Wednesday, May 25, 2016

THE WIND AND THE LION (1975) - ****

Rated PG
Running time: 119 min.
Release date: May 22, 1975

In 1904 Morocco, American businessman Ion Perdicaris was kidnapped by Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli and held for ransom as a plot against the Sultan of Morocco. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt was compelled to take action, and dispatched the Marines. This real-life incident ended without military action and Perdicaris was released unharmed. The Wind and the Lion is a re-telling, and re-tooling, of this incident, with very many liberties taken so that the film is actually a loose version of the events. Based on the results, the fictional account works much better than reality.

The film opens in 1904 Morocco, with a band of Berbers, led by Raisuli (Sean Connery), raiding the home of Eden Pedicaris (Candice Bergen). They take her and her two children, William (Simon Harrison) and Jennifer (Polly Gottesman), captive; they trample through her home on their horses, wantonly destroying furniture and killing or injuring various staff, as well as killing her British friend, Sir Joshua Smith. Raisuli explains shortly after this that he is attempting to humiliate the Sultan, who he feels is corrupt and beholden to the Europeans attempting to seek control of Morocco; he also demands an outrageous ransom for the family. Meanwhile, Raisuli attempts to charm Eden and asks her if she plays checkers. "I play chess", she replies defiantly. "Even better" says Raisuli.

While all this is happening, Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Keith) is seeking re-election stateside. We get a scene of Teddy sparring with a man while discussing the situation in Morocco, which Roosevelt plans to exploit on his campaign trail, and hopefully as well, flex some American international muscle. During a hunting trip, Roosevelt gathers reporters around the carcass of a grizzly bear that he helped take down. We get a wonderful bit of dialogue here where Roosevelt would rather compare America to the grizzly bear: intelligent, strong and ferocious, but also maybe a little blind and reckless. But most of all, lonely. "The world will never love us" he says. "For we have too much audacity!". This great scene is driven by Roosevelt's words, and Keith's delivery of them. Roosevelt then calls the actual symbol of America, the bald eagle, a "dandified vulture". Then he makes sure the reporters write that down.

Eden and her children attempt an escape, with the assistance of one of the Raisuli's own people. Trekking through the scorching sand and under the blazing desert sun, they are betrayed and turned over to a group of bandits. However, Rasiuli arrives on time and single-handedly dispatches the thieves and returns to his camp with the Pedicaris family in tow. There is a scene where Raisuli explains that he does not kill women and children, revealing his bluff. We see a mutual admiration occur between Eden and Raisuli. Romantic, maybe. Her children have definitely come to admire the Raisuli, so much so that they are intrigued by a severed tongue thrown at the Raisuli's feet by one of his men. Meanwhile, the American consul in Tangier (Geoffrey Lewis) is unable to negotiate with the Sultan for the return of the hostages, leading to Roosevelt sending in the Marines, where Capt. Jerome (Steve Kanaly) suggests "military intervention" as a means to an end.

The Marines march through the streets of Tangier and take the palace of the Bashaw. This brash move surprises the Europeans, and forces the Bashaw to negotiate an exchange with Raisuli. Eden and her children are turned over to the Americans but Raisuli is betrayed and taken captive by German forces, led by Von Roerkel (Antoine Saint-John). This leads to a poorly set-up final battle scene, which sees Eden and her children awkwardly force Capt. Jerome and the Marines to assist them in freeing the Raisuli from captivity. The battle scene itself is a fantastic piece of action, but getting there was the weakest moment of the film.

On the surface, this movie works as an action-adventure film, with director John Milius staging some captivating scenes such as the raid on the Pedicaris home and the final battle between the Americans, Germans and Moroccans. It helps that the Oscar-nominated score by Jerry Goldsmith rouses into action with the scenes, providing a musical throwback to films such as Lawrence of Arabia. The cinematography by Billy Williams utilizes the Spanish desert and locations in every frame, making for some amazing shots. Casting Sean Connery as an Arab may not be truly inspired, especially with his Scottish accent, but Connery was surprisingly adept in this role; he easily made you forget his actual roots, and he did this using his natural charm and charisma. Candice Bergen was fine in her role as Eden Pedicaris; strong and fearless throughout. The relationship between Eden and Raisuli is one based on mutual respect and admiration, rather than love, which is a refreshing direction; romance does not hamper this story. However, Brian Keith as Teddy Roosevelt was the show stealer here. Every scene with Keith was memorable and quotable; Keith portrays Roosevelt as a proud man, with respect for even his enemies. At once both humorous and dignified, this is possibly Keith's greatest performance, and undeservedly was snubbed at the Oscars that year.

If there is a complaint about this film, it's that it gets too talky at times, assisting the film in dragging in parts. Also, the set-up to the finale was awkward and was not very believable. There are some statements to be made in the film; statements about American imperialsim, for the most part. These statements are handled fairly and without the jingoism that exists in some current films. Most of all, this film should be viewed as a rollicking desert adventure, where it is most enjoyable.

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