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"I'm straight when I work."

The nature of so many films in the 1970s was to make them as rugged, dirty and "realistic" as possible. Early in 1978's The Wild Geese we are treated to Richard Burton enjoying glass after glass of whiskey. He is on his way to be offered a lucrative contract by the head of a powerful British multi-national concern. Seems that Burton, besides getting to savor large glasses of whiskey on camera, is Colonel Allen Faulkner, a well known and successful mercenary leader. He knows how to put together a group of mercenaries to do whatever is needed by whomever pays them enough money. So, Burton's character drinks as much whiskey as possible when he isn't working. This is the most important element of the film, which is why it seems like I am repeating myself.

The film followed in the traditional old format of a bunch of macho guys who team up and go against great odds. In this case, the producers got to throw together Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Roger Moore, along with Hardy Krueger, as the "officers" who lead a quickly assembled and trained mercenary group. The film dabbles into the political and social arena, and considering the times, the relationship that develops with Hardy Krueger's white South African Lieutenant Pieter Coetze and the deposed black leader of a fictional African nation is fairly interesting. At one point Coetze is carrying said leader, Julius Limbani, on his back through the jungle because Limbani is so ill from his imprisonment and torture at the hands of the people who deposed him. It will kind of warm your heart when Coetze stops constantly calling the man he is risking his life to save "caffer" and settles instead on "bloke."

Well, aside from all that, we have a fairly entertaining if predictable and often unbelievable action film. We have Burton and the booze. We have Richard Harris trying to maintain a relationship with his son even though he seems incapable of anything other than planning mercenary missions. We have Roger Moore killing the nephew of a crime family boss. Moore found out the kid was dealing lethally tainted heroin and employing him under false pretenses. He then has to hide out with lovely ladies and is in need of some rescuing. Burton won't work without Harris and Moore, and so there is some cajoling and counseling to do. Eventually the plan comes together and Burton digs up character actor Jack Watson, who is an old friend who just happens to be the best drill sargeant Burton has ever known. They bring in a rag tag group of former mercenaries and down on their luck gentlemen and whip them into an effective mercenary army in a matter of weeks. Then it is off to the mission in Africa. What's the plan? The aforementioned wealthy multi-national businessman, Sir Edward Matherson (played by Stewart Granger), has copper concerns in Julius Limbani's country and an agreement with him that isn't working out under the new strongman. So, Matherson wants strongman out and Limbani in. He doesn't give a damn about the politics. He just wants his copper. This later becomes essential as Matherson's interests change. And we get some dialogue on the nature of politics in Africa and the resentment between the white fellars and the black fellars. All of whom are pretty much nice fellars, really.

To avert spoilers, lets just say that things start going right along with the plan but something bad happens and most of our mercenary army doesn't make it home. Pretty much no one gets what they want in the end. Well, except for Richard Burton, who has enough money in the end to buy a lot of really good whiskey. And Roger Moore gets enough money to wine and dine more lovely ladies. And in the end, when all politics and back stabbing is put aside, isn't that what really matters?

Rest in Peace
Richard Harris
Suddenly this film came to mind today.
Since you didn't survive it either.

Research done at AllMovie.com
For dates and names and such
On the rest you must trust my fragile, eggshell mind
And let us not forget
The title song by Joan Armatrading
That was so out of synch with the rest of the film.

1978 Allied Artists/Rank Organisation
Adaptation of the Daniel Carney novel of the same name
by Reginald Rose.

Historically the Wild Geese were Irish Mercenary soldiers fighting with French Army in the period after the Treaty of Limerick (1691).

As part of the Treaty Patrick Sarsfield lead the remains of the defeated Jacobite army in Ireland into exile in France. These men were to make up the Irish Brigade of Royal French Army. In the following years volunteers to the Brigade would take ship from Ireland (under British rule, who were naturally opposed to subjects joining forgien armies) and recorded on the manifest as Wild Geese. Hence the name.

The term has come to refer to all Irishmen fighting with the continental armies and those in the American Civil War. Irish units could be found in the armies of Spain (regiments of which went far to the Flight of the Earls), Russia, Poland, Austria and the various Germanic Kingdoms.

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