing against type this time, in the following year's action picture ffolkes (aka North Sea Hijack).

Although The Wild Geese flopped in the U.S., it was a big hit in Great Britain and easily recouped its cost. A sequel, Wild Geese II, came out in 1985. Burton had agreed to star as Colonel Faulkner again, but died shortly before production began. Edward Fox came on board and played the lead role (but as Faulkner's brother). Roger Moore declined to appear in the follow-up.


  1. I love this movie, though you've nicely summed up its flaws. Hardy Kruger was always my favorite part, but I Burton and Harris play off each other really well. I saw this first when I was an early teen, and what happens during their final escape stayed with me. This was the first movie I saw Stewart Granger in, and I had the hardest time later in life accepting him as a hero/leading man because this movie had influenced my feelings so much! LOL! Fortunately, I got over that...

  2. I remember watching "The Sea Wolves" years ago and really loving the aging-army-men angle of the story so I thought I would enjoy this equally ( especially with Roger Moore in it ) but I couldn't get past the first 1/2 hour. It just didn't grab my attention. But after reading your review, I think I'll give it another shot.