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The Wild Geese

 pg. 2

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     “The great thing about Euan Lloyd is that he has a vision to make a film and he sets out, … he doesn’t care what the opposition is, he gets on and does it.  He gets a script together, he gets a cast, he gets the finances and he finds the locations, and he makes a damned good film”

Roger Moore - Actor


     Lloyd had envisioned Richard Burton and Roger Moore in their respective roles from the get go, and he was thrilled when both agreed.  Moore had read author Frederick Forsyth’s (THE DAY OF THE JACKAL, THE ODESSA FILE) similarly themed “mercs in Africa novel” THE DOG’S OF WAR, and was keen on being involved in it’s film adaptation, until he read Carney’s book and Rose’s screenplay and felt it was the better of the two stories. 

     In Carney’s novel, the Rafer Janders “strategist” character was an American living in London, and Lloyd had originally approached Burt Lancaster for the part.  After Lancaster wanted too many plot concessions (essentially making him the chief character rather than part of an ensemble), Lloyd let him go and was then approached about using Richard Harris.  Respected as an actor around the world, at the time Harris was at the negative end of a growing new reputation: as a problem drinker during film shoots; and Lloyd feared he couldn’t get completion insurance on his film if he signed Harris on.  Out of respect and gratitude to Lloyd for giving the two older performers a chance to headline a contemporary action film, Harris and Burton (another legendary imbiber) agreed to quit drinking for the duration. 

play THE WILD GEESE - "Compound" (R. Budd)

WILD GEESE action unit coordinator (and 
future James Bond director) John Glenn 

     While Burton’s drinking wasn’t a problem on set, his advanced age was.  Suffering shoulder and back trouble, he was unable to perform long stretches of physically exerting action.  2nd Unit Action Director John Glenn (famous for the ski chases in the 007 films ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE and THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, then later the director of five other Bond epics) brought in his veteran Bond stunt man / coordinator Bob Simmons to double Burton in many of the more strenuous sequences.  

     Ian Yule, who plays Tosh Donaldson, was a real life mercenary for hire during the same Congo Crisis on which much of THE WILD GEESE is based.  And in fact he even brought in his former commanding officer Michael “Mad Mike” Hoare (leader of the true life “Wild Geese” merc unit of the 1960s) to be co-technical adviser along with him. 

   (1991 ed. / first published 1967)

     What sets GEESE apart from the merc films of it’s day (as well as those which would follow) is it’s “50 ANGRY MEN” aspect.  As Reginald Rose’s legendary earlier court room social drama 12 ANGRY MEN was at it’s core a filmed play with characters slamming heated topics of debate back and forth like cannon fire on a battlefield, so was the core of GEESE it’s topical debate.  Normally, grinding action to a halt that characters might engage in extended conversation is a film‘s narrative death.  But the verbal jousts of GEESE are so damned fascinating, one almost can’t wait for the action scenes (exciting and as well executed as they are) to end that the audience might “pick up the conversation / debate where it last left off”. 

                           Kruger and Ntshona become de Clerk and Mandela



      This is evidenced no better than in the developing relationship between racist former South African “terrorist hunter” Pieter Coetzee (Hardy Kruger) and the object of the Geese’s mission, deposed President Julius Limbani (Winston Ntshona).  While being freed from prison by the Geese, Limbani is shot in the side by a guard.  This compounded by his already bad heart, makes the forced “running gun battle” march across the African plain that much more difficult for everyone.  Assigned to carry the injured President is Coetzee, and the movie-long “debate” between he and Limbani begins when the bigoted weapons expert makes a snide comment about “Us carrying you people on our backs since we got here!”, and the deposed leader, showing the soldier blood from his injured side tells him, “I bleed red just like you white man!”. 

Playwright / Screenwriter Reginald Rose

    From that point it’s on! as Rose does an enviable job condensing for the screen years of hatred, mistakes, regrets and possible solutions in central and south Africa into three to  four spirited verbal exchanges between the two opinionated warriors - one military; the other political.  Over the course of their debates they symbolically become representative of the thawing of conservative ideologies which lead to former South African President F.W. de Klerk’s ending of Apartheid and eventual union with Nelson Mandela - not unlike the Limbani character also a former political prisoner.  All in all a rather heady agenda for an old fashioned “boy’s own” action/adventure film.  

     Ironically, in spite of THE WILD GEESE’s intended anti-Apartheid / anti-colonialist message, it would come under fire for the choice of it’s location shoot - Northern Transvaal, South Africa.  While international Divestment from South Africa (a concerted multinational economic “squeeze” placed on the country by refusing to do business with it) had been posited since the 1960s, the official tenants of “The Sullivan Principles” (introduced in 1977) had not gained global critical mass until the early '80s.  Having earlier scouted locations for his film in Kenya, Zaire and Swaziland, producer Lloyd had already settled upon Northern Transvaal as his best choice of cinematic backdrop and base of operations when the international embargo was just beginning.  The decision would haunt him for years. 

