The Wild Geese

The Wild Geese

name = The Wild Geese

caption= Original movie poster
director = Andrew V. McLaglen
writer = Reginald Rose
starring = Richard Burton
Roger Moore
Richard Harris
Hardy Krüger
producer = Euan Lloyd
distributor = Rank
released = 1978
runtime = 134 m
language = English
budget =
imdb_id = 0078492

"The Wild Geese" is a 1978 film 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".

The film was based on an unpublished novel titled "The Thin White Line" by Daniel Carney. The film was re-named "The Wild Geese" after a 17th-century Irish mercenary army (see Flight of the Wild Geese) and Carney's novel was subsequently published under that title by Corgi Books.

The novel was based upon rumors 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 Moise Tshombe.


Allen Faulkner (Richard Burton), a British mercenary, is hired by merchant banker Sir Edward Matherson (Stewart Granger), to rescue Julius Limbani, the former leader of a central African country, who is due to be executed by the military dictator who overthrew him. Limbani is being held by the ferocious troops known as the "Simbas" under General Ndofa.

Faulkner recruits 50 other mercenaries including a pilot, Shaun Fynn (Moore); South African Pieter Coetzee (Krüger); and Faulkner's old friend, Rafer Janders (Harris), who plans the mission. The fictional country is said to lie on the border with Burundi; Rwanda and Zambia are also mentioned as being close by. The troops train in Swaziland.

The group successfully infiltrates Zembala Prison and rescues Limbani. Coetzee uses a powerful crossbow with cyanide-tipped quarrels to take out the prison sentries. The rest of the guards are killed silently with cyanide gas. The group then makes its way to a small airfield to await pickup, but must dispose of numerous hostile soldiers at the airport bar. Thousands of miles away, however, the backers of the project, led by Sir Edward Matherson, reach an agreement with the Zembalese government, and betray the mercenaries. The aeroplane due to collect them is recalled at the last minute and the soldiers are left to fend for themselves deep inside hostile territory. The group then has to fight its way across the country pursued by the Simbas.

The relationship between Limbani and Coetzee is significant, developing from initial animosity: "I bleed red like you, white man; don't call me kaffir" to one of understanding as Coetzee, despite being from deeply segregated South Africa, comes to understand and appreciate Limbani's struggle.

The group is strafed by a low-flying plane which also drops a napalm bomb on their truck convoy and many soldiers die in the attack. Separated into two groups, they try to make their way to Limbani's home village, where they intend to provoke a revolution. Faulkner is forced to kill his own men who are gravely injured as Coetzee observes, "can't leave them to the Simbas."

Coetzee is then killed while saving Limbani from an ambush. Arriving at the village, an Irish missionary alerts them to the presence of an aging transport plane, a Dakota. In addition to the Dakota to provide for their escape , the mercenaries also use a Vickers machine gun to defend themselves.

As hordes of Simbas arrive, the group prepares for an all-out attack. Many of the mercenaries are killed. Fynn prepares to pilot the plane as Limbani is loaded aboard and one by one the soldiers climb into the plane as it taxis down the dirt runway. Fynn is shot in the leg through the fuselage but manages to keep the plane going. Rafer Janders, the last to board, is also shot in the leg and can only hobble along pathetically as the plane gains speed. With the Simbas approaching, he implores Faulkner to shoot him.

Faulkner cannot bear to shoot his friend, but there is no hope as Janders cries out his son's name: "Emile! Emile!" and he pulls the trigger.

The plane is initially refused landing permission in Rhodesia but after they provide proof that Limbani is aboard they are given permission to land. By the time they land Limbani is dead from a wound he received while being loaded aboard.

Faulkner then returns to London with Fynn to exact revenge on Sir Edward Matherson.

Difference between the film and the novel

Producer Euan Lloyd contacted American screenwriter Reginald Rose to write a script based on the unpublished manuscript. Rose made several significant changes, and a number of differences between the novel and the movie deserve notice.

* For the film version, Rose eliminated a romantic sub-plot and removed the character of Jeremy Chandos, whose character blended into Shaun Fynn's.

