Tuesday, August 1

Good 70s Films: The Wind and the Lion

1975 Adventure Drama
From MGM
Directed by John Milius

Sean Connery
Candice Bergen
Brian Keith
John Huston
Steve Kanaly
Geoffrey Lewis
Simon Harrison
Polly Gottesman

Here is vintage Sean Connery... a larger-than-life person in real life as well as on the screen and his most-pleasing performances to me are when he puts it all into high gear as he does here.  I expect the main difference between the actor and this character is the actor doesn't hack people's heads off with a sword. Otherwise, folks, a most favorable blending of actor with character seems complete in this rousing tale.

Director John Milius wrote a lively script... a rather butch affair no matter how you slice it. It is most assuredly a couple of hours of high adventure, perhaps more suited to men who like violence, beheadings, male jostling and spirited horsemanship... all done rather in-your-face for 1975. 

I remember something I heard when this picture came out... this is a desert swashbuckler.  It was as simple as that.  No ship... but lots more killing.  Don't confuse this film, with those Technicolor epics of the 1950s although Milius swears some of them helped shape this one.

The action takes place in 1904 Morocco. Raisuli and his band of Berber murderers and cutthroats take a young American widow and her two children captive in order to start an international incident. Morocco was involved in a struggle with certain European countries who were courting its favor. Raisuli doesn't like how the current regime is siding or that it is corrupt.  It may be that the kidnapping can be used as a bargaining chip for the U.S. to side with his views and provide backing.  He has, however, also made it known that he wants arms and gold for their safe return

Theodore Roosevelt is looking to win an election and he's never looking to be bullied. He does the bullying.  Well, the thing is, in Raisuli's world, he's the bully.  He's also the lion... fierce, protective, unafraid... he will kill you.  And ol' Teddy, well, he's the wind... the big noise from America.  In real life as in the film, the President used the kidnapping to benefit his campaign as much as it seemed the people wanted him to attack.  He sends troops to Morocco to rescue these Americans.  

Milius stitched in some true events with his imagination.  There was indeed an incident in 1904, although the captives were a man and his stepson.  And indeed Roosevelt got involved and he did send forces to Morocco and the real-life captives were saved. The writer-director says he also got inspiration from a letter he came across actually written by Raisuli and also from a 1924 biography on him.

Billy Williams's cinematography is gorgeous and unquestionably enhanced by Robert L. Wolfe's tight editing.  The opening scenes-- the capture of this woman and her children-- is just a beautiful piece of work.  There's a great beauty to the outdoor mountaintop setting of a wealthy family's grounds where the lady is having watercress sandwiches with a friend while two children putter about. Into this bliss comes thundering hooves as horses crash through lattice work, swords are drawn and servants are ruthlessly killed. The friend shoots a few intruders and they and their horses go ass over hooves as they bounce into fountains and through hedges. The friend is killed. The children, terrified, are rounded up. Riders and their horses are inside the mansion destroying everything in sight.  

When we meet Raisuli for the first time, Connery is sitting at another fountain, his back toward us.  He turns with the same élan that Julie Andrews managed on that Austrian mountaintop.  This is the man and everything about him tells you this is so. It will all be done his way.  Period.  What he doesn't foresee is that getting on a horse is going to be the problem that it turns out to be and the woman, Eden, laughs as she watches on her mount nearby.  The Great Man changes horses, moves next to Eden and slaps her hard. Don't ever laugh at me, he admonishes. 

It becomes immediately apparent that as fierce as the warrior could be, he has kidnapped the wrong lady and to a large degree her son and daughter haven't fallen far from the tree.  She has witnessed what happens to those who oppose him and the experiences may have curbed her tongue a little but make that very little.   Eden talks tough and plays rough, too, and she spends most of her time thinking about how to escape.  With a guard she thinks she can trust, she and the children are taken not to a place of safety that they were promised but into the hands of those opposing Raisuli.

That event takes the film into its final third and there's plenty of action and blood-letting. When Roosevelt's troops arrive around the same time, I, the adventure-movie-loving soul that I am, knew that I was in for a good time.

With all this said, there are intermittent breaks in the Moroccan adventures as we switch to Washington D.C. and are completely engaged in the political and personal life of Roosevelt.  A small portion of this change results in the film's only brush with lightheartedness and it is welcomed and done well.  I can't leave Roosevelt without acknowledging that it was a real pleasure watching Brian Keith portray him.  It is an exquisite rendering of a famous man. I bought it completely.  The two segments point out not only the differences between the two men but also some similarities.

Perhaps after Connery had signed on Milius tailored some of the lines, mannerisms and behavior to fit the actor because that fit is so perfect. With this film, whether it was planned that way or not, Connery began a trio of adventure films that brightened his star considerably.  The highly-regarded The Man Who Would Be King would follow and my adored Robin and Marian after that.  

Candice Bergen is well cast... her Eden isn't gonna take no crap off no man no way. A perfect combination of smart and sassy and, if I may be permitted, pretty nice on the orbs, too.  She certainly looked like a well-heeled lady of the times.  I also found her to be a perfect match for Connery.  Fond as I am of the actor... and he's always been a great favorite of mine as are nearly all of his films... I most enjoy him when he's paired with an actress with gives as goods as she gets.  Bergen is one of those people.  And that woman knows how to ride a horse.

Loved this hairstyle with a knot on the top

One aspect of the film that pleasured me was how their relationship played out.  They went from bully v.s. bullied to contrariness to guardedness to a mutual grudging respect to a love which was never expressed in words or anything physical beyond looks.  Each seemed to have a longing and each was reluctant to act upon it.  For any number of reasons, they were star-crossed and they seemed to know it.  I have always remembered their last scene together.  It is so sweet.

Let's not get out of here without saluting John Huston giving another of his polished and authoritative performances, this time as Roosevelt's Secretary of State, John Hay. One might call Hay the voice of reason in the one-upmanship games played by his boss and their desert adversary.  When Roosevelt favored a great show of force rather than diplomacy, Hay says he's gone cowboy again

The two children, Polly Gottesman and Simon Harrison, are given far more to do than usually occurs for children in these sorts of adventure stories.  Steve Kanaly registers as the leader of the rescue mission and it is always fun to see character actor Geoffrey Lewis in any film because his acting was always full of nuances and selected bits of business.  Speaking of Lewis, it didn't slip my notice that he and Huston and Keith (certainly as Roosevelt) and Connery all have bellowing, gravel voices.  Those voices certainly added to the manly atmosphere.

Jerry Goldsmith nabbed a deserved Oscar nomination for his rousing Moroccan score. In addition to that spectacular opening scene, Williams's Panavision cameras vividly depict life in the encampments, calmed us down with visits to the sea, showed the vastness of sandscapes and engaged us in colorful marketplaces. There are magnificent shots of Marines running through Tangier in formation on their way to a military takeover.  

Kudos, too, to the superb horsemanship, which, in turn, really means honoring the stunt people.  They certainly were put through their paces for this one... as were the horses.  One certainly hopes the animals weren't harmed but there are some scenes where it looks iffy. 

Milius said he originally imagined Omar Sharif and Faye Dunaway in the leads but neither was available for one reason or another. Perhaps because it was filmed in Spain the director thought of Connery who lived there.  But it's been said Milius later added that although he thought the actor nailed his performance, he didn't particularly take a shine to Connery, finding him too sour. It's been said that Milius was also not enchanted with his leading lady, finding her talent rather limited and far too obsessed with how she looked.  Well, I wasn't there but that's what I heard.

Fans of adventure films or either one of the leads are bound to be attracted to The Wind and the Lion.

Check out the preview if you're so inclined:

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