Soweto uprising - 1976 

     As a former publicist, Lloyd knew the importance of traveling with a film to it’s various international premieres.  And as THE WILD GEESE’s London Leicester Square unveiling approached, Lloyd was tipped that anti-Apartheid protestors were awaiting his arrival.  Perhaps a bit naïve (or stubborn) the producer decided to have thousands of reprints from GEESE’s Soweto, South Africa premiere reprinted and distributed beforehand to those gathered to (as some put it) “shout down” his film.  Lloyd had demanded that black audiences in South Africa be allowed to see THE WILD GEESE.  And it’s Soweto standing-room-only premiere (also attended by stars John Kani and Winston Ntshone) was a rousing success - the audience grateful for the airing of it’s internal national dialog within the context of a major film to be seen by the entire world.  The Soweto Times proclaimed “It Was A Night Soweto Won’t Forget”, but  Lloyd’s efforts to pre-extinguish growing controversy were unsuccessful as similar protests greeted his film in a handful of other countries.

  Acclaimed singer/songwriter Joan Armatrading

     Actors Ntshone and Kani, as well as internationally acclaimed singer / songwriter Joan Armatrading, who composed and sang the film’s title song, all felt the controversy was unfair.  And over the years THE WILD GEESE's greater social agenda has come to outweigh Lloyd’s initial bad decision to “walk the line” in trying to get his film made before the official embargo took effect.


     In spite of it’s brush with controversy, THE WILD GEESE became an international hit.  This was partially achieved by a strategy Rafer Janders himself would envy, pre-selling the unfinished film to various international distributors based on it’s cast and premise alone - a common practice today, but nearly unheard of at the time of GEESE’s production.  The only territory in which THE WILD GEESE was not a success was in the United States, where it’s distributor Allied Artists was in the midst of bankruptcy and able to release the film only to limited markets.  Joan Armatrading’s title song “Flight Of The Wild Geese” became popular, as did an “Action Man Team” doll (England toy manufacturer Palitoy’s licensing of America’s G. I. JOE line) named “Tom Stone” - based on African actor John Kani’s WILD GEESE character Jesse Blake.

John Kani as man of action Jessie Blake  


     Lloyd produced three other action/adventures throughout the 1980s - all of them scripted by Reginald Rose, but none were as successful worldwide as THE WILD GEESE.  THE SEA WOLVES-1980, starring Gregory Peck, Roger Moore and David Niven, told the fact based WW2 story of the Calcutta Light Horse (a retired group of elderly British vets living in neutral Portugal) and their covert raid on a Nazi spy ship in Goa which was transmitting naval information on allied ships in the region.   WHO DARES WINS-1982 (U.S. title THE FINAL OPTION) was an espionage thriller inspired by the 1980 seige of the Iranian embassy in England.  And while un-liked by some critics, it was an international hit which continues to have a prestigious fan base within the filmmaking world - among those fans directors Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, and the late Stanley Kubrick.  And finally WILD GEESE II.

      As the original THE WILD GEESE was such a success, international distributors for years had asked Lloyd for a sequel.  Lloyd then turned to GEESE’s original novelist Daniel Carney, who couldn’t think of a legitimately interesting scenario until Lloyd floated a wild one.  What if Faulkner was now commissioned to spring Rudolf Hess - the last surviving Nazi war criminal in captivity (in the film eventually portrayed by Laurence Olivier) from Spandau Prison because he possessed secrets which could sink the careers of current political figures? Carney liked the idea and wrote the new story as a novel entitled THE SQUARE CIRCLE.  As with his original the title was changed, this time to (yup!, you've got it) THE RETURN OF THE WILD GEESE.  The book was published in 1982. 

      The film version - WILD GEESE II-1985,  was to again star Burton and (hopefully) Moore reprising their roles as Faulkner and Flynn.  But Burton died shortly before production, and Moore then felt the project “wasn’t for him”.  The story was reworked to now star rising tough guy actor Scott Glenn (THE CHALLENGE-1982, THE RIGHT STUFF-1983) as former Lebanese soldier John Haddad - now working as a merc for hire and dodging Palestinian hit squads in London.  It also starred THE DAY OF THEJACKAL's Edward Fox as sniper Alex Faulkner - the brother of Burton’s character from the first film. 

play THE WILD GEESE - "Flight Of The Wild Geese" (J. Armatrading)

     To date WILD GEESE II was Lloyd’s final film.  But his legacy of adventure continues.  In a 2004 interview, director John Glenn said of Lloyd and his influence:

     “I personally think THE WILD GEESE is his finest film, … in my book it is.  It was achieved against all the odds basically.  There was a bad political situation to overcome.  He had to find the money, he didn’t have a distributor, he broke all the rules.  He gathered a cast of four fantastic world class stars for what was then a huge $3 million (combined salary) I believe.  Unheard of to spend that sort of money at the time.  But he obviously had the vision to make that sort of film.  And I think it’s a shame in a way we aren’t making that type of film now”.  

John Glenn - Director

A fitting tribute to the most unusual “Christmas” movie ever made, and to it’s old school creator …

“Last Of The Gentleman Producers”

                                                                                                                                    CEJ - December 2011

pg. 1,2

Euan Lloyd filmography:

1985 Wild Geese II (producer)
1982 The Final Option (aka Who Dares Wins -producer)
1980 The Sea Wolves (producer)
1978 The Wild Geese (producer)
1975 Paper Tiger (producer)
1973 The Man Called Noon (producer)
1971 Catlow (producer)
1968 Shalako (producer)
1966 Murderers' Row (associate producer)
1966 The Poppy Is Also a Flower (producer)
1965 Genghis Khan (associate producer)
1961 The Secret Ways (associate producer)
1959 Love in Monaco (documentary) (producer)

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