A Roar, Not a Whimper: The Wind and the Lion (1975)

WIND AND THE LION, THE

To view The Wind and the Lion click here.

A stunning epic adventure that would have been a massive hit had it been released ten years earlier, The Wind and the Lion (1975) is one of those movies I always look forward to revisiting every few years. Its unusual, clear-eyed look at global relations and the weirdness of national politics hasn’t dated a bit, and in fact, I’d say time has helped this film look even better and more relevant than when it was originally released to respectful but muted reviews and box office sales. Additionally, it was only nominated for two Oscars, Best Sound and Best Music (Original Dramatic Score) for one of the best scores Jerry Goldsmith ever wrote. (However, Goldsmith would have to wait a year to bring home his first and only Academy Award for The Omen.) Despite the modest initial reception, I’m here to announce it’s a film worth exploring.

I first stumbled on this film in a pretty lackluster pan and scan presentation back in the 1980s on television, and even then it was gripping stuff right from the beginning. Stepping in as a replacement for Faye Dunaway who was originally cast as Eden Pedecaris, Candice Bergen capably plays another rebellious kidnapping victim (following 1971’s The Hunting Party) and finds the resourcefulness and spirit in a part that could have been hopelessly retrograde in the wrong hands. (On the other hand, in the film’s promotional featurette she offers the decidedly problematic admission, “I think all women want to be kidnapped and taken away by a handsome but benevolent kidnapper, to be taken care of all their lives. I always wanted to be Maid Marian.”) She’s still somewhat underrated as a film actress, perhaps because she mostly stuck to TV in the 1980s and beyond (most famously with Murphy Brown [1988-1998] where she won 5 Primetime Emmys as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series). Yet, she is always enjoyable to watch on the big screen with at least a few dozen unexpected choices studded throughout each performance. She’s really in great form here sharing most of her screen time with Sean Connery as the Raisuli, a Moroccan pillager who kidnaps her and her two children in what escalates to an international incident involving President Teddy Roosevelt (Brian Keith).

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This film really kickstarted that strange cinematic tradition of casting Connery in roles wildly outside of his culture and ethnic heritage, which reached surreal heights with his role as a Spanish-Egyptian immortal swordsman in Highlander (1986) (and its first sequel) and his unlikely but clever casting as Russian sub captain Marko Ramius in The Hunt for Red October (1990), which found a nifty way of dodging that whole language and accent issue. Here we basically get Connery in a busy beard and Moroccan garb speaking in his usual voice, and for a mid-1970s film, that’s about as good as you could get without Omar Sharif playing the role instead. When he delivers that great letter/soliloquy at the end (which explains the film’s title), it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing it half as well.

It’s interesting to note how this film was given a big promotional push when it opened in 1975, emphasizing the eye-filling spectacle of hundreds of horses and expansive desert vistas (shot in Spain)—even though director John Milius was a relative newbie at the time, part of the USC film school grads who would defined the New Hollywood movement (along with George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, et al). This would be the last time he would employ a composer besides his fellow USC alum, the late and much-missed Basil Poledouris, who would score such later Milius adventures as Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Red Dawn (1984). Milius himself, who was the subject of a fairly recent documentary simply titled Milius (2013) which I highly recommended and who has been incapacitated by a stroke and cancer treatment, stands apart from his peers thanks to his swaggering personality and macho theatrics, including a fondness for waving guns around on the set (something you can also see in that vintage featurette). It’s not a tactic that always endears him to Hollywood denizens, but it makes for a great legend – and unlike William Friedkin, at least as far as we know, he never fired off guns to get a realistic reaction from his actors!

