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The Wild Geese is a 1978 British adventure film directed by Andrew V. McLaglen about a group of mercenaries in Africa. It stars Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris, and Hardy Krüger. The film was the result of a long-held ambition of its producer Euan Lloyd to make an all-star adventure film similar to The Guns of Navarone or Where Eagles Dare. The same producer and director were later responsible for The Sea Wolves.

The Wild Geese
The Wild Geese (1978 film) poster.jpg
Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen
Produced by Euan Lloyd
Screenplay by Reginald Rose
Based on novel The Wild Geese by
Daniel Carney
Starring Richard Burton
Roger Moore
Richard Harris
Hardy Krüger
Music by Roy Budd
Cinematography Jack Hildyard
Edited by John Glen
Richmond Film Productions (West) Ltd
Varius Entertainment Trading A.G.
Distributed by Rank (UK)
Allied Artists (US)
Release date
  • 28 June 1978 (South Africa)
  • 6 July 1978 (Royal charity premiere, London)
Running time
134 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $11.6 million[1]
Box office $1,423,104 (US)[2]
1,037,275 admissions (France)
1,446,874 admissions (Spain)
3.9 million (Germany)[3]

The screenplay by Reginald Rose was based on an unpublished novel titled The Thin White Line by Daniel Carney. The film was named The Wild Geese after the Wild Goose flag and shoulder patch used by Michael "Mad Mike" Hoare's Five Commando, ANC, which in turn was inspired by a 17th-century Irish mercenary army (see Flight of the Wild Geese). Carney's novel was subsequently published by Corgi Books under the same title as the film.

The novel was based upon rumours and speculation following the 1968 landing of a mysterious aeroplane in Rhodesia, which was said to have been loaded with mercenaries and "an African president" believed to have been a dying Moïse Tshombe.



Allen Faulkner (Richard Burton), a British mercenary and former army colonel, arrives in London to meet the rich and ruthless merchant banker Sir Edward Matheson (Stewart Granger). The latter proposes a risky operation to rescue Julius Limbani (Winston Ntshona), the liberal but imprisoned President of a Southern African nation who is due for execution by General Ndofa, the man who deposed him. President Limbani is held in a remote prison in Zembala, guarded by a unit of General Ndofa's personal troops known as the "Simbas".

Faulkner accepts the assignment and begins recruiting 49 mercenaries, including officers he had worked with on previous operations: Capt. Rafer Janders (Richard Harris), a skilled military tactician who now works as an art dealer, and Lt. Shawn Fynn (Roger Moore), an ex-pilot who has been smuggling currency for the London mafia. Fynn also brings in penniless South African Pieter Coetzee (Hardy Krüger), a former soldier in the South African Defence Force who wishes to return to his homeland and buy a farm. With the tacit approval of the United Kingdom government, the mercenaries fly to Swaziland where they are equipped and physically trained. Before the operation begins, Janders exacts a promise from Faulkner to watch over his only son, Emile, should he not survive the mission.

The mercenaries reach the prison on Zembala using HALO parachute tactics. They infiltrate the facility and rescue an alive, though sick, Limbani. The group then occupies a small airfield to await pickup, deeming its mission a success. Back in London, however, Sir Edward Matheson cancels the extraction flight at the last moment, having secured copper mining assets from General Ndofa in exchange for President Limbani. The plane takes off as soon as it lands, informing Fynn by radio of their betrayal: "Sorry, orders! Good luck to you." Stranded deep in hostile territory, the abandoned mercenaries fight their way through bush country, pursued by merciless Simba troops. Many mercenaries, including Coetzee, are killed along the way.

The mercenaries make their way towards President Limbani's home village in Kalima, intending to rally support for a rebellion, but discover the people are too ill-equipped to fight. At the village, an Irish missionary alerts Faulkner and the survivors to an old Douglas Dakota transport aircraft near their location, which they may use to reach Rhodesia. As the Simba troops close in, the group stage a last stand on the airfield while Fynn starts the Dakota's engines. Mercenaries board the aircraft under a hail of bullets and suffer even more casualties. Only 13 mercenaries remain alive, plus President Limbani, and those dead include Janders, who is wounded on the runway; limping behind the accelerating aircraft Janders implores Faulkner to kill him to spare him from capture and torture. Faulkner reluctantly kills his wounded friend. Fynn manages to land at Kariba Airport, Rhodesia, but it is too late for President Limbani, who dies from a gunshot wound sustained during the escape. The mission therefore fails.

Three months later, Faulkner returns to London and breaks into Sir Edward Matheson's home, forcing him to empty the cash in his wall safe to help compensate the widows and orphans and surviving mercenaries — amounting to half a million dollars — before killing him and making a swift getaway with Fynn. The film ends with Col. Faulkner fulfilling his promise to Capt. Janders by visiting Emile at his boarding school.



