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  The Wild Geese
Andrew V. McLaglen, 1978, UK
Rating: 4.5

Posted: May 24, 2003

War! What is it good for? If you're a movie buff, it's a thematic base for some of the greatest movies of all time. Midway, A Bridge Too Far, Patton, The Dirty Dozen, Full Metal Jacket. See? I told you so. Most war films have gotten their just desserts, but we're talking today about one of the most under-appreciated military action films of all time, somewhere after the WWII classics and before the Vietnam War era became a popular Hollywood subject. That film is The Wild Geese.

Is this some kind of low budget effort, you may ask, filled with B-grade actors? How about a thin plot serving only as an excuse for explosions and gunfire? Your concerns are just, my friends. Regarding the actors, however, there was this one guy -- maybe you heard of him? -- a little fellow known as Richard freakin' Burton! Another bloke, who was he now, oh, yeah: how about Richard Harris! Ring any bells? And a third chap, distinguished, was in some kind of spy movies. That's right, none other than Roger Moore himself! You want actors? Playa, we got actors.

The plot? A wealthy Englishman (and aren't they the snootiest kind?) hires Col. Alan Faulkner (That's Burton) to assemble a team of mercenaries, parachute into Africa, rescue an ousted African leader and restore him to power. Why? So the snooty Englishman can make good on some investments there, investments that are threatened by the current regime. The team is assembled, the mission is started, and then, well, let's just say the snooty Englishman shows his true colors and acts like a -- well, like a snooty Englishman.

You want thrills? Watch Roger Moore force a Mafioso's nephew to eat a bag of heroin. Also, don't miss one of the mercenaries taking out a military compound's sentries with (are you ready for it?) a crossbow with cyanide tipped bolts! Cyanide tipped bolts! That's the perfume on the letter, the sprinkles on the donut if you will. It's that little extra you never would have missed, but once experiencing it, you'll wonder how you ever went without seeing a guy shot with cyanide tipped crossbolts. Oh, and you'll get your fill of grenade throwing, submachine fire and narrow escapes. This movie avoids all the usual clichés, and nothing turns out quite the way you expect.

Let's pause here to give a shout-out to Jack Watson as RSM Sandy Young; think of him as the British equivalent of our own beloved R. Lee Ermey (Siege of Firebase Gloria). While practicing for the actual parachute jump, RSM Young critiques Roger Moore's jump by informing him that he's "jumping out of an airplane, not a whorehouse window." Later ,when Witty, the homosexual medic (don't ask), has some difficulty keeping up with physical training, Young uses the threat of, er -- how do I put this? -- sewing Witty's anus shut as a motivational tool. Strong words. Strong, disturbing words. And finally, when a new recruit falls to the ground and pronounces himself "dead," Young stands over him, draws a pistol and fires a single shot into the ground, one inch from the recruit's head. Now that's a drill sergeant for you!

The Wild Geese is simply a great movie, far too good to remain as overlooked as it is today. As a military action film with a sound plot and good acting, it may be one of a kind. It's unique in that it delivers all the goods, yet remains a heady, interesting story all the way to the very last scene, something few films have ever done well. Friends, I implore you: The next time you journey to the video store, put down that copy of American Ninja (a fine film in its own right) and pick up The Wild Geese. It may be the very best action film you've never seen.

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 Clemenza's Ratings Key:

 5.0: A drop of bliss

 4.0-4.9: Touchdown!
 3.0-3.9: Close, but...
 2.0-2.9: Box of Rocks
 1.1-1.9: Time bandit
 0.0-1.0: Soul scarring
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