Though it deals with a fair amount of combat and gunfire, this film still bears a PG rating and is remarkably humane in its treatment of the subject matter. That extended behind the scenes as well thanks to legendary stuntman Terry Leonard, whom you can first spot at the 6 minute, 4 second mark getting shot off a horse during the abduction. More clearly, he’s the guy boxing with Teddy Roosevelt while John Huston pontificates a few minutes later. In his audio commentary for this film, Milius refers to Leonard as a “good luck charm” for both himself and Steven Spielberg, who most famously used him as Harrison Ford’s double for the jaw-dropping truck pursuit in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Not only did Leonard pull off some spectacular physical feats, he also ensured that the many horses weren’t harmed during the making of the film. No trip wire nastiness here, folks; most famously, when the UK censors at the BBFC thought the horses were actually harmed, Leonard threatened to sue them for damaging his reputation! Who can blame him? (Along with the feature, a FilmStruck Extra accompanies the piece entitled “A Tough Show: The Stunt Work in The Wind and the Lion” which includes a recent interview with Terry Leonard.)

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Here at FilmStruck this is currently being run as part of a Desert Adventures series, and in my opinion, this is one of the very best – a textured, thoughtful, and swaggering tale on a massive canvas before digital trickery completely altered the look of how a film like this would have been made. As a history lesson it’s pretty dubious despite being based on true events (Bergen’s character was a middle-aged businessman in real life, for one thing, and the juicier quotes originally came from Roosevelt’s advisors and underlings instead of the President himself), but when it’s this entertaining, who cares? It’s safe to say that Lawrence of Arabia (1962) will always hold the mantle of the greatest desert adventure film of them all, but that in no way diminishes the achievements of films like this that take a complex look at a clash of cultures that still rages today.

Nathaniel Thompson

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5 Responses A Roar, Not a Whimper: The Wind and the Lion (1975)
Posted By Doug Miller : October 18, 2017 12:20 am

I will have to give this a try; kept missing it somehow. (This is not the one in which Bergen is a photographer, right?) Would it have been PG 13 if released 10 years later? I just read somewhere that Red Dawn was the first movie released as PG 13!

Posted By Jonathan Barnett : October 18, 2017 5:29 am

Excellent movie! In a way I’m glad Connery left a certain character behind. He had an excellent string of movies in 1970s. This was one of those movies.

Posted By George : October 18, 2017 4:09 pm

“I just read somewhere that Red Dawn was the first movie released as PG 13!”

That is correct. The rating was created after an outcry over the violence and scariness of Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, both released earlier in 1984. Parents complained that Spielberg had traumatized their kids, and editorial page writers took up the cry.

“Would it (The Wind and the Lion) have been PG 13 if released 10 years later?”

I’m amazed at the material allowed in PG-rated movies of the ’70s, such as Jenny Agutter’s nudity in Logan’s Run, and the frequent F-bombs in All the President’s Men. And in the early ’80s, there’s Elizabeth McGovern naked in the PG-rated Ragtime.

Just recently rewatched Aldrich’s Emperor of the North. It somehow got a PG in ’73 despite really brutal violence, such as a man cut in half by a train before the credits.

Posted By Doug : October 18, 2017 6:16 pm

I’ve mentioned elsewhere on Streamline the retrograde TV networks which bring back into view old and older TV series-Candice Bergen’s mother Francis starred in “Yancy Derringer” back in the 1950′s, and it’s apparent that Candice gets her good looks from her.

Posted By Ken Adlam : October 19, 2017 11:07 am

I saw this film on a large screen when it was released, and it was immediately one of my favorite movies of the year. Sean Connery was outstanding as the Raisuli…ditto Brian Keith’s portrayal of Teddy Roosevelt. At the time, I thought they both deserved nomination recognition by the Academy. It was also a good year for Candice Bergen who managed to also costar as a reformed hooker/cowgirl in “Bite the Bullet” with Gene Hackman. Actually, I thought that both films were terribly underrated that year. Must mention my favorite sequence in “Wind and Lion”: regardless of political philosophy, the US Navy/Marine takeover of Morocco…landing at the port and racing to the Palace to the horror of the European diplomats! great visual of TR/US foreign policy at the beginning of the last century. Still a fantastic film…love the ending!

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