* The sub-plot where Rafer was hunted by the Mafia is also given to Fynn, while Rafer has become a single father who joins Faulkner as they come to Fynn's rescue.

* When Hardy Krüger was signed, his character was changed from a Rhodesian to a Boer, thus explaining away his German accent.

* In the novel, the contract for the Hercules cargo plane specifies that the airport be fully under control of the mercenaries before they can be picked up, because of the risks to the aircrew and their multi-million-dollar plane. When local soldiers begin to shoot at the plane after it has landed, the pilots are forced to leave with a brief "Sorry. Orders. Good luck to you." In the film, the plane leaves because of a double-cross by Matherson, who no longer needs Limbani and who can save thousands of pounds by abandoning the mercenaries to their fate.

* Another major change is that in the film Faulkner survived, while in the novel he was shot by the Simbas and RSM Sandy Young refuses to abandon him. Presumably, they both die (based on Young's comment that the two of them will give the Simbas a nasty surprise before being chopped up). This leaves Chandos and Fynn as the surviving officers. Shaun Fynn, seriously wounded, is described as "slumped in the seat ... searching deep within himself for the strength to live", immediately after landing the survivors in Rhodesia.

* In the film, Limbani died of his wound after he and the remaining mercenaries managed to escape Zembala, while in the novel he survived until the plane landed in Rhodesia (though whether or not he lived much longer with his heart condition was left unknown).

* The greatest difference is the addition in the film of the final confrontation between the treacherous Matherson and Faulkner. Taking place approximately three months after the mission(Faulkner tells Matherson he's been practicing a speech that long, then says he doesn't care to waste time giving it), this meeting ends with Faulkner killing Matherson then being driven away by Fynn (whose fate is unclear in the novel but who in the film has evidently recovered from his wounds).


Principal filming took place in South Africa, with additional studio filming at Twickenham Film Studios in Middlesex. 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 nearby Marble Hill Park was also filmed

United Artists were enthusiastic about the film, but insisted Lloyd give the director's job to Michael Winner. Lloyd refused and instead chose Andrew V. McLaglen, a British-born American previously known mainly for making westerns. 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 would later become a more common practice in the film industry, but was unusual at the time.

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" (which was included in the movie without the vocals). The soundtrack was originally released by A&M Records then later released under license as a Cinephile DVD.


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.

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 film "The Devil's Brigade" (1968).

Lloyd had offered the part of the banker Matherson to his friend Joseph Cotten. However, scheduling difficulties meant that he also had to be replaced, this time by Stewart Granger. This was Granger's first film part since 1967.

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 instead chose Richard Harris.

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

Lloyd hesitated before offering the role of 'Witty' (the homosexual medic) to his longtime friend Kenneth Griffith, due to the controversial nature of the role. When finally approached, Griffith said "Some of my dearest friends in the world are homosexuals!" and accepted the part.

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.

Ian Yule, who played 'Tosh Donaldson', had been a real mercenary in Africa in the 1960s and 70s. He was cast locally in South Africa. He then brought his former commanding officer, Michael "Mad Mike" Hoare, who had led the actual Wild Geese mercenary troops in the Congo Crisis of the 1960s, to be the technical advisor for the film.

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


The film was a considerable commercial success in Britain and other countries worldwide, but was hit by the collapse of its American distributor Allied Artists. As a result, the film was only patchily distributed in the United States.

The production was also the subject of controversy because of the decision to film in South Africa during the Apartheid regime.


* Richard Burton (Colonel Allen Faulkner)
* Roger Moore (Lieutenant Shaun Fynn)
* Richard Harris (Captain Rafer Janders)
* Hardy Krüger (Lieutenant Pieter Coetzee)
* Stewart Granger (Sir Edward Matherson)
* Winston Ntshona (Julius Limbani)
* John Kani (Sergeant Jesse Blake)
* Jack Watson (RSM Sandy Young)
* Frank Finlay (Fr. Geoghagen, the priest)
* Kenneth Griffith (Arthur Witty)
* Barry Foster (Thomas Balfour)
* Ronald Fraser (Jock McTaggart)
* Ian Yule (Tosh Donaldson)
* Patrick Allen (Rushton)
* Percy Herbert (Keith)
* Rosalind Lloyd (Heather)
* Jane Hylton (Mrs. Young)
* David Ladd (Sonny)

