BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE WILD GEESE

By • Dec 16th, 2012 •

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I can’t get used to seeing Stewart Granger and hearing Ray Milland, any more than I can get used to seeing Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln and hearing Walter Brennan (“Four score and seven years ago, Mister Dunson, our fathers brought forth on this here continent a new nation…”).

But despite that, THE WILD GEESE is easily a terrific middle-weight action flick. I enjoy consulting with IMDB to see what their clientele thinks, occasionally even agreeing with them. And in this case, I think they came close. Could’ve been a bit higher point-wise, but seeing as they didn’t even grant Moore & Glen’s OCTOPUSSY as high a score, I guess I’m placated. What we’ve got is a fast-moving script, with real if sometimes understated emotions, performers who are taking their vocation seriously, and pacing that never lets up.

Sir Edward Matherson (Steward Granger) a businessman/politician-type, hence corrupt, hires Col. Allen Faulkner (Richard Burton) to rescue an ailing, imprisoned president from an African nation – which is geared to help his copper interests in said nation. Burton recruits former mercenary buds Roger Moore, Richard Harris, Jack Watson and Kenneth Griffith, and adds to the mix newcomer (but good with cyanide-tipped-arrows and crossbow) Hardy Kruger. Some of them are happy with their lives and don’t really want to have another go at getting croaked, while others welcome the opportunity to return to action.

Oddly, it’s the first half of the film that’s the most engaging, chock full of juicy dialogue and delicious star power. There are enough famous Brit cameos and lead roles to populate films like A LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN and others of its ilk. Burton was known to be soaked in booze like a sponge while on shoots. But according to 92-year-old McGlaglen in the supplemental filmed interview, the actor was sober throughout, as was Richard Harris (except for one slip-up). Why they would do this, I have no idea, but it shows. There are performances where Burton literally floats through on an alcoholic tide. I happen to like those equally as much as I like his non-crocked perfs, but it’s nice to see him in a fully-focused state occasionally. Harris is charming, Kruger exudes star-power, and Moore feels a bit under-used but really succeeds in supplying the undercurrent of bravado and humor needed for pacing purposes.

Weaknesses. There are a few. I don’t know whose fault it was, director McGlaglen’s, or DP Hillyard’s, but the camera set-ups are aesthetically lacking, and cutaways to close-ups when group scenes are in progress are painfully awkward. It’s a difficult film to watch in that way. Hildyard (THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER, 55 DAYS AT PEKING) was a well-respected DP. On the commentary track he is much lauded. But on films where he was given a cramped shooting schedule (THE BEAST MUST DIE, THE ROAD TO HONG KONG), his artistic skills seem to have deserted him. McGlaglen, also noted in the commentary, was proud of the fact that he never went over budget. Could this attitude have worked against Hildyard, creating time pressures for the DP? I’d only be guessing.

Also, I’m a huge Roy Budd fan (and have been dying to get a CD of his score for KIDNAPPED, and thankfully have never moved my LP from it’s perch). But at the one hour point, when the group sky-dives toward their destination, the composer goes into a jaunty, ill-chosen cue that treats the sequence like a frolicsome interlude. I’m guessing that someone on a decision-making level pitched this light-hearted approach, and lesser folk on the hierarchy ladder had to go along with it. It trivializes an impressive sequence that 2nd Unit Director Glen is particularly proud of.

The second half of the film, involving a double-cross, is action-filled, and the blood definitely flows. It was filmed in South Africa, which drew some criticism at the time. It was also partially bank-rolled by Allied Artists, who then went belly-up before the film’s release, curtailing its exposure to US audiences. It did well elsewhere, and seven years later there was a sequel sporting an interesting if completely different cast, and this time a prominent female star (Barbara Carrera), something the original didn’t have, which is another decision addressed on the commentary track. Prior to the sequel, Lloyd also produced THE SEA WOLVES, gathering back into the fold McGlaglen, Moore, Glen and Budd. It was a lesser title but still better thought of then GEESE 2.

The denouement of THE WILD GEESE, a confrontation between Burton and Granger, will leave viewers properly appeased. As will the supplementals. That the Severin squad got McGlaglen at all is amazing, but then it’s built into their collective DNA not to stop digging until they’ve unearthed every juicy bit of supplementary material that exists. The fact that they didn’t produce 84-year-old Hardy Kruger for an interview only means that the actor is laying low, possibly in Tanzania, possibly in Germany, and wouldn’t let himself be found. He’s been sighted as recently as 2011, but that’s not the same thing.

The commentary track features a slow-talking and loquacious Euan Lloyd (89), to the point where Roger Moore, also present, kids him about it. Moore, now 85, is a little indistinct from time to time, but has good stories, whereas Lloyd has the production facts, which are equally interesting for film history buffs. And then there’s 80-year-old John Glen, the youngster of the bunch, who steps in between the other two from time to time with equally rewarding anecdotes and facts.

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