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Brutal Hearts

This post originally appeared on Obscurorant 2.0 in July of 2008.  AS of this second posting, the Wild Geese can be streamed through Netflix Instant. Cinematic delight awaits you, dear reader.

This may be the first of a series, but for now it should suffice to say that The Wild Geese is a bad movie and I love it. Although perhaps the term ‘bad movie’ is a bit unfair. The Wild Geese succeeds in its goal, which is to entertain the hell out of you with lots of explosions, near-misses and hairs-breadth escapes. According to the internets, Euan Lloyd, the movie’s producer wanted to make an adventure fill with an all-star cast, like The Guns of Navarone, and The Wild Geese works perfectly well on that level. Truth-to-tell, I prefer Geese to Guns, thought that may just be nostalgia.

Is the cast ‘all star?’ Well, I guess Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris and Hardy Kruger were considered stars in 1978, but you’re not going to see any deep or multi-layered performances here. The characters they play are all pretty cardboard – more on this later.

Without giving too much away, the plot is essentially this: a group of mercenaries are hired to execute a mission in a fictional African nation under dictatorial rule. On the verge of complete success they are betrayed and stranded deep in enemy territory, giving The Wild Geese shades of Anabasis, as well as echoes of The Dogs of War and real-life events.

I first encountered this movie courtesy of Channel 56, which aired The Wild Geese annually on The Eight O’Clock Movie*, but it dropped completely off my radar during my college years and remained that way until two years ago, when I came across a DVD edition of the film. Naturally I bought said DVD and watched it the same day. My conclusion: The Wild Geese holds up as an adventure film. Sure the effects for explosions and such are dated, but that kind of adds to the old-school non-CGI charm of the film. And there’s plenty of buckles to be swashed and derring-do, as one would expect. But there were a couple of other things I noticed after watching the movie for the first time in twenty-odd years.

While The Wild Geese essentially has the soul of a solid B-movie, focusing on thrills and heroics, there are parts where a rather brutal strain comes to the surface. I don’t recall the heroes in Guns of Navarone shooting their wounded rather letting them fall into enemy hands, but it’s done here. Plus there’s the unusual execution of a drug-dealer, and an overall high body count.

Then there’s the gay character, who is really, you know, gay. Positively swishy. Which isn’t necessary a criticism – every character in the movie was pretty much a stereotype right from central casting. You get your dependable and grizzled noncom, you get your flamboyantly gay dude and so on. What struck me was the fact that character’s sexuality, unlike some more recent films, was not played up as a source of laughs or comedy, or the reason the character was less tough or capable than the other mercenaries. Hell, this particular character even got to play the hero in an old-fashioned ‘manly man’ sort of way, which I thought was an interesting attitude for a movie of this type made way back on the 70′s to take. A little bit of enlightened thinking with the explosions if you will.

Anyway, you can see the trailer here.

*The late, lamented Eight O’Clock Movie I should add. The program was obviously aimed at adults looking to fill the time between dinner and the news, but along with Channel 38′s Movie Loft, the Eight O’Clock Movie provided the adolescent me with a cinematic education, albeit a blinkered one, since the lineup of films consisted almost entirely of genre films, ranging from Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns to bad comedies. This would probably explain why I remained largely ignorant of classic films like Casablanca until I reached college.

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