Additional crew

* Cinematography Jack Hildyard
* Music Roy Budd
* "The Flight of the Wild Geese" (theme) written and performed by Joan Armatrading
* Production design Syd Cain
* Editor John Glen
* Titles Maurice Binder
* 2nd unit director John Glen
* Action sequences by Bob Simmons (stunt man)

Wild Geese II

name = Wild Geese II

director = Peter Hunt
writer = Reginald Rose
starring = Scott Glenn
Barbara Carrera
Edward Fox
Laurence Olivier
producer = Euan Lloyd
distributor = Thorn EMI, Universal Studios
released = 1985
runtime = 125 m
language = English
budget =
imdb_id = 0090323

After 7 years the makers were persuaded to mount a sequel "Wild Geese II", based on the novel "Square Circle" (later republished as "Wild Geese II"), also by Daniel Carney. This time the main character, Allen Faulkner, is engaged to break Nazi politician Rudolf Hess out of Spandau Prison. The script was again written by Reginald Rose, with Peter Hunt directing, and Laurence Olivier was cast as Hess. The film, however, was not a success, mainly because of the death of its star Richard Burton almost two weeks into filming. He was replaced by Edward Fox and the character was changed to Alex Faulkner, Allen's brother.

The Sea Wolves

The success of "The Wild Geese" prompted Euan Lloyd to bring most of the cast and crew back together in 1980 for another action film, this time more light-hearted in tone and more obviously indebted to "The Guns of Navarone." "The Sea Wolves" (1980) featured many of the same actors as "The Wild Geese", but (according to information on the DVD), Burton was influenced by family members not to appear. His place was taken by Gregory Peck.

Based on actual events, this film only slightly fictionalizes the last adventure of the Calcutta Light Horse, a British reserve cavalry unit which, over the years, had devolved into more of a social organization than a fighting force. They are put back into active service with a special mission -- to eliminate a German spy ship which is transmitting intelligence information from a neutral port.


* Euan Lloyd had to sell his car, his wife's fur coat and mortgage his house to raise initial financing for the film.

* The badge seen on the blazer of Emile Janders (played by Paul Spurrier) is that of Teddington Boys school, which provided extras for the rugby scenes. Also the boys passing the ball with Paul were chosen because they were the shortest of the extras and best matched his height.

* Much of the team behind "The Wild Geese" had come from the James Bond series, including editor John Glen, designer Syd Cain, title designer Maurice Binder, stunt arranger Bob Simmons and star Roger Moore.

* According to the biography "Olivier" by Francis Becket (Haus Publishing, 2005), Rudolf Hess's son Wolf Rudiger Hess said Laurence Olivier's portrayal of his father in "Wild Geese II" (1985) was, 'uncannily accurate'.

* Roger Moore celebrated his 50th birthday during filming. A military veteran himself, he helped some of the other actors learn the "military look", i.e. teaching them to march and salute.

* The manga series "Hellsing" includes a troop of mercenaries known as the Wild Geese, who are largely based on the Wild Geese in the film, although their leader is Pip Bernadotte.

* The computer game "Escape Velocity Nova" features a group of mercenaries called the Wild Geese, based out of the planet New Ireland.

*The name of the movie was taken from the original Wild Geese, young men, who left subjugated Ireland following the Treaty of Limerick to fight in Catholic armies, mostly in Europe.

*Despite the film being made during the Apartheid years in South Africa, Lloyd managed to have all crew and cast members living and working together in South Africa with no racial barriers whatsoever. Lloyd had allegedly told the South African government that there would be no apartheid on the film set and they had agreed to this.

*An episode of "The Simpsons", "The PTA Disbands", pays homage to the Dakota getaway scene when Rafer is left behind.

*The character of "Sir Edward Matherson" is said to have been based on real-life renegade British businessman Tiny Rowland.

External links

*imdb title|id=0078492|title=The Wild Geese

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