â€¢ There's a hatful of mind-blowing ideas scurrying about just beneath the surface of THE WILD GEESE, but the film itself emphasizes action over ideas, and over characterization as well, in spite of such good actors as Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Hardy Kruger, and Roger Moore. Most viewers of this film will be kept interested by the same cinematic devices that impel them to see a John Wayne Western, with much killing, hairbreadth escapes, and the death of some of the good guys along with most of the bad.
Much more interesting than the film itself is the fact that it was made. Both the novel and the film concern the activities of a group of mercenary soldiers in an unidentified central African nation, engaged in trying to rescue native leaders from communist terrorists whose aim is to take over the country without such inconveniences as holding elections. The film, moreover, is pointedly critical of terrorists wishing to take over by violence, through the use of intimidation and torture of the most gruesome kindâ€"even when the people who spearhead and finance this enterprise are communists. In doing this, the film runs afoul of Hollywood's Rule No. 1: never criticize communism. (The film was not produced in Hollywood, but in Great Britain, and filmed in the Transvaal.) Could it be that the betrayal of the mercenaries by the wealthy British industrialist (Stewart Granger) who gets a "better offer" from the terrorists, is a not-so-oblique attack on Britain's betrayal of Rhodesia? The film doesn't tell us, but the production notes say, "The Wild Geese is dedicated to the memory of Moise Tshombe, the voice of reconciliation in Africa." Tshombe was, of course, the native leader of Katanga who resisted the invasion of his country by vastly superior numbers of UN troops (largely financed by the United States). Tshombe's counterpart in the film is also its hero, though he dies at the hands of the terrorists, just as Tshombe died under suspicious circumstances in an Algerian prison.
It is not likely that Jimmy Carter will extend his praise of Anthony Quinn's recent film about Mexico to The Wild Geese, for its message completely contradicts the Jimmy Carter-Andrew Young policy, along with that of the World Council of Churches, of financing terrorists in order to bring down existing governments in the name of "liberation" (read: the New Despotism) and "equality" (read: equal destitution for everyone but the tyrants). During the past year Carter expropriated yet another $100 million of American taxpayers' money to finance the terrorists, who were already being financed and armed by the USSR.
A small fraction of the viewers of this film may be able to discern, behind the stock adventure-yarn plot, some of the issues behind the African struggle: on the one hand, the Soviet Union plus Cuba plus natives animated by Soviet promises of takeover and, on the other hand, the populations (both white and black) of these countries, who do not relish the thought of an outside takeover by the Soviets or by anyone else. Perhaps some viewers who came simply for entertainment will exit the theater with some thoughts about a side of the issue that is seldom mentioned in the press or the media, and hopefully this may make them wonder what their official news-twisters are up to. It is primarily for this reason that one should be grateful that the film was made.
But it is all probably too late to do much good. Daniel Carney, a resident of Rhodesia and author of The Wild Geese, has just written another book, entitled Come Watch My Country Die.
â€¢ The first film within memory that is devoted exclusively to modern gypsy life is not a cynical put-down, and just as certainly it is not a whitewash. KING OF THE GYPSIES is by turns dramatic, comic, revealing, and frightening. Filmed in New York City and New Jersey, it follows the adventures of a gypsy clan from the old patriarch and his wife (Sterling Hayden, Shelley Winters) to the grandson who "tries to bring them into the 20th century" (Eric Roberts). The film contains scenes of considerable emotional power, interlaced with others that are mostly reportage of interesting gypsy customs. In structure it is more episodic than organic; there is too much piling up of anthropological detail for there to be great cumulative power. All in all, the film is well worth seeing, though one should not expect the experience of a lifetime.
Much of the film is given over to depiction of life lived by standards that are alien to most of us: by force, deceit, theft, fraud, and endlessly varied con jobs on unsuspecting outsiders. More interesting to champions of liberty, however, is an aspect less emphasized in the film, though it is there: the refusal to pay taxes, to have births certified, to be involved with military service, to call the police when crimes are committed; and the use of the clan "king" to adjudicate conflicts of interest. The film shows through one detail after another what it is like to be in a nation but not of itâ€"an achievement that was fairly easy in the 19th century but more difficult now in an era of massive regulation. It also helps to explain why the nonconformity of gypsies is anathema to fascistic and socialistic rulers who attempt to rule by force every detail of other people's lives and why the gypsy culture was the first to be exterminated by Hitler and Stalin.
â€¢ The idea of a city or a nation or a planet being taken over by invaders (from earth or outer space) who through superior technology enslave the denizens of earthâ€"not merely their bodies but their mindsâ€"is a chillingly fascinating one and one that opens up to the imagination a vast variety of scenarios. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS presents one of them, so extremely implausible as to make people who are located in the real world dismiss the film as "two hours of damn fool nonsense," which it is. Still, through willing suspension of disbelief, one might accept virtually anything as a way of getting an interesting story off the ground. But even on its own terms it doesn't do it that well (except, as usual, in the special-effects department). The story sometimes disappears into inconsequential blind alleys, many incidents are left unexplained, and one is often at a loss to know why the characters do what they do when they do it. One is diverted from these illogicalities by ever-weirder sound effects and frightening visual effects, but the patchwork job doesn't hold. For "healthy" terror and suspense, Halloween is many times better.
The film has nevertheless acquired sudden popularity and even critical acclaim among the trend-setters of the nation's criticsâ€"the Eastern liberal establishmentâ€"probably because it qualifies as "high camp." Apparently it is not because of the thought-provoking character of the main idea, for those who see the most fascination and terror in dictatorships from outer space are on the whole the least sensitive to the variety of dictatorship that is being grown back home.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Movies".