Thursday, May 16, 2013

Underrated Adventure: The Wind and the Lion (1975)

There's two things you have to accept in order to enjoy The Wind and the Lion. The first is that though the film is based on a true historical events it has been very loosely adapted by the writer/director John Milius. Some of the alterations are minor changes, other are very large. For instance, the main character in the film Eden Pedecaris, played by the beautiful Candice Bergen, was in real life a 66 year old man called Ion Perdecaris. The second thing you have to accept is that Sean Connery is playing a Moroccan outlaw called Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli. I'll say that again Sean Connery is playing a Moroccan outlaw and just like every other role he's played from The Hunt for the Red October to The Untouchables, he doesn't make any alterations to his thick Scottish accent. You've just got to go with it.

The Wind and the Lion begins in 1904 with the Raisuli and his men kidnapping Eden Pedecaris along with her son and daughter from their house in Morocco. With Eden being an American citizen, President Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Keith) is forced to take the matter seriously. He's up for re-election and how he deals with the kidnapping situation could make or break him as a politician. Meanwhile, it turns out the Raisuli has actually staged the kidnapping purely in the hope that it will cause a major public embarrassment for the Sultan of Morocco and incite a civil war in the country. The Raisuli has no hostile intentions with Eden, he has no hostility towards her and purely needs her as a pawn in his plans. As the kidnapping goes on Roosevelt is forced to turn to ever more desperate measures to mount a rescue effort and eventually set out his decree "Pedecaris alive or Raisuli dead!"

Despite the odd casting choices and liberal approach to history The Wind and the Lion is a masterpiece of cinema. I absolutely love this film. The acting is top notch across the board. Though Connery is exceedingly charismatic as the Raisuli, it's Brian Keith's wonderfully stiff and mannered portrayal of Roosevelt that sticks in your mind after the credits roll. What's brilliant about the film is that it has several layers. On the surface you have an exciting kidnap and rescue story with all the usual trappings like the kidnappee slowly coming around to the kidnapper's point of view. But underneath there's a lot more going on. The film is really a character study of the Raisuli and Roosevelt. Two powerful men from very different worlds who are trying to show their strength to the rest of the world.

The two men never meet at any point in the film and their only communication is via a letter at the very end of the film in which the Raisuli perfectly sums up their differences. "I, like the lion, must stay in my place, while you, like the wind, will never know yours." That's such a perfect metaphor for both their countries and their characteristics. The Raisuli is a descendant of the Barbary Pirates, he is expected to be dangerous and unpredictable. While Roosevelt is a civilised man from the still quite young United States. Roosevelt is trying to win an election, Raisuli is trying to incite war. Very different ways of becoming rulers of countries. And yet, there is a commonality I think that Milius wants us to see between them. They both do cowardly things during the course of the film. The Raisuli, obviously, kidnaps an innocent woman. Roosevelt shoots a grizzly bear and has it stuffed for a museum. Despite being at opposite ends of the battlefield they are not so different. 

Anyway, that's enough metaphorical musings I've got to talk about Jerry Goldsmith's stunning score as well. It's a wonderfully epic, soaring, bombastic piece. I don't know why it's not more well known among his work. Yes, it sounds a little bit like Maurice Jarre's score for Lawrence of Arabia in places but I think that was intentional. There's no doubt that Milius was inspired by David Lean's earlier film. Anyway, it perfectly compliments the film and works particularly well during the intense action scenes. I don't think I've seen another film that had so many horses falling over (which is also possibly why it's not been released on DVD in the UK - our censors always cut out horses falling over!)

So was it bad idea to cast Connery? Should Milius have changed Pedecaris to a woman? In answer to the first question, apparently Omar Sharif was intended to take the role of the Raisuli but dropped out. As much as I like Sharif, I'm glad Connery was cast instead. He's a superior actor and brilliant at playing likable rogues. As for changing Pedecaris to woman I can see Milius' reasoning. Firstly, there's no other female characters in the film, it needed at least one. Secondly, having Pedecaris be a woman allows for a hint of romance and this is mostly definitely a Romantic adventure.

Bottom line is if you haven't seen this film go see it now.



  1. Thanks for the recommendation, I'm always looking out for good films that might have slipped through the cracks, and this is one of those, I wasnt aware the great John Milius was behind this one! I remember seeing the cover for this film in video shops but never actually renting it.

    Romantic adventures, thats a whole sub-genre onto itself, for example Romancing the Stone, The Jewel of the Nile, recently I had the opportunity to see Madonna and Sean Penn in a film called Shanghai Surprise, but it ended up being a BORE! And really bad, so I don't recommend that one!

    There's another underrated adventure film I've been meaning to check out called High road to China (1982) and it starred Tom Selleck and Bess Armstrong, unfortunately it's not on dvd!

  2. High Road to China - I'll keep an eye out for it.

    Definitely check out Wind and the Lion if you get the chance. If you like Milius' other stuff like Conan and Red Dawn I think you'll like this too. It's also got a fantastic performance by Sean Connary.

  3. High Road to China is now on DVD.