The film was based on a novel, The Wild Geese, which Euan Lloyd read prior to publication. He optioned it and hired Reginald Rose to write the screenplay.[4] The budget was US$9 million.[5]

United Artists was enthusiastic about the film, but insisted Lloyd give the director's job to Michael Winner. Lloyd refused and instead chose Andrew V. McLaglen, son of Victor McLaglen, a British-born American previously known mainly for making westerns. Euan Lloyd had a friendship with John Ford who recommended McLaglen to direct the film.[6] The finance for the film was raised partly by pre-selling it to distributors based on the script and the names of the stars who were set to appear. This later became a more common practice in the film industry, but was unusual at the time.


Although Lloyd had both Richard Burton and Roger Moore in mind for their respective roles from a relatively early stage, other casting decisions were more difficult. As the mercenaries were mostly composed of military veterans (some of whom had fought under Faulkner's command before), it was necessary to cast a number of older actors and extras into these physically demanding roles. A number of veterans and actual mercenary soldiers appeared in the film.

Northern Irish actor Stephen Boyd, a close friend of Lloyd's, was originally set to star as Sandy Young, the sergeant major who trains the mercenaries before their mission. However, Boyd died shortly before filming commenced and Jack Watson was chosen as a late replacement. He had previously played a similar role in McLaglen's 1968 film The Devil's Brigade.[4]

Lloyd had offered the part of the banker Matheson to his friend Joseph Cotten. However, scheduling difficulties meant that he also had to be replaced, this time by Stewart Granger.

Burt Lancaster originally hoped to play the part of Rafer Janders who in Carney's book was an American living in London. However, Lancaster wanted the part substantially altered and enlarged. The producers declined and in his place chose Richard Harris. Lloyd initially had reservations about casting Harris because of his wild reputation - he was blamed for Golden Rendezvous going over budget by $1.5 million due to his drinking and rewriting the script. The insurers only agreed to Harris' casting if Lloyd put up his entire salary as guarantee, Harris put up half of his $600,000 fee, and that the producer would sign a declaration at the end of every day saying Harris had not held up filming due to drinking, misbehaving or rewriting lines. "I'd already made enquiries about the hold ups on Golden Rendesvous," said Lloyd. "I discovered the blame was not entirely Richard's. So, as I wanted him for the part, I took the gamble. And it was a gamble. If he'd misbehaved and he'd started losing days it would have come out of my pocket."[7] Harris did not know about the arrangement until the end of the shoot.

Hardy Krüger was not the first actor considered for the role of Pieter Coetzee. Lloyd originally thought of Curd Jürgens, but felt that "Hardy seemed to fit." Krüger was also impressed by the script scenes played with Limbani.

"I was the only wild member of the cast," quipped Moore later. "Harris and Burton were on the wagon and Krüger never emerged from his room with his lady."[8]

Lloyd hesitated before offering the role of Witty, the gay medic, to his longtime friend Kenneth Griffith. When finally approached, Griffith said "Some of my dearest friends in the world are homosexuals!" and accepted the part.[citation needed]

Percy Herbert, who played the role of Keith, was a veteran of World War II, in which he had been wounded in the defence of Singapore, then captured by the Imperial Japanese Army and interned in a POW camp.

Alan Ladd's son David Ladd and Stanley Baker's son Glyn Baker also had roles in the film. Ladd played the drug-dealing nephew of a London-based mob boss (Jeff Corey), and Baker played the young mercenary Esposito. With the cast made up from so many veteran actors, Baker claimed that the only reason he stayed alive in the plot so long was that he was one of the few actors young and fit enough to carry President Limbani for any period of time.

Ian Yule, who played Tosh Donaldson, had been a real mercenary in Africa in the 1960s and 1970s.[9] He was cast locally in South Africa. He then brought his former commanding officer, Michael "Mad Mike" Hoare, who had led one legion of mercenaries, 5 Commando, Armée Nationale Congolaise (not to be confused with 5 Commando, the Second World War British Commando force), in the Congo Crisis of the 1960s, to be the technical adviser for the film[10].a role which he shared with Yule[11].

John Kani played Jesse Blake, a mercenary who had previously served with Faulkner and was struggling to live before the chance to work with Faulkner again. Palitoy based the figure "Tom Stone" (part of the Action Man team) on the character Blake after looking at the pre-production photos and posters of the film. Subsequently, some modifications to the figure were made. Kani made his debut in the film after years of acting and stage performances with Winston Ntshona. Ntshona was Limbani in the film and continued to make many more films with Kani after The Wild Geese.

Kani and Ntshona say they both turned down roles in the film at first after hearing it would be about mercenaries. However they changed their mind after reading the script. "The film could not come at a better time," said Kani. "We know exactly what is happening in Africa today and a movie that devotes - out of 120 minutes - even three quarters of a minute to say we need each other and to say that a white man can be just as much an African as a black man, that's important."[12]

Rosalind Lloyd, who played Heather, is Euan Lloyd's daughter. Her mother, actress Jane Hylton, played Mrs Young.


Principal filming took place in South Africa in the summer and autumn of 1977, with additional studio filming at Twickenham Film Studios in Middlesex. Roger Moore estimated location filming in Africa took about three months with the unit taking over a health spa near Tshipisie in Northern Transvaal (now Limpopo); shooting also took place at Messina Border Region.[10] The fictional country is said to lie on the border with Burundi, Rhodesia and Rwanda and Zambia, Uganda and Swaziland are also mentioned to be close by.

