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Screen legends Richard Burton, Roger Moore and Richard Harris star as a team of aging mercenaries hired by a wealthy industrialist for one final mission: recruit and train a squad of desperate commandos, parachute into an unstable African nation, snatch its deposed President from a maximum security army prison, escape via the military-controlled airport, and massacre anyone who gets in their way. Getting to the target will be murder. But when the group is double-crossed, getting out alive may be impossible. (From Severin’s official synopsis)

Wild Geese
It appears the Severin Film, a studio that started releasing class A smut and moved on to class A horror trash, has found a new niche with big budget B-grade period action with all-star casts and not a whole lot of name recognition outside of cult fans. When Wild Geese first arrived, I was very excited, but that was because I had it confused with one of my favourite ‘tough guys on a mission’ movies Code Name: Wild Geese, a fun-time B-ensemble starring Lee Van Cleef, Klaus Kinski, Mimsy Farmer, Ernest Borgnine, and directed by Tarantino’s favourite Italian genre-jumper, Antonio Margheriti. Code Name: Wild Geese is a perfect addition to Severin’s Italian WWII rip-off cycle, which includes great-looking Blu-ray releases of Enzo G. Castellari’s Inglorious Bastards and Eagles Over London. Wild Geese is a bit more ‘high end’ than Margheriti and Castellari’s films, but is still of the same post- Dirty Dozen and Great Escape ilk. It’s a B-action movie with extra added muscle in terms of star power and budget. This is not an ‘important’ picture, but it’s a predictably fun time at the movies.

Wild Geese is directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, who is a rather appropriate British equivalent to Castellari, and especially an appropriate analogue to Margheriti. McLaglen was a workhorse director for both TV and film, who touched upon mainstream greatness working for John Ford on projects like The Quiet Man and directing mega-stars James Stewart ( Shenandoah and The Rare Breed) and John Wayne ( McLintock!, Hellfighters, and Chisum). He stuck mostly to war and western films (unlike Margheriti, who dabbled in horror and sci-fi on typically smaller Italian budgets), including my personal favourite picture in his filmography, The Last Hard Men, starring Charlton Heston and James Coburn as, well, hard men. Wild Geese doesn’t see the director taking many chances (his dialogue-heavy sequences are surprisingly badly framed at times), but he rarely draws unnecessary attention to himself either. His directing qualities appear in his punchy action sequences (the bridge bombing scene is a standout) and, more interestingly, in his editing practices. Though the film is overlong on the whole (the last 15 or so minutes feel particularly elongated), the first act (which features very little action and exists almost exclusively to set up the team) is very efficiently told via clever cut-away flashbacks. These help fill in information without excessive exposition. McLaglen also takes any chance he can to skip to the chase, which means scenes don’t necessary play through to their obvious conclusions (example: ‘So, Character A, will you join our cause?,’ cut to ‘Character A is with us’).

Wild Geese
The film opens with a title sequence that recalls an Amnesty International ad, complete with still images of civil unrest and sad African faces cut against the backdrop of folk pop singer Joan Armatrading’s ‘Flight of the Wild Geese.’ From here on out, it’s really mostly about tough guys, terse dialogue, and action sequences; these are just vaguely framed within the context of period politics, which offers some nice flavour to the pleasantly dated production. The racially grey areas are the exception, specifically during the third act. Here, the issue is actually referenced in the text, rather than uncomfortably rotting beneath the subtext, as it does in too many ‘white guys vs. brown guys’ war movies. The issue doesn’t take up a whole lot of time, but Harry Krüger’s character, a South African white guy, does give a small speech about not particularly liking black people or ‘keffas’ (historically accurate, obviously) while at the same time expressing concern for killing people he doesn’t understand well enough to hate. Later, he is forced to carry President Julius Limbani (Winston Ntshona) when he is injured and the two forge a bond through awkward ethical discussions. It’s all a bit heavy-handed, of course, even a bit of a time-waster, but it sets Wild Geese apart from a rather crowded subgenre. Not many productions were interested in acting diplomatic on cultural matters in 1978, so any attempt at clearling the air is interesting by my measure (not necessarily good or bad, since period cinema should come fitted with all social artefacts of its era), even if it could be argued by the PC elite that the film adds up to white guys saving the brown guys from themselves in the end (the film was met with protests at its premiere, because it shot in South Africa with the support of the apartheid government).

