The Wild Geese (1978)
By: Stuart Giesel on May 20, 2013 | Comments
Severin Films | Region Free | 1.85:1, 1080p | English DD 2.0 | 134 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Andrew V. McLaglen
Starring: Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris, Hardy Kruger, Stewart Granger
Screenplay: Reginald Rose
Country: UK, Switzerland
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Having never seen The Wild Geese in my formative years, I assumed it was your bog-standard "men-on-a-mission" film in the vein of The Dirty Dozen, Where Eagles Dare and The Guns of Navarone. Turns out I was right. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, especially when you have two famous Richards (Burton and Harris, respectively) and Roger Moore in his mid-Bond years. There's nothing here that's particularly fresh or innovative or outstanding, but the whole package - apart from some cringe-worthy missteps - is a solid, entertaining yarn with some charismatic actors and enough action to satisfy any bloke's Father's Day.

Colonel Allen Faulkner (Burton) is a mercenary hired by a British tosser (Stewart Granger) to fly to Africa to rescue imprisoned political leader President Limbani (Winston Ntshona). Faulker gets the old team back together regardless of whether they really want to or not - the team includes master tactician and logistics expert Rafer Janders (Harris), seasoned pilot Shawn Flynn (Moore), and a South African mercenary named Pieter Coetzee (Hardy Kruger). Other notables include boot camp instructor Sandy Young (Jack Watson) who has to whip this team of old timers into shape, and a flaming (and I mean *flaming*) homosexual doctor Arthur Witty (Kenneth Griffith). Together, along with a whole bunch of no-namers who are just there as cannon fodder, the mercenaries are dropped into an unforgiving, hostile landscape to rescue Limbani and make it off the continent alive. Of course, there are complications.

This is bog-standard stuff all the way. It plays like the archetype "men-on-a-mission" film and, as such, has every cliche you can think of: the world-weary hero who has this "one last job" left in him, the reluctant father, the gruff drill sergeant, humourless tosspot superiors, the ridiculously-caricatured gay man, a lot of un-PC content, a major betrayal, a bond between two characters who initially hate one another, our heroes facing overwhelming odds, lots of faceless enemies being cut down in droves, no substantial roles for women. Again, it's not necessarily a bad thing if you know what to expect; just don't expect any interesting, left-of-field choices. I will say that sometimes it's nice being given something predictable - like an old, warm blanket it's comforting, if a little smelly.

The action scenes are solid, when we finally get to them. Director Andrew V. McLaglen directs competently, if unspectacularly, though the film's centrepiece involving a fighter plane is extremely well-staged for this pre-CGI era. However there's a fair amount of slow stuff (read: dialogue and what the film believes is character development) to get through. The training scenes are entertaining, led by Jack Watson's take-no-shit RSM. Watson's probably the highlight of the film, no mean feat considering he was working with the (then) on-the-wagon Burton and Harris. I can only imagine the heated behind-the-scenes debate about having these two notoriously hard-drinking screen legends appear together. That's not to say Burton, Harris and Moore aren't good - they are. Burton, looking quite haggard, was always a dependable, charismatic lead, but it feels like he's rehashing his work from Where Eagles Dare here. Harris is better, bringing a convincing human element to his character. Moore is...Moore, really. Think Bond with less suave - he certainly doesn't have a large speaking role in The Wild Geese, but he's always watchable.

So the high-points are the action and the stars. Cinematography is pretty good. The script as mentioned is by-the-numbers, but it also provides some solid laughs. What doesn't provide a good chuckle, but rather a groan, is Griffith's flamboyantly gay character, who's so gay he could have made Liberace take offence. Speaking of low points, there's a subplot involving President Limbani and Kruger's mercenary Coetzee who get this implausible "we hated each other at first but we've talked for a few minutes and now we understand each other and have a male bond" thing. It's dumb and not in the slightest bit convincing.

But when these wild geese get down and dirty and start mowing down African soldiers and guards with impunity that's where the fun really begins. Forget the quote on the back of the Blu-Ray comparing The Wild Geese to The Expendables. The two films have little in common other than the broad theme of ageing men going on a mission. Unlike The Expendables, The Wild Geese isn't a tongue-in-cheek chance for screen legends to have one last fling at headlining an action film. After all, Burton and Harris were less screen action heroes and more respected dramatic actors at the time. And when action films like The Expendables and their ilk often go for a "let's destroy everything we can and splash as much CGI-generated chaos and blood on the screen", it's refreshing to sit back and watch a war film that favours characters over mindless spectacle. I'm not saying that The Wild Geese is some deep exploration of the male condition, but it does balance the action with the non-action (everything else, that is) quite nicely. Despite the abundance of cliches and some dubious choices, it's a winner.
Severin's Blu-Ray/DVD combo provides a nice, natural picture that's a great leap from the disappointing quality we got in their release of Ashanti. The picture may be a little too soft in certain scenes, but the daytime scenes are commendably bright and the frantic action is clear and easy to follow. The lossy Dolby Digital stereo sound is a little less agreeable - dialogue and sound effects are okay, really, and nothing more. Certainly, The Wild Geese could have benefitted from a more immersive soundtrack. And the main title song "Flight of the Wild Geese" by Joan Armatrading is fucking abysmal and really sounds "off". Seriously, you have to hear it -- or, rather, don't.

Features-wise we're in pretty standard territory here. Severin's disc contains two exclusive interviews: The Wild Geese Director is an exclusive interview with director McLaglen, and The Mercenary is with the film's military advisor Mike Hoare. Both provide interesting detail for fans of The Wild Geese. Last of the Gentleman Producers gives us a look at producer Euan Lloyd's career and, specifically, his involvement in getting The Wild Geese made. The audio commentary with Roger Moore, Euan Lloyd and second unit director John Glen (the director of a few Bond films) is highly recommended, unless you abhor commentaries in general. It's well moderated by filmmaker Jonathan Sothcott, and fascinating tidbits and behind-the-scenes anecdotes abound.

The Flight of the Wild Geese is a vintage featurette on the making of The Wild Geese - worth a watch only if you're a big fan, methinks. The real gem of the features other than the commentary is The Wild Geese Royal Charity Premiere Newsreel, which covers the film's UK premiere involving appearances by key cast and crew and a bunch of royals in support of the charity SOS. Now, here's where the featurette proves its (unintended) worth. This unfortunately titled charity organisation SOS or "Stars Organisation for Spastics" is name-dropped on numerous occasions, leading to unintentional hilarity, such as when the narrator says, "proceeds from tonight's premiere will bring much needed help to the spastic children of Britain". Funny stuff for an utter child like me. The disc also includes a spoiler-ific trailer. Seriously, don't watch this before you see the film for the first time. And I thought modern trailers were bad.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
The Wild Geese stands out from your usual "men-on-a-mission" thanks to its reliable stars Richard Burton (dependable, leathery), Richard Harris (likeable, not drunk) and Roger Moore (less Bond-y than usual, still charming) and some solid action. It's cliched and predictable, but in a way that also makes it reliably entertaining and comforting - what rom-coms are for women, this is for men.
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