The rugby scenes were filmed over a period of two days at Marble Hill Park in Twickenham with extras drafted in from nearby Teddington Boys' School. Marble Hill Close near Marble Hill Park was also used as a location.

Hardy Krüger later complained about the film:

For this kind of a delicate story in Africa with an element of battle in it, there has to be some shoot-out. But Euan Lloyd, a man I respect very much, chose to hire Andrew McLaglen who’s basically a director for westerns. He brought this element into The Wild Geese that didn’t really belong there – the shoot ‘em up cowboy kind of thing. It overwhelmed the basic theme. There are certain directors, and Andrew is one, who, when it comes to the editing, always puts a moment in the film when somebody talks. I’m a listener as an actor – a reactor – and it was very important to me to listen. I played the whole part like that: I’m listening to this black man on my shoulder, and it’s by listening that I’m beginning to understand that I’m the dumb Boer and he’s the intelligent man that we all need. So Andrew butchered my performance by not understanding that you can play a part by listening. My character didn’t come out because you didn’t see the transformation. I don’t know why Euan allowed him to do it.[4]

Most of the military equipment used in the film came from the South African army. However some special weaponry needed to be imported from Britain. "Even though the stuff couldn't fire real bullets, it was held up for weeks by the British government because it was going to South Africa," said Lloyd.[13]


The music, by Roy Budd, originally included an overture and end title music, but both of these were replaced by "Flight of the Wild Geese", written and performed by Joan Armatrading. All three pieces are included on the soundtrack album, as well as the song "Dogs of War" that featured lyrics sung by the Scots Guards to Budd's themes. Budd used Borodin's String Quartet No. 2 as a theme for Rafer. The soundtrack was originally released by A&M Records then later released under licence as a Cinephile DVD.


The film was a considerable commercial success in Britain and other countries worldwide,[14] easily recouping its cost,[1] but was hampered by the collapse of its American distributor Allied Artists, and by the lack of an American star. As a result, the film was only partially distributed in the United States.

The production was also the subject of controversy because filming was undertaken in South Africa during the apartheid regime, and because of the film's portrayal of black characters. There were protests by anti-apartheid campaigners at the film's London premiere. Warned of the protest, producer Lloyd brought copies of newspaper articles reporting the film's premiere in the black township of Soweto, where it had been received with enthusiasm and approval.

The film was picketed in Irish cinemas by the Irish anti-apartheid movement.[15]

The Wild Geese holds a 60% "fresh" rating in Rotten Tomatoes[16] and also won a Golden Screen Award.[17] As for the negative side of its reviews, it was chosen as "Dog of the Year" by film critic Gene Siskel, who accused the film of being "deadly dull" and claimed that it "exploits racism as some kind of sporting entertainment."[18]


Euan Lloyd produced a sequel Wild Geese II (1985), based on the novel Square Circle (later republished as Wild Geese II), also by Daniel Carney. Burton was planning to reprise his role as Colonel Allen Faulkner, but he died days before filming began.[19] Roger Moore had also considered reprising his role in the sequel, but declined. In the sequel, Edward Fox played Alex Faulkner (the Burton character's brother), who is hired to break Nazi war criminal Rudolf Hess (played by Laurence Olivier) out of Spandau Prison so he can appear for a media interview.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "The Global Film: Will It Play in Uruguay?: The Global Film". By John M. Wilson. The New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 26 November 1978: D1.
  2. ^ "Would You Believe an Industry Could Die?" The Sunday Times [London, England] 15 June 1980: 63. The Sunday Times Digital Archive. Web. 16 April 2014.
  3. ^ Box office information for Stewart Granger films in France at Box Office Story
  4. ^ a b c
  5. ^ "MOVIE CALL SHEET: 'Far From the Eyes, Near to Heart'". Lee, Grant. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, California] 30 June 1976: g10.
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Richard Harris: Ain't Misbehavin&'". Mann, Roderick. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, California] 14 March 1978: e8.
  8. ^ "Roger Moore's Bond is rated AAA — but his producer keeps him guessing". Beck, Marilyn. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Illinois] 24 October 1978: a2.
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b Clark Collis (10 December 2012). "'Wild Geese' star Sir Roger Moore on making the action classic, now out on Blu-ray". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 23 December 2014. 
  11. ^ Tonyearnshaw[dead link]
  12. ^ "Signals from Africa". The Guardian (1959–2003) [London (UK)] 5 July 1978: 12.
  13. ^ "AFRICAN LOCATION: Burton, Buddies Back in the Bush". Iredale, Paul. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, California] 17 November 1977: h29.
  14. ^, Lloyd, Euan (1923-), BFI Biography
  15. ^ "Wild Geese film picketed in Dublin". The Irish Times (1921-Current File) [Dublin, Ireland] 23 September 1978: 8.
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ Wild Geese II

External linksEdit