***/**** Image A Sound A Extras A
starring Sean Connery, Candice Bergen, Brian Keith, John Huston
written and directed by John Milius
by Walter Chaw Based extremely loosely on an actual event, what John Milius's The Wind and the Lion is better examined as is a treatise, and an informed one, on America's continuing role as an Imperialist force bullying esteem under the title of World's Policeman. A moral right to use force to enforce ideology--a manifest belief, in fact, that the United States is an outlaw, frontier nation existing under the thinnest shine of civilization ("bring it on" our current alpha male cowboy growls, embroiled in what he once referred to as a "crusade" in a modern Middle East)--is offered a mirror in the film first by Brian Keith's exceptional Theodore Roosevelt, then by rakish Berber the Raisuli (Sean Connery), at war with his own Moroccan government in showdowns recalling Lawrence of Arabia tumbled with The Wild Bunch. The marriage of epic romance and the epic romanticization of brutality is, after all, the main ingredient of Milius's work as screenwriter (Apocalypse Now, contributions to Dirty Harry and its immediate sequel, Magnum Force) and director (the underestimated Red Dawn), as well as the stuff with which the west, at least in the history books, was won.
Revisionist in favour of the extreme right wing, this 1975 film (released the same year as John Huston's own Imperial romance The Man Who Would Be King (Huston appears in this film as Secretary of State John Hay)) remains fascinating for the unpopularity of its ideas in a contemporary setting (the mid-'70s not exactly ripe ground for a pro-military, pro-government film) and the rising popularity now and again--in the '80s and the '00s--of the same sort of macho bravura. Yet for all that, The Wind and the Lion is surprisingly even-handed in its treatments of ultra-conservatives on both sides of the issue, The Raisuli and Roosevelt equally virile examples of that testosterone-sculpted mold that favours manhood seasoned by a working knowledge of Winchesters and horses. The picture isn't really pro-America so much as it is pro-American values.
The Raisuli kidnaps blueblood Eden (Candice Bergen) and her two children in Morocco, inspiring American chieftain Roosevelt to boost his popularity by deposing the Moroccan government by way of securing Eden's release. Meanwhile, Eden and The Raisuli have a series of spirited conversations that seem to proceed toward romance while remaining laudably (and predictably for what is essentially a boy's adventure) a subject for conjecture rather than consummation. Shot on location in Spain, The Wind and the Lion is beautiful on a technical level, intended for projection through 70mm Metrocolor prints, its cast of hundreds suggesting a cast of thousands in one of the last true American evocations of the John Ford pastoral epic (and The Searchers on a grander scale represents another touchstone). Bergen is great, and so is Connery, despite his Berber pirate sounding suspiciously like a Scotch agent in Her Majesty's Secret Service; his frustrated brogue pronouncement of "Mrs. Pedecaris!" slides inexorably toward, "Ah, Moneypenny."
So while the political cant is thick and the metaphors heavy-handed (The Raisuli the lion a force in his environment, Roosevelt the wind, in all its unstoppable/divine implications, a force in all environments), The Wind and the Lion is a bracing, thought-provoking, often infuriating picture that by its very structure and execution says a great deal about its themes. Milius's cruelty towards horses a couple of decades after the practice of tripping steeds was mostly abandoned, along with the posturing of Roosevelt, whose own misleading accounts of the charge of San Juan Hill (actually the charge of Kettle Hill; the Buffalo Soldiers were responsible for the main assault), resulted in his popularity and enduring legend, are products of a different time and philosophy, espousing an opinion that the ends always justify the means. Hard to swallow from a more liberal viewpoint (and it always was), there's no argument with the power of the cinema to inspire nationalism and convey the power of divine right, particularly when it's presented (and a comparison with the politically correct version of The Wind and the Lion, Ed Zwick's The Last Samurai, is useful) by a voice that's all man.
Warner preserves The Wind and the Lion's 2.35:1 aspect ratio on DVD in an anamorphically enhanced transfer mostly free of the grain and the other little imperfections that often mar a 'scope film of this age. A soundtrack remastered in DD 5.1 is as fulsome and warm as Jerry Goldsmith's excellent score (for as great as the '70s were for directors, they were as much so for composers), making passable use of its rear channels but demonstrating a genuine affection in its careful separation and impressive volume. No tinniness here, in dialogue or effect. Milius provides an extremely detailed, often very technical feature-length commentary that is a must for gun nuts and is, itself, a little revisionist ("I never harmed any horses"--yep). Milius is full of himself but, like his heroes, he backs it up with a mixture of can-do and bravado. A "Vintage Making-of Featurette" is a full-frame clip collection bolstered now and again from on-set promo interviews with Bergen and Connery and the typical B-reel outtakes of Milius behind the camera, while the film's theatrical trailer rounds out the presentation. Originally published: January 14, 2004.