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The Wind and the Lion

The Wind and the Lion(1975)

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In The Wind and the Lion (1975) - new on DVD from Warner Video - President Teddy Roosevelt (Brian Keith) gets a chance to establish his big-stick leadership credentials when Mulay el Raisuli (Sean Connery), a defiant Arab ruler, kidnaps an American woman named Eden Pedecaris (Candice Bergen) and her young children. Roosevelt considers sending in the Marines to rescue the woman. Meanwhile, German troops land in North Africa, hoping to gain a foothold during the coming skirmish. The situation quickly turns into an international incident, but Eden and her hero-worshipping son grow close to Raisuli. The spirited American and her captor share intellectual discussions that reveal Raisuli to be more than a simple warlord. This leads to romance, imprisonment, and a bloody, Sam Peckinpah-inspired shootout.

Writer/Director John Milius, who wrote an early, far more cartoonish draft of Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam War epic, Apocalypse Now (1979), has always had a taste for regimented manliness and hand-to-hand combat. He just isn't particularly concerned with reality, as his most popular directorial efforts to date, Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Red Dawn (1984), clearly illustrate. He left authenticity in the dust with The Wind and the Lion, turning a rather mundane real-life storyline into something that plays like a boy's adventure novel.

In actuality, the beautiful woman embodied by Bergen was a balding, overweight American businessman who Raisuli kidnapped to humiliate the Sultan of Morocco. No U.S. troops were ever sent in, and not a single person was killed. However, the Republican Party shrewdly announced that a telegram had been sent to Raisuli demanding that he free the businessman or face a U.S. attack...a tricky move - and an ideal scenario for a big-screen adventure. Milius, it should be noted, isn't completely adverse to accurately documenting history: he wrote Robert Shaw's memorably horrifying speech about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in Jaws (1975).

The Wind and the Lion was shot in Almeria, Spain, a site that filmmakers often substitute for the Arabian desert and the American West. In her autobiography, Knock Wood, Bergen wrote: "The area was littered with primitive facsimiles. You could crest a sand dune and find cartridges spent on Lawrence of Arabia (1962), arrows from 100 Rifles (1969), tombstones from A Fistful of Dollars (1964), and water gourds from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)." Bergen greatly enjoyed both the countryside and working with Connery. She was actually sorry when the filming ended.

Critics, for the most part, gave The Wind and the Lion a split decision. While many praised Milius' macho flamboyance, others felt the film was jingoistic and far too sentimental. But the action sequences, featuring an array of stunts involving camels, swords and firepower, are spectacular and the music score by Jerry Goldsmith won an Oscar nomination. Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it "the most sappy movie ever made, as well as one of the shrewdest." That's overstating it quite a bit, but he got the tongue-in-cheek gist of it. So, sit back and enjoy this freewheeling adventure, and don't think too hard about it. You'll ruin the fun.

The Warner DVD of The Wind and the Lion is the original 70mm uncensored theatrical version (yes, it includes the infamous severed head scene from the final beach skirmish) and the image and color is sharper than the previous laserdisc edition. The extras include a very entertaining commentary by director John Milius, a featurette on the making of the film, and the original trailer.

For more information about The Wind and the Lion, visit Warner Video. To order The Wind and the Lion, go to TCM Shopping.

by Paul Tatara
John Milius occupies a curious place in the culture of American filmmakers of the seventies. In the age of new, young, maverick voices, he's the rugged American individualist with conservative politics and iconoclastic heroes. He's fascinated with military culture and imperialist adventure, caught up in the tension between American isolation and intervention, in debt to the romantic ideals of honor and duty idealized in John Ford's cavalry films, and celebratory of the glory of battle, whether in war, on a surfboard challenging waves, or swinging a sword in the age of barbarism. In an era of secular liberalism, he's the wildman conservative of mythical heroes and combat veterans, but he's also more than that, as David Thomson notes in his Biographical Dictionary of Film: "He is an anarchist, he is articulate, and he has an unshakable faith in human grandeur...."

The Wind and the Lion (1972), the sophomore feature of the film school-trained screenwriter turned director, takes on a romantic tale of rebellion and response, honorable ancient codes and modern military might, and the first stirrings of the United States of America, the modern, maverick young country in a political culture dominated by the history-seeped empires of old Europe, as a world power. And it does so in a cagily budget-minded take on the sweeping military epics and colonial adventures of the 1950s and 1960s, a sensibility appropriated in the opening seconds of the film as Jerry Goldsmith's grandly dramatic score plays under the credits etched into the handsome parchment of a yesteryear Hollywood frame.

In Tangiers in 1904, a Berber chieftain sweeps through the city to the residence of the American ambassador with a small company of swordsmen on horseback, grabs the widow Eden Pedecaris (Candice Bergen) and her two adolescent children, and rides back out into the deserts of Morocco. It's a grand entrance for a hero who charges in like a villain, wrapped in a turban and face scarf that is pulled aside to reveal Sean Connery as Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli. Yes, this is the last days of the era when you could get away with an Anglo actor playing a Moroccan Berber leader with a Scottish accent but Connery plays it with gusto. He gives a swashbuckling flair to the leader of the guerilla opposition to a Moroccan ruler who has allowed the Germans and the French military presence into the ruling circle to vie for diplomatic influence. For Raisuli, such deference to the European powers is an affront to the honor and the sovereignty of the ancient culture and this kidnapping is as much about humiliating the prince as it is to secure a ransom from the Americans.

Back in the United States, President Teddy Roosevelt (Brian Keith in a brush mustache and an easy, rugged charm) is campaigning for his first presidential election (he assumed office after the assassination of McKinley). The event becomes the issue he needs to define his run: he will not put up with such an attack on the American body. "Pedecaris alive or Raisuli dead!" becomes a slogan and when the Moroccan rulers refuse the entreaties of American diplomats to rescue their citizens, Roosevelt sends the American military to launch their own rescue. It's an American incursion of a sovereign power that Milius presents as both a daring diplomatic challenge to the supremacy of the European powers in colonial Africa and as a heroic military action in the name of American honor. John Huston has a small but memorable role as Secretary of State John Hay, constantly prodding Roosevelt with affairs of state while he's occupied at target practice, hunting, or on the campaign trail, and Clint Eastwood regular Geoffrey Lewis is the American Ambassador to Morocco, trying the walk the fine line of diplomacy between the figurehead prince and the real power behind the throne.

Against the grand sweep of the military adventure is the almost-romance between Raisuli, a chauvinist with a sense of chivalry and honor, and Eden, who stands up to Raisuli, directly challenges him in front of his men, and plots her own escape rather than awaiting a rescue that may never come, dragging her reluctant children along with her. The kids are fascinated by the Berber warriors, especially her son William (Simon Harrison), who studies Raisuli's every movement, and they slowly accessorize their British outfits with the practical (and exotic) sashes and scarves of their desert captors. Faye Dunaway was reportedly slated for the role of Eden but dropped out due to illness and Bergen stepped in as a replacement. She comes off more flustered than furious, recalling the "spunky" energy of thirties actresses in battle-of-the-sexes pictures, and she lacks the onscreen gravitas that Connery effortlessly commands. But she commits to the role and that unbalanced sense of authority matches the situation: her defiance is all bluff given her position as the prisoner of a war-hardened desert tribe. Her growing respect and affection for Raisuli also puts a dent in her righteous defiance.

Milius creates a small scale version of a 1960s military adventure epic, which he accomplishes without a cast of thousands at his disposal. He suggests a larger army while focusing on smaller engagements given greater scope with his Panavision frame and vast desert landscapes. You can see the influence of David Lean and Lawrence of Arabia in scenes of galloping swordsman dueling in silhouette against the sky and small bands of charging horseman dwarfed by vastness of the Moroccan desert. Milius hasn't the chops of Lean--the battle scenes are more interesting for the effort and energy than the technical execution--but he has a passion that overcomes the sometimes clumsy action staging and choppy editing and a cagey understanding of size and scale that gives the shots a kind of modest majesty. And he invests it with his own sense of honor and responsibility and romance of patriotic and moral causes, a sensibility out of favor by the seventies and its suspicion of foreign engagements.

Raisuli is in every sense an enemy of America, yet Milius not only respects and likes him, he suggests a kinship with Teddy Roosevelt and the American spirit, equating the rebel Berber leader fighting to free his country from foreign influence with the spirit of American individualism and exceptionalism. "Sometimes your enemies are a lot more admirable than your friends," notes Roosevelt during the long-distance game of international chess. The Americans, who at the turn-of-the-century are underdog outsiders in the diplomatic gamesmanship and colonialist competitions of European powers, and the rebel Berbers find common cause against the old world arrogance of the German and French forces. Milius, true to form, identifies with the maverick spirit of the American cavalry unit sent to rescue Pedicaris, nicely expressed in the can-do practicality and frontier spirit of Steve Kanaly's Captain Jerome, whose mix of straight-talking manner and American colloquial expressions is as endearing as it is admirable.

The Wind and the Lion has a rather romantic take on revolution and the honor of war that is out of step with the more complicated sensibilities of American movies in the seventies. Coming soon after the withdrawal from Vietnam, this celebration of gunboat diplomacy seems ill-timed, but Milius is full of contradictions and underdog valor and he creates such grand characters and colorful collisions of cultures and countries that it works. It received two Academy Award nominations, including Best Music for Jerry Goldsmith's sweeping dramatic score.

It debuts on Blu-ray in a gorgeous edition. The film looks close to pristine, the colors are strong and the image clear and sharp. The DTS-HD 5.1 sound is muscular, recreating the six-track audio of the film's 70mm release version, with the battle scenes spreading the soundtrack through the surround channels.

Features commentary by John Milius originally recorded for the 2004 DVD release. Milius is an articulate guy who loves historical and technical detail. He discusses his inspirations and goes into detail for the battle scenes, quite proud of the historical accuracy of his recreations, and he never fails to identity the gun going off in any given scene.

Also includes the promotional behind-the-scenes produced for the film's original theatrical release. It's available through the Warner Archive collection but it is a pressed disc, not manufacture-on-demand like the Archive's DVD releases.

by Sean Axmaker