Color, 1978, 134m.
Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen
Starring Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris, Hardy Kruger, Stewart Granger, Jeff Corey, Frank Finlay, Barry Foster, Ronald Faser
Severin (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Arrow (Blu-Ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL), Ascot (Blu-Ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9),
Few action films define the early days of home video and cable TV as perfectly as The Wild Geese, an all-star guy movie among guy movies. A canny combination of pseudo-war film, mercenary action, and exotic thriller, it's a star vehicle in the mold of hits like The Dirty Dozen but with a violent R-rated twist. Of course, the real draw here even today is the cast, an unlikely but successfully combination of two hard-drinking English hams, a cheeky James Bond, an old school Hollywood swashbuckler for a villain, and the obligatory Continental cast member to make the financiers happy. After a vicious dictator takes over a region in Africa, British millionaire Edward Matherson (Granger) recruits an aging mercenary, Col. Allen Faulkner (Burton), to help rescue the rightful leader from captivity, primarily to gain access to the territory's copper resources. To carry out the mission, Faulker brings aboard grizzled Cpt. Janders (Harris), suave Lt. Fynn (Moore), and South African expat Coetze (Kruger) to lead their team, but things turn nasty when their employer double crosses them and leaves them stranded in Africa. Of course, that means it's time for plenty of retribution and explosions.
Directed with no-nonsense efficiency by veteran Andrew V. McLaglen (Bandolero!, Chisum), who went on to direct Moore again in Ffolkes, this film came near the end of a solid run of '70s old school British action films (and which arguably petered out completely after The Final Option). Even the supporting cast is a colorful bunch, including such familiar faces as Frank Finlay (Lifeforce, Tinto Brass' The Key) and Barry Foster (Frenzy).
On top of that you get a solid, rousing score from the late Roy Budd (Get Carter), complete with a vocal ballad by Joan Armatrading. The film was a high profile release in its native country and across Europe, not to mention numerous other territories, but bad luck plagued it in American when it was picked up by Allied Artists, who promptly collapsed. Perhaps because it wasn't shot in scope, the film adapted rather well to TV and amassed a huge fan following (including many war veteran admirers). It even inspired a sequel (sort of) a few years later with Scott Glenn and Edward Fox. However, various rights issues kept it off the DVD market in the US apart from a 4:3 letterbox edition at PAL speed (more on its extras below), while various UK labels (most notably Warner) kept revisiting it every few years.
Oddly enough, the first Blu-Ray out of the gate came from Germany, presented by Jess Franco producer Erwin C. Dietrich. That disc from Ascot marked the premiere of a restored transfer, restoring the film's original color palette and freshening up the original negative, which had fallen into disrepair over the years. Some scratches still remain here and there, and the opening credits look a generation or two down in quality with some glowing around much of the titles. A subsequent UK special edition from the same master came out in early 2012 from Arrow, and the two releases share a solid audio commentary (with Moore, producer Euan Lloyd, and second unit director John Glen, who went on to helm three of Moore's 007 films in the '80s) covering the ins and outs of the production and location shooting. Both also have the trailer and some entertaining Movietone vintage footage of the world premiere in London, which benefited the Stars Organization for Spastics(!) and featured guests like Hayley Mills and Joanna Lumley. The Arrow disc tacks on a bonus feature film, a standard def scope transfer of the unrelated Code Name: Wild Geese with Lee Van Cleef and Klaus Kinski.
The remaining German extras are ported over for the Severin dual-format release on Blu-Ray and DVD, released at the end of 2012 not too long after the Arrow one. Here you get "The Mercenary: Military Advisor Mike Hoare," a ten-minute video interview with the real-life Congo mercenary who talks about his experiences, his books, and his work advising on the film. The 37-minute "Last of the Gentleman Producers" (onscreen title: "The Life & Works of Euan Lloyd") is a sprawling look at the career of the prolific producer with the man himself talking about some of his proudest moments while many of his colleagues like Moore, Glenn, and Ingrid Pitt (among several others) gushing about him. Naturally The Wild Geese gets a pretty big chapter near the end, too. The amusingly titled "Stars' War" is a lengthy (24 minutes!) making-of promotional film (listed as "The Flight of the Wild Geese" on the disc packaging for some reason) featuring on-set footage, related news footage of real soldiers of fortune, and interviews with the cast, plus a birthday party for Roger Moore in the African countryside. Exclusive to the Severin release is "The Wild Geese Director," an HD interview with McLaglen; it's an informative 15-plus minutes as he talks about the crew members and staging the action scenes, though the biggest shocker comes when he swears that legendary carousers Burton and Harris (whom he referred to as "Richard 1" and "Richard 2") didn't have a single drink during the shoot. While the prior two Blu-Rays had DTS-HD and PCM mono tracks respectively, the Severin has a standard Dolby Digital mono track; that said, there isn't a particularly significant difference given the fact that all sound fine to begin with and have a pretty basic sound mix throughout. As for the transfer itself, it looks a couple of notches darker which more natural black levels and heavier, more convincing film grain as well as less chroma noise during darker scenes; the mild vertical scratches also aren't as pronounced. It'll never be a particularly gorgeous film, but as far as catalog titles go it gets the job done. The opening credits are also in much better shape without that dupey, glowing look, which is great to see. Still a rip-roaring movie for classic macho movie fans, and it's nice to finally have it back in action.
Reviewed on November 27, 2012.