I suppose the obvious modern comparison would be The Expendables and its sequel, and I probably would’ve even drawn the parallel without the assistance of Severin’s ad campaign. By 1978 Burton, Harris, and Krüger were comparable to the likes of Stallone, Willis, and Lundgren, in as much as any movie stars could be comparable between decades as incomparable as the ‘60s and ‘80s. Perhaps the better comparison could be made between Roger Moore and Jason Statham, who were similar ages at the time of Wild Geese and The Expendables 2 (give or take five years) and both known for increasingly silly action movies. Burton, who plays every scene with delightful grouchiness, and Harris, who plays every scene with infectious enthusiasm, are the cast standouts. Their chemistry is palpable and their relationship’s crescendo hits the right emotional beats despite being particularly mawkish. Harris gets extra points for keeping his single father subplot from turning too schmaltzy, though some credit also must be extended to young Paul Spurrier, who is bloody fantastic as his son Emile. Moore is pretty charming, too, but you can almost smell him trying to not be Bond. He can chomp a cigar all he wants -– no one is going to confuse him for anyone other than 007 in this context. The biggest surprise is Kenneth Griffith, who plays Arthur Witty, the group’s implicitly gay field medic. I can’t quite decide if he’s just a typically homophobically drawn gay character or ahead of his time. His gayness is played for laughs, sometimes admittedly funny laughs (‘Do I have time to get a divorce?’ ‘36 hours…’ ‘Oh, lovely, sir. I can’t wait to see his face!’), but he isn’t presented as grotesque and the straight dudes around clearly respect him when it counts.

Wild Geese

Video


Severin hasn’t released a Blu-ray in some time, almost exactly a year, as a matter of fact ( Horror Express was released in early December of 2011). It’s good to see them back in the game with something substantial like Wild Geese, which is presented here in 1080p and its original 1.85:1 framing. Severin has a good habit of presenting their HD material ‘as is’ without altering much in post. This makes for some occasionally dull and grainy images throughout their catalogue, but such artefacts are always preferable to DNR smoothing, telecine scanning effects, and, God forbid, artificially generated grain. The grain here is pretty heavy and occasionally clumps up a bit, but the bigger issue is the occasional appearance of tracking scratches. Stuff like dirt, hair, water spots, and other abrasions crop up from time to time, but certainly don’t define the image quality. The detail levels are generally sharper than those on the DVD copy included in the set with a specific uptake in the complex background textures, which are well-separated without a lot of edge enhancement. The Eastmancolor stock features some particularly vibrant primary hues and generally natural skin and earth tones. Some of the hues bleed into each other a little bit and some of what I assume are supposed to be clean whites dance with yellow noise, but the overall vibrancy takes precedence. The only time I had a concrete problem with the transfer was during the particularly dark sequences at the center of the film. The gamma levels probably could’ve been tampered with a little bit to make the highlights more clear here without compromising McLaglen and cinematographer Jack Hildyard’s intentions.

