Wild Geese II

Hot on the trail of another sequel!

Unlike the Pink Panther series, the Geese only managed one sequel. The public may have waited 11 years, 1964-1975, to see Inspector Clouseau again, but there were two more in the next three years. Then the unfortunate pair in 1982-1983, which received poor public reception and the series was put to rest. Sort of.

I wrote an article a few years, “A Sequel Too Far”, and examined the logic of sequels. Once a series of films reaches the point that it cannot make money, the sequels end. The last of these films IS the sequel gone too far. Sort of.

This apparent, sound business logic doesn’t hold. Remember, the movie business is different. Most films don’t make money. If someone wants to reboot The Exorcist films, go ahead. There is an apparent market for exorcism in movies. But the fate of Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005) did not find this market. Worse, two versions of the Prequel were filmed, adding another $40 million to the red column.

Wild Geese II (1985) is the sequel to The Wild Geese (1978). Seven years between the films. A new measure for sequels might be in play here. Notwithstanding the eleven years to make another Clouseau movie don’t wait too long to make a sequel. The reason will soon become apparent. Muddying the waters, a year before Wild Geese II was released, Code Name: Wild Geese (1984) premiered. This, however, was not an official sequel, but I doubt the movie-viewing public discerned this. And another minor point. Why wasn’t this film called The Wild Geese II?

Bringing us to the original. The Wild Geese. Mercenaries go to South Africa to overthrow a dictator and rescue and imprisoned opposition leader. The heavyweight actors playing the leaders of the mission are Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Roger Moore, and Hardy Kruger. The film was the 14th highest grossing film in 1978-79 despite having little or no distribution in the United States (due to the collapse of its distributor, Allied Artists). Its success made it a candidate for another film IF the money men wanted one.

Despite its financial success, the film was met with many protests due to it filming in the Republic of South Africa during apartheid. It was also accused of having stereotypical Africa characters. The main actors were not young or in the best of health. Moore had turned fifty and had to nurture the Bond films. Burton and Harris were wrecks from a lifetime of heavy drinking – they had to be near teetotalers during filming – nor were they in love with the script.

Time passes and finally Richard Burton agrees to make the sequel. A paycheck is a paycheck, and the filming would be contained to Britain and Germany. Three days before filming is to start, Burton dies.

Perhaps too much money has been committed. The producers continue with the project. Burton is replaced by Edward Fox, best known for The Day of the Jackal (1973) and many roles as an English royal or aristocrat. He will be penciled in as Burton’s character’s brother, Alex Faulkner, and given all the lines Burton would be uttering. The other lead is played by Scott Glenn. Unlike The Wild Geese, this film will feature a major female player, Barbara Carrera. It might be noted (by some noodgy critics) that the female is referred to as the goose and males, the gander. Would movie executives have accepted “The Wild Ganders” as a title? And one online critic also noted: what is a wild goose, anyway? But titles are the least of their problems as they bid adieu to Richard Burton.

And where the goose meets the panther, so to speak.

Forging ahead without your lead character, one strongly charismatic to the moviegoing public, like Peter Sellers or a Richard Burton, dooms the film before production has begun. I don’t have their box office totals, but we have the IMDB ratings, whence the public has spoken. Trail of the Pink Panther has a 4.9 rating and Wild Geese II, a 4.8. Also, Trail had 7,774 voters; Geese II only 936. Burton’s presence may have gotten it another couple thousand.

You rarely have films rated so low that someone would actually devote a thousand words apiece to each.

But here’s the thing. I may be damaging my stock as a film critic when I say that I liked Wild Geese II. Well, “like” as in “I watched it from start to finish and was not turned off by the absurdity of the action-adventure.” Despite three things up front: Scott Glenn’s incredibly wooden performance (talk about one’s ‘stock’ in jeopardy re: as an actor); Edward Fox’s unbearably annoying speech pattern that seemed a hyped version of his vocal turn as King Edward VIII in the miniseries Edward and Mrs Simpson (1978); and Barbara Carrera showing little of her ‘acting’ chops that made Fatima Blush in Never Say Never Again (1983) compelling.

No, it came down to the mercenaries’ mission. They had to break the 90-year old war criminal, Rudolf Hess, out of Spandau Prison in Berlin. Even better, they were being financed by a media mogul played by Robert Webber, who wanted Hess to reveal Nazi secrets to the world on his television network. The plan and its rationale are half-baked, but I was drawn into the particulars of Hess’s imprisonment. He is the only prison left there. Originally, there were six others from the Nazi hierarchy, the most famous being Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer, released around 1970.

The film uses an important part of Hess’s prison routine. He was often taken to a British hospital. It will be along the route of his ambulance that the mercenaries plan to snare him. This was gratifying to find out, but my interest watching the film stemmed from Hess surrendering to the British, one of the most inexplicable episodes of World War II (another sequel!). Also, I knew the film would inevitably lead to the mercenaries springing Hess from Spandau. Much of the film has Cold War antics, betrayals, a love scene, a brief appearance by Patrick Stewart as a Russian colonel, and actress Ingrid Pitt (a cult actress best known for the 1970 film The Vampire Lovers, but you might better picture her as Heidi, the bar maid, in Where Eagles Dare [1968]) working for an East German working for the Russians.

I’m waiting for them to get Hess. And they do, sidelining the ambulance and smuggling Hess to Vienna within a group of soccer team supporters. Who’s playing Hess but none other than Sir Laurence Olivier. Cinematically, could he be serving time at Spandau for playing ‘the White Angel of Auschwitz’ in Marathon Man (1976)? One wonders what is more excruciating: seeing Olivier winding up his career this way or having Peter Sellers relegated to outtakes in Trail of the Pink Panther? Wild Geese II, echoing Trail‘s strategy, started with scenes from The Wild Geese, reminding us especially of Richard Burton, which might be excused in order to remind viewers of the original, given that no one from it is in the sequel.

My final defense for Wild Geese II is based on the action sequences throughout the film. Plenty of explosions, double-crossings, and plot convolutions. They are handled well because the director is Peter Hunt, a former editor of James Bond films, and the director of the best (okay: my ‘most favored’) Bond Film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).

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