The Wild Geese fly again folks!
It’s an improbable story but it turns out to be fun in a way. In 1978, Richard Burton and Richard Harris lead a gang of booze-sodden, elderly white mercenaries to free an imprisoned African leader who also has a bad heart. The film The Wild Geese was shot in South Africa long before apartheid bit the dust, but it manages to avoid a racist slur as the freed African leader is carried miles through the bush by an Afrikaaner strong believer in separate development.
At the behest of Stewart Granger’s saturnine copper magnate, the mission is to spring the democratically elected leader from the clutches of a hated despot, perhaps Rwanda or near it. The political message is clear. If the mercenaries can restore to power an incorruptible and independent black politician to his rightful position atop valuable mineral resources then democracy has surely triumphed once again.
Of course there’s a catch. Stewart Granger in the meantime has done a deal with the villainous rulers of Rwanda, or wherever and no longer wants to restore the incorruptible former leader. So the second half of the movie shows the white mercenaries, having rescued the prisoner from his cell in a military compound, fighting their way across central Africa trying to avoid the villainous Samba warriors who are trying to kill all of them.
The subject matter was certainly not unique. White mercenaries were for hire across Africa in the 1970s and, in 1980, John Irvin’s much superior The Dogs of War would plough the same furrow but with a much more convincing storyline. What saves the movie The Wild Geese is that it is virtually a training manual for mercenary special ops. It’s even said to be the only one of its kind that actual mercenaries have any respect for. This is presumably because of the advice and consultation during the making of the movie given by mercenary icon Mad Mike Hoare. Incidentally Mike is still alive in his nineties after unsuccessfully trying to engineer a military coup in the Seychelles. You can’t win ‘em all Mike.
There are a number of sub-plots in the movie. Richard Harris, one of the mercenary leaders, has a fractured relationship with his young son and, dad predictably gets killed in a fight with the Sambas. At the very end of the movie Richard Burton, who survives, has the awkward job of comforting the bereft nine years old before presumably taking a whisky bottle with him into retirement. But before doing so, Mr Burton decides to kill Stewart Granger who has betrayed them all. He accomplishes this by shooting him in his study shortly after Granger tips up the considerable contents of his safe.
Another of the warlike team is Roger Moore who performs some very un-Bond-like poetic justice on a drugs dealer at a party before being rescued by Burton hiding in a back room of a casino. This is a poor start to the movie as it’s out of character for Moore’s range and hard to take seriously. Moore first shoots dead the security guard of the drugs dealer, but the blood-patch on the guy’s forehead is clearly visible on screen before the gun fires. Never mind eh. The movie even has its own gay icon as the medic on the mission is a screaming queen from Liverpool. The Wild Geese was the first movie to dare to suggest there are gay people in army uniforms.
People who were in their twenties when the movie first came out will now be in their fifties and perhaps anxious to relive their youth. The new DVD special edition has certainly been marketed with them in mind as the full-length commentary, one of the extras, is full of reminiscences about life in the 1970s. You can find it on Amazon.com for just over 12 dollars US. A real bargain if you are interested in ageing mercenaries.