Wild Geese

Audio


Severin isn’t too fond of uncompressed audio on their Blu-ray releases, it seems (I’m pretty sure BMX Bandits is the only HD disc of theirs I’ve ever seen with a DTS-HD MA track), but this lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo surround track doesn’t show many signs of obvious compression. This track is plenty loud and features high dynamic ranges without much in the way of distortion. Most of the track’s limiting factors pertain to its age, along with the fact that Severin hasn’t done anything obvious in terms of cleaning the track up. Besides a few buzzes and cracks (not to mention some iffy, late-‘70s foley effects and inconsistent dialogue levels, which are not Severin’s fault), the sound is punchy and mostly sharp. The film was apparently mostly presented in mono sound, but did feature a 4-track stereo mix, which appears to be what Severin has used here. This means the stereo and surround effects sound natural and period-appropriate, not digitally manhandled out of a single channel track. There aren’t many big directional cues, but the battle scenes are plenty noisy. I suppose the missing discrete LFE channel keeps the boom of bombs and gunfire down a bit. The artificially centered dialogue also doesn’t feature a lot in the way of noticeable stereo bleeding effects. Composer Roy Budd, who started his film music career with superior scores for Ralph Nelson’s Soldier Blue and Mike Hodges’ Get Carter, takes a traditional war movie route with his music here, meaning just about everything is made up of snare drums, trumpeting horns, and fifing flutes.

Wild Geese

Extras


The extras begin with a commentary featuring producer Euan Lloyd, actor Roger Moore, and second unit director/editor John Glen, moderated by Jonathan Sothcott, producer of DVD special feature documentaries and terrible-looking horror movies like Strippers vs. Werewolves (I haven’t seen any of them, so who am I to judge). This is an ‘all-business’ track, which isn’t a bad thing considering the temperaments of the commentators, who work best in an interview capacity where they can be prompted to tell long, well-stated stories. Sothcott might as well have recorded Lloyd, Glen, and Moore separately, because there’s very little interaction between the participants. Perhaps it’s just the effect of being a polite Brit of a certain age. All of these factors make for a rather amenable commentary experience, but there’s never a lack of informative discussion. Lloyd, who clocks the most time, gives us a rather long lesson in the production history, backed up by Glen, who also recalls the technical practices Lloyd wasn’t necessarily privy to while Moore offers a slightly more humour into his occasional discussion of himself and his fellow actors.

From here, the featurettes begin. The Wild Geese Director (15:50, SD) is an interview with director Andrew V. McLaghlen, who briefly covers his early career, being hired for the project, the script, working with the cast, working with actual military veterans, who acted as non-lead mercenaries, and his current career as a stage director. The Mercenary (9:50, SD) is an interview with military advisor Mike Hoare, who recounts his personal military history, which included recruiting mercenary soldiers for a Congo rebel pacification, the origin of his nickname, ‘Mad Mike,’ being offered an advisory role on Wild Geese, a film he remembers renaming himself after his regiment (Daniel Carney’s novel of the same name and the screenplay were originally titled ‘The Thin White Line’), working with the actors and crew, and his various published writings. The Last of the Gentleman Producers (37:20, SD) is a relatively exhaustive featurette on producer Euan Lloyd, featuring interviews with Lloyd himself, his daughter Rosalind (who acted in Wild Geese, Doctor Who and Inseminoid), producer Norman Spenser, actors Roger Moore, Ingrid Pitt, Kenneth Griffith, and Linda Hayden, director John Glen, songwriter Joan Armatrading, and cinematographer Sydney Samuelson. It traces Lloyd career from humble beginnings, to working with Alan Ladd, his early films, Wild Geese, and his retirement. Extras end with Stars’ War: The Making of The Wild Geese (24:40, SD), a vintage behind-the-scenes EPK, footage from the film’s world premiere (7:20, SD), and a trailer.

Wild Geese

Overall


Wild Geese is sometimes treated like an Oscar-calibre classic, which it is not. In reality, it’s just trashy enough to settle pretty well within Severin Films’ current release filmography where its predictable thrills can be re-discovered by younger audiences. This disc is a bit dirty-looking, but definitely a solid HD upgrade over DVD versions. The audio doesn’t show major signs of compression, despite the lossy Dolby Digital codec, and the extras verge on exhaustive, despite not taking up an excessive amount of time.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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