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DVD SAVANT

The Wind and the Lion


The Wind and the Lion
Warner Home Video
1975 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 119 min. / Street Date January 6, 2004 / 19.97
Starring Sean Connery, Candice Bergen, John Huston, Brian Keith, Geoffrey Lewis, Steve Kanaly, Vladek Sheybal, Nadim Sawalha, Roy Jenson, Deborah Baxter, Simon Harrison, Polly Gottesmann, Antoine St. John, Aldo Sambrell
Cinematography Billy Williams
Production Designer Gil Parrondo
Art Direction Antonio Patón
Film Editor Robert L. Wolfe
Original Music Jerry Goldsmith
Produced by Herb Jaffe
Written and Directed by John Milius

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

This big, rollicking adventure story is John Milius' best movie by far. He's a good storyteller with historical material, and here has great fun with Teddy Roosevelt's Big Stick and the international competition between the Big Powers. Adapted from a true incident, The Wind in the Lion is immensely entertaining, with Sean Connery and Candice Bergen making a wonderful romantic pairing. Despite some sillier passages, Milius' show achieves grand heights of honorable action and glorious, old-fashioned derring-do. Milius quite seriously describes himself as a neo-imperialist, but he's perfectly happy with the political contradictions in his simultaneously pro- and anti- imperialist tale.

Synopsis:

Moroccan Barbary Pirate The Raisuli (Sean Connery) kidnaps American citizen Eden Pedecaris (Candice Bergen) to embarrass the rulers of his country, craven sell-outs to the European powers. The kidnapping brings in the Americans as well; the popularity of President Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Keith) skyrockets when he promises to retrieve the hostages. Acting on their own, the American Marines find an expeditious way to alleviate the problem - seize the Morroccan government!

The Wind and the Lion was not the right movie for 1975. It was just a couple of years after Watergate, when the country was sick of Vietnam and in a big hurry to forget political realities. Retro history buff and he-man adventure screenwriter John Milius celebrates imperialism with the same audaciousness shown by his brash Marines, but he also has a great affection for the rebel underdog. There really is no liberal perspective in the movie at all. Gunboat diplomats on one side cheerfully battle equally cheerful fundamentalist Moslem rebels on the other, with only pompous Europeans and decadent Moroccans in between. 1

What saves John Milius from pretension or historical humbuggery is his essential honesty. The Wind and the Lion is his personal take on Victorian imperialism, not some poorly-researched screed.

The film's portrayal of 1903 attitudes is refreshingly out of sync with the trends of 1975, a time when American history was being revised to stress culpability in the genocide of Native Americans, etc. Milius' affectionate portrait of Teddy Roosevelt, (played beautifully by Brian Keith) stresses all the he-man qualities of Roosevelt's public image. Roosevelt was of course an aggressive imperialist, but he also fought tooth and nail against the robber barons of American big business. In this film, Teddy is shown ignoring his opportunistic advisors, who immediately think of annexing Morocco as an American puppet state.

The Wind and the Lion's Raisuli is fabricated with great respect. Connery's brigand may have a Scots brogue now and then, but the heart of the character is in the right place. The Raisuli is a fanciful Kipling-like creation, a holy warrior who bows to Mecca and gleefully executes men for trivial-sounding offenses. Of course, by comparison with his royal relations he's a prince. The spoiled brat Sultan and the elitist Bashaw live in outrageous luxury under in a system that hasn't changed for centuries.

The romantic chemistry between Connery and Candice Bergen brings the show to life. The desert kidnapping is a throwback to Valentino and The Sheik, except the seduction here is never consummated. Connery struggles with trying to be a Berber, but Bergen surprises us with a wonderfully spunky nobility, matching Connery's quips with expert precision and riding a horse as well as anyone on screen. She manipulates her mount effortlessly in little moves while cursing her captor to God, something that your average clotheshorse actress probably couldn't handle. Better yet, when some of the action situations start to strain credibility, Bergen's authority makes them all work.

Milius' production is truly miraculous. Not all that expensive a movie, it makes maximum use of limited means, achieving the grandeur of 50s and 60s epics with a fraction of the cash outlay. Almeria, Sevilla and Madrid locations provide lavish palaces, castles, and towns that look too good to be found locations. Even the sets representing Washington and the Rocky Mountains aren't bad. We'd just seen Spain in countless Spaghetti Westerns and Ray Harryhausen movies, but it never looked better here. The production uses locations recognizable from Spartacus (the big valley with the gladiator camp on the hill) and a unique castle from El Cid. Southern Spain has so much Moorish architecture, it stands-in well for Morocco.

