Thursday, February 16, 2012

“The Wind and the Lion”

TCM just showed John Milius’ masterpiece of hokum, which I’d not seen since the day it opened at Radio City Music Hall in 1975. There’s much to commend: Billy Williams’ beautiful cinematography, Jerry Goldsmith’s stirring music, Sean Connery (as a Berber pirate, no less) and Brian Keith (as Teddy Roosevelt) carving up enough ham to feed fifty at Easter dinner, and Milius’ energy in staging a throwback to some of the great cinematic ripping yarns of yore. Think “Gunga Din”and “Lawrence of Arabia” for starters.
Milius loosely based his screenplay on an incident in 1904 in which Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli and his brigands kidnapped a man named Ion Perdicaris and his stepson from Perdicaris’ Tangier villa. When Raisuli made various ransom demands, President Roosevelt and Secretary of State John Hay, sensing an issue to boost Roosevelt’s reelection, sent several battleships to Morocco and thrilled Americans with the slogan, “Perdicaris alive, or the Raisuli dead.” Ironically, Perdicaris, the dilettante son of a wealthy American, had given up his United States citizenship years earlier, a fact that failed to deter either Roosevelt or Hay. Perdicaris and his stepson, who became great friends with the Raisuli during captivity, were eventually released unharmed—and Roosevelt, of course, won another term.
Milius used this event as a springboard for his story, wisely transforming the 64-year-old Perdicaris into a beautiful widow named Edith Pedicaris with two precocious children (Candice Bergen, whose last name in the film has been shorn an “r”). Following the formula of thousands of movies since the first nickelodeon lured paying customers, Mrs. Pedicaris at first despises the Raisuli, then slowly respects him for his gallantry before seeming to chastely fall in love with him, a no-brainer when the rascal who kidnapped you is Sean Connery, who’s having such fun with the role that it doesn’t matter when his Scottish burr vanquishes his mild attempts at a Arab accent.
Milius only falters in the last third, when US Marines square off with a contingent of German soldiers during an attempt to rescue Pedicaris and her children, who themselves are intent on saving the Raisuli who’s been captured by the Germans. If you’re not following this, it’s okay because Milius has failed to clarify what the Germans (and the French, as well) are doing in Tangier. But no matter, really, because the climax is exciting, and the movie succeeds as a grand, old-fashioned entertainment. Available on DVD (for $4.99 on Amazon)—or watch for the next time TCM airs the film in all its letterboxed glory.


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