War Movie Mondays: ‘The Wind and the Lion’

Happy New Year to all you faithful War Movie Monday fans, and thank you for a fantastic year of classic war films. This week’s pick to ring in the start of a new year is the John Milius 1975 classic The Wind and the Lion, which was loosely based on an international incident which led to possible war between the U.S. and European powers in 1904 Morocco. The film stars Sean Connery (Raisuli), Candice Bergen (Eden Perdicaris), Brian Keith (President Theodore Roosevelt), John Huston (Sec. of State John Hay), Geoffrey Lewis (American Ambassador to Morocco Samuel R. Gummere), Steve Kanaly (Captain Eugene Jerome, USMC), and Vladek Sheybal (The Bashaw of Tangier).

The film open up with a sweeping score from famed composer Jerry Goldsmith, who sets the stage for a fantastic adventure film with a tone of modern era warfare between desert tribesmen and the imperial powers of Germany, France, and Great Britain who are trying to establish their own spheres of influence throughout the Arab world.

Mulai Amhed er Raisuli (Connery) is the leader of a band of Berber tribesmen who are opposed to the Sultan and his Uncle (Sheybal) the Bashaw of Tangier who are corrupt and easily influenced by the European powers. The Raisuli plans to embarrass the rulers of Morocco by having his men kidnap an American woman, Eden Perdicaris (Bergen) and her two children from their home in Tangier, and hold them for ransom for gold, rifles, and sovereignty from the Europeans.

Milius wrote and directed the film which was loosely based on an actual account which was known as the “Perdicaris incident” in 1904. An American man and his stepson were kidnapped by Barbary pirates and were ransomed. Both were unharmed and the incident gave President Theodore Roosevelt a platform to wield the “big stick” of foreign policy for his re-election to office that year in November.

The film boasts an impressive cast, and Brian Keith’s portrayal as Teddy Roosevelt is incredible. Roosevelt uses this international incident to show the world and the European powers that the United States is a modern world power which will defend its interests and American citizens wherever they are threatened. Roosevelt’s Secretary of State (played by legendary actor and director, John Huston) is a cautious and practical man who tries to sway Roosevelt from taking action which could ignite a world war.

Eden Perdicaris and her children especially become drawn to the character of the Raisuli who fights for his people and wants to win independence from the Europeans who have subjugated them for centuries. In one scene, Eden and the Raisuli play a game of chess and she is curious of his intentions and whether or not he will kill her and her family if his demands are not met. The Raisuli says that he is a patient and honorable man who doesn’t wish to harm women and children, but will take them when it pleases him. She is a strong willed woman who questions his motives and informs him that the Americans will not be so easily bought off as their European counterparts.

Eden tells the Raisuli that President Roosevelt will take his head if she and her children are harmed. The Raisuli becomes fascinated and is curious that such a man would be willing to try and take his head. He asks Eden “What kind of rifle does he use?” She proudly proclaims “A Winchester.” The Raisuli turns to his men in puzzlement and says that he has no such knowledge of this rifle. Very smug like, Eden check mates the Raisuli and tells him “You will.”

As political red tape ensues and the Bashaw, the real seat of political power (Sheybal) placates the American Ambassador Samuel Gummere (Lewis) and his young assistant, plans are undertaken for military intervention to seize control of the government of Morocco at bayonet point to force their own terms for the Raisuli to release Mrs. Perdicaris and her children. Captain Jerome of the United States Marine Corp plans to land two of his rifle companies ashore to storm the Bashaw’s palace and take control of the government. Gummere fears that if the plan fails, they may all be killed and that the world may go to war over such an incident. Jerome toasts the Ambassador and others and hopes the world does go to war if they fail.

My favorite scene throughout the whole film is when the Marines come ashore to storm the Bashaw’s palace. Jerome lands to taps being played. He walks up a set of steps to the docks where his two companies are formed. The assault force is also comprised of combat sailors equipped with model 1895 navy rifles and a Colt machine gun model 1895. Jerome leads the troops out and they begin their march through the city while the civilian population and European powers look on and think of their presence only as a military exercise and not a coup. The Marines pass the American embassy and salute Gummere and his assistant.

The camera pans down to show Gummere with a pistol behind his back, just in case this attempt to seize power fails. The Marines then advance double time to the Bashaw’s palace where they storm the palace and capture the Bashaw. Captain Jerome announces himself and tells the Bashaw that he is his prisoner. The Bashaw tells the Captain that he is a dangerous man and that Roosevelt is a mad man. The Captain salutes the Bashaw and replies “Yes sir” while snapping a salute to the vanquished ruler. It is a fantastic scene which is brilliantly executed by Milius. The U.S. Marine Corp reportedly shows that clip to its advanced infantry classes at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Milius has always been fascinated by history, books, and classic films such as Gunga Din, The Four Feathers, and Lawrence of Arabia. Milius first heard of the incident in an article written by Barbara W. Tuckman. Milius found an idea for a truly cinematic adventure and turned the Perdicaris character into a woman. There are also subtle homages to Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress when Perdicaris’ daughter is cornered by one of the Raisuli’s men, which is also similar to Natalie Wood being taken off by wild Indians in John Ford’s The Searchers. The film’s end battle between the Europeans, the Raisuli, and U.S. Marines was also the “Aqaba” set from David Lean’s epic masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia.

The film went on to receive much critical praise and was privately shown to then President Gerald Ford and his staff in the White House who liked the film very much, especially Keith’s portrayal as Roosevelt. It was also considered for two Academy Awards that year including Best Music and Best Sound. Unfortunately due to the release of The Wind and the Lion in the summer of 1975, attention for the film faded with the release of the summer blockbuster Jaws. Milius also received recognition for an uncredited role in writing the legendary “Indianapolis speech” in Jaws for his close friend Steven Spielberg.

The Wind and the Lion is available on DVD from Warner Bros. Home Video and can be rented through Netflix.

  • Spence
    January 4, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    I don’t know why but, this is one of my Fav movies of all time, the ending rescue with the boy holding the bloody sword for the Raisuli brings an emotional reaction every time I watch…..Great Stuff!!!!!

    • Doug Freehold
      January 24, 2011 at 10:10 pm

      I’ve always been a fan of Milius and his story telling abilities.

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