Much of the direction is classic and simple. Milius had the wisdom to allow his expert cameraman organize most of the shot to plan instead of inventing on the set. He also had a good relationship with his key second unit directors, especially stunt arranger Terry Leonard. Easily half of the shooting time of the film was used for the battles and action scenes which are a cross between David Lean and Sam Peckinpah - pictorially handsome, geared to maximum thrills.

The action is violent fun - most of the combatants are professional soldiers of one kind or another and seem to be predisposed to fight. Our loyalties go all over the place over the course of the film. The Raisuli's pirates start as murderous scum but by the end we're applauding the nobility of their charge. Connery's superhuman rescue of Bergen and her children is pure escapist fantasy, told in epic fairy tale terms.

The key scene is the shockingly blunt military action when Steve Kanaly's Marines seize the Bashaw's palace. The military solution to stalled negotiations is direct and brutal, and an excellent focus for discussion. Captain Jerome's stunt works like a charm, making heroes of the fighting men while resolving Roosevelt's political predicament with politically-advantageous expediency. Milius shows a takeover of a foreign government exactly the way it might have happened a hundred years ago. It's only partially justified as a rescue mission, and it's allowed to play as a grand act of war at its most basic level. This kind of thing has been going on forever, and Milius' movie helps reveal it for what it is.

I once saw the 40-page treatment for The Wind and the Lion at UCLA, a prose tale full of descriptions of rooms and an elaborate Moorish bath given the Pedicaris character. It read beautifully. Most of the exoticism in the finished film is dropped in favor of adventure elements. The Boy's Own element is there in the repeated use of young William Pedicaris' point of view, which fuses well with Jerry Goldsmith's exultant, sweeping score.

The Wind and the Lion only klunks in a handful of moments. Scoffers point out Connery's accent, but that's no mistake - who else could play such a bigger-than-life hero? The production does get a bit thin in the last third. We arrive at the Raisuli's castle but never see an interior, just little gatherings on the doorstep.

Milius' writing skills desert him at the end as well, just a little bit. The Connery-Bergen romance has gone from shouting to teasing to mutual honesty, but advances no further. Before their glorious parting, we just get some rather dumb dialogue, when the relationship needed to leap to some new level. The biggest waste in the film is a magnificent ride-out from the castle under a gathering storm, capped by a leaden klunk when The Raisuli says "I'm the Raisuli, they do the singing!". That's accompanied by the all-time idiotic rejoinder:

Raisuli: "It is good!"
Eden: "What is good?"
Raisuli: "It is good to know where we are going!"

Eden Pedecaris' single-handed hijacking of the Marines is another bad idea that always makes audiences laugh. Think about it. The Marines would have shot her the moment she pulled that stunt, putting a knife to Captain Jerome's throat. The movie crosses just a bit too far into outright infantilism there.

Milius is right at the center of the 1970s generation of directors backgrounded in film school instead of the stage or old Hollywood. Thus we have some of the heaviest borrowings from fave pictures, even though Milius only mentions the obvious similarities to Lawrence of Arabia. 'The Ugly Arab' Aldo Sambrell entices Jennifer Pedicaris from a cave-like arch, it's a quote from The Searchers, a film which seems to be the touchstone for this group. Milius more crudely borrows the machine-gun test and the 'march' from The Wild Bunch. The great production team here gives The Wind and the Lion epic qualities that absorb the film-fan idolatry and rough moments. To be kind, the director's later efforts Big Wednesday, Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn show him to be much more of a writer than a director.

But Milius' bold strokes are inspired. The title epigram - the Raisuli is like a lion who must stay in his place, while the great Roosevelt is like the wind that will never know its place - is a great encapsulization of the American search for identity. The theme informs some of the best genre work, especially Sam Peckinpah's Major Dundee. Under its indulgent adventurism and occasional lapses into cuteness, The Wind and the Lion really is about something.


Warner's DVD of The Wind and the Lion is vastly superior to the old laserdisc that I've played at least twenty times. The version of the film here is the same 70mm roadshow, with the uncensored cut of the severed head hanging in the beach scene. Colors are smoother and more accurate, and the picture sharper. There's very little dirt, almost all of it in the end credits sequence. And the 5.1 sound is brilliant and more defined than the laser or the old soundtrack album. The DVD cover uses the old poster artwork.

The commentary: "Notice all the gun stuff is very realistic in my movies."

Milius misidentifies Vladek Sheybal (From Russia With Love, Kanal) as Antoine St. John (Duck You Sucker, The Beyond), but it's an isolated bite that may have been incorrectly placed by the commentary editor. The rest of his commentary is very informative - the Indians on the train platform with Teddy during his barnstorming speech are supposed to be Quanah Parker and Geronimo, for instance. Milius is typically charmed by his own cleverness and repeats a lot of his dialogue. Naturally, we hear about how he surfed between takes on the Almerian beaches, and no gun is shown without being identified and its role in the film explained in full detail. Milius' cameo? A one-armed arms merchant.  2

The original featurette is an editorial concoction made by intercutting clips with a few on-the-set scenes. Connery kids Milius for 'doing the Hemingway bit', but everyone pegs the director as creative and talented. The effects men are shown rigging explosions for a horse charge, but only stunt horses are seen in action, not the scores of 'tripped and tricked' horses tumbling like tenpins.

Milius' commentary is interestingly silent during these exciting but obviously murderous scenes. "We never hurt a horse on this movie. Would never do that," says Milius. The Wind and the Lion is considered a case-in-point by animal rights activists, a key title showing how horses were once systematically abused. 'Running W's' and other tripwires were once a common practice in old Hollywood, but Milius' picture bore the brunt of the scorn for being made so far after its time.

The original trailer is missing its voiceover track, an awkward attempt to connect the picture with Gone With the Wind and Dr. Zhivago as a romantic epic. "Between the Wind and the Lion is the Woman", the narration is supposed to boom, "For her half the world will go to war." The trailer also shows the unaltered shot of the Marines marching off the Moroccan dock, before Matthew Yuricich added his matte painting of the Atlantic squadron ships in the harbor.

The end credits list Luis Barboo as Gayaan The Terrible. Connery tells the story of his battle with Gayaan, but it must have been cut out at the last minute. Milius doesn't mention the missing scene. This places poor Señor Barboo in the same company as Nigel Green. Green's name appears boldly in the credits for Mysterious Island, but he's absent as well.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Wind and the Lion rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: John Milius commentary, original featurette, trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: December 28, 2003


Footnotes:

1. Interestingly, the week The Wind and the Lion came out, Time magazine had a jingoistic cover with an action comic-like view of Marines landing in Southeast Asia, the Mayaguez incident. Photos inside showed President Ford reacting to positive news like a touchdown had just been scored in the Super Bowl. It was almost as if the editors thought America needed a Wind and the Lion - like dramatic military action to lift spirits after the depressing TV shots of helicopters evacuating Saigon, and the crash of a jet packed with Vietnamese orphans.
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2. Savant got to work on Milius' production of 1941 and spent some time with the director talking about The Wind and the Lion and Apocalypse Now, which hadn't yet been released. Milius told me that the real Raisuli was a Geronimo-like holdout who eventually was caught and executed by the Bashaw and Sultan. He also related a suspiciously exciting account of his capture. Accorting to Milius, when the Raisuli realized he was too old to fight any longer, he made peace and invited his enemies to a banquet, which he then dynamited! When he was rounded up not long thereafter, he had no property and hardly any followers to speak of.

Milius was a jolly-enough guy who predictably went into a rage when Carter announced his plan to give the Panama canal back to the Panamanians. He was aloof, but friendly and kind too. He gave Candice Bergen's pump shotgun to Spielberg during the filming, and I had the job of taking it out and getting it cleaned up (the action had seized up). It was fun to play with it, a real 1897 Winchester. Guns are really cool until one contemplates what they do to people.
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A Note from Savant correspondent "B" aka 'woggly', 1/8/04: Hi Glenn - This wasn't roadshown -- that was all over by 1975 -- but Metro and UA did a great job marketing the movie. Beautiful 70mm stereo Metrocolor prints in its key exclusive engagements. I'm not sure what was done in L.A., but in NY the studio set the picture up as its newest classic in a splashy way. Radio City Music Hall ran week- long engagements of Gone With the Wind, 2001, and Singin' in the Rain (it is possible they also ran a week of Doctor Zhivago; I can't recall) immediately prior to the opening of Lion at the Great Hall. [This may explain in part why the trailer references Wind and Zhivago.] Terrific, classy campaign. I wish Allied Artists had made even half so elaborate and ambitious a marketing effort in support of its Christmas '75 The Man Who Would Be King. [Lazily, AA actually used the same font as LION's on its King one- sheet.] I wouldn't get excited about the historical accuracy of Lion, but it makes for a rousing show. I still remain hopeful that Milius will one day make another entertaining picture like this one. But I would remind you that the Ford administration actually embraced The Wind and the Lion. A key presidential aide crowed, "I think we've found our Patton!" It was screened at the White House. President Ford, impressed by the National Park sequences with TR, fondly recalled his days as a youth working at Yosemite. I don't know whether anyone from MGM was brave enough to tell him that those scenes were shot in Spain. Best, Always